November 26, 1996

THE HONORABLE JOHN D. HOLUM, DIRECTOR
U.S. ARMS CONTROL AND DISARMAMENT AGENCY
REMARKS TO THE FOURTH REVIEW CONFERENCE OF
THE BIOLOGICAL WEAPONS CONVENTION, GENEVA,
SWITZERLAND (AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY)

Mr. Chairman, the United States congratulates you on your election, and pledges its cooperation in the vital work that lies before us.

In recent years the international community has made major strides against the threats of nuclear and chemical weapons. But we have yet to exploit new opportunities to address more effectively, in a legally binding way, the threat of biological weapons.

It is time this gap was closed.

Biological weapons are immensely destructive. In the right environment they can multiply, and so self-perpetuate. And they can naturally mutate, frustrating protective measures. Chemical weapons, for all their horrors, become less lethal as they are dispersed and diluted. But even the tiniest quantities of disease organisms can be lethal. For example, botulinum toxin has been described as 3 million times more potent than the chemical nerve agent sarin.

And these are truly loathsome instruments of war and terror. Anthrax, for instance, takes three excruciating days to destroy the membranes of the lungs and intestines.

Botulinum toxin annihilates by slow asphyxiation, as the cells of the victim's breathing muscles die from within.

Small wonder that the international community has placed such organisms out of bounds, even in combat. That was done in the 1972 Convention not only because these are weapons of mass destruction, but because they are infinitely cruel -- intrinsically weapons of terror. And this truth must inform all we do here to strengthen the Convention and review its operation.

The United States unilaterally renounced all uses for biological and toxin weapons and destroyed its offensive stockpile before the Convention's effective date in 1975.

After more than twenty years under that global norm, the threat of biological warfare remains all too real.

In 1992, for example, President Yeltsin publicly and bravely acknowledged and then renounced the massive offensive biological weapons program Russia had inherited from the Soviet Union. The challenge to demonstrate full eradication of that program still remains.

Through UNSCOM and other sources, we have learned in disturbing detail about the scope, ambition, and persistence of Saddam Hussein's biological weapons program in Iraq. Iraq's successive "full, final and complete" disclosures -- each one proving the dishonesty of its predecessors -- give good cause to treat the Iraqi program as an active menace.

Overall, the United States believes that twice as many countries now have or are actively pursuing offensive biological weapons capabilities as when the Convention went into force.

And behind our specific concerns is a broader reality. The potential for biological programs is spreading. Biotechnology is booming -- a boon for health, agriculture, the environment and a host of other fields. But it also means BW-relevant knowledge, equipment, and materials are more accessible, often at declining costs, and are available in ever more facilities worldwide. The result is a burgeoning global BW potential.

Meanwhile, we know terrorists are targeting civilians with weapons of mass destruction. The Aum Shinrikyo cult crossed that fateful threshold last year in the Tokyo subway, with sarin gas. The same fanatics were working on biological weapons. We have had at least one close call in the United States, last year, when a hate group member in Ohio acquired a sample of Yersinia pestis, the bubonic plague bacterium -- but was caught before he could use it.

The chilling truth is that biological weapons are a threat to people in every land -- however secure or remote it might seem.

How, then, shall we respond? Let us begin with the principle, "first, do no harm." The international community must not abide any change that would, whether by intent or inadvertence, weaken the Convention.

That would be the effect, for example, of interpreting Article I to state the Convention's basic undertaking by way of definitions, lists or other objective criteria. The international community has been well served by the descriptive, non-exhaustive approach of Article I -- a coat that has grown with its wearer. Here, more precision would mean less confidence in compliance, for the threat can evolve in unpredictable ways. Would anyone seriously argue that the next Ebola, for instance, could be allowed in weapons under the Convention, so long as the new organism came to our attention after the definition was fixed?

Some would weaken the Convention by twisting Article III into a mandate to let all equipment and material transfers presumptively run free to States Parties. But surely we know, based on experience, that membership in a regime is no guarantee of compliance. The Article III prohibition on proliferant transfers and assistance is and must remain absolute. Its duty of vigilance cannot be suspended as to members, but rather demands constant attention as to all.

Some, under the banner of "nondiscrimina- tion," have sought to make Article X a vehicle for the worldwide obliteration not only of export controls, but intellectual property rights as well. But Article X encourages scientific exchange and cooperation; it does not rule out restrictions on trade.

The fact is that scientific cooperation and trade are both faring well under Article X. The United States and other States Parties have many well-known programs of biotechnology assistance and cooperation. And last year, while the United States approved well over $250 million in export license applications relevant to the Convention, we denied applications worth a grand total of $2,443. In contrast, if Article X became the means for expropriating biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies' hard-won proprietary advances, such progress would promptly dry up -- and would be available for neither assistance nor trade. Article X must remain the friend of scientific advance, not become its enemy.

Beyond preventing the Convention's erosion, the looming danger obliges us to make it stronger and more effective.

One straightforward way is to extend the Convention's reach. Some 140 States Parties is far short of universality. We must do better. Indeed, there is every reason for the BWC to rival the NPT, or the UN itself, in membership. All states that have not signed and ratified should do so promptly.

We can also strengthen the Convention through broader application of the voluntary confidence-building measures adopted at the last two Review Conferences. Only about half of the States Parties have ever submitted any information to the UN Secretariat in New York pursuant to the CBMs. The final report of this Review Conference should reaffirm the CBMs and call on all States Parties to take part.

The Convention will become stronger as parties implement Article IV, enacting its prohibitions into their domestic criminal law. Each State's law enforcement apparatus should be used to enforce the Convention against anyone under its jurisdiction -- including terrorists -- who might flout it.

I can attest that this works. The United States has three Federal statutes related to the Convention, including a 1989 law that criminalizes Convention violations. The potential terrorist episode in the United States I just described was thwarted precisely because of those laws. The supplier of the plague bacteria promptly notified the authorities, who were able to stymie the customer's plans. New regulations will add even greater certainty to the monitoring of such transactions.

Few states have fulfilled the obligation of Article IV. But consider that enactment of such legislation is a sovereign act, immediately available without the need to await international consensus.

Of course, the most potent vehicle for strengthening the Convention is the Ad Hoc Group, established independently more than two years ago by a Special Conference of States Parties.

The Ad Hoc Group is a means to take up tools that were unavailable when the Convention was negotiated two and one-half decades ago. Then, on-site inspection was too controversial, and the Convention as signed provides no specific mechanisms to address compliance concerns other than recourse to the United Nations Security Council.

But now, on-site inspections have become an accepted and essential part of modern arms control regimes, and their enforcement is taken more seriously. The Ad Hoc Group thus can bring the Convention into the 1990s, through a legally binding compliance protocol that provides for new off-site and on-site activities.

The protocol should strengthen compliance by making certain national information declarations mandatory -- a matter already debated thoroughly.

The Ad Hoc Group should also build upon the voluntary confidence building measures I mentioned earlier. Meanwhile, of course, today's voluntary CBMs should remain in force.

As to on-site work, the Ad Hoc Group is considering various kinds of field and facility investigations. The United States believes the protocol must, at a minimum, include all cases of concern about compliance with the Convention. This would include, for example, investigations in all cases presenting credible evidence of BW development or production.

What about the pace of this work? The Ad Hoc Group itself recently decided upon a more rigorous approach, to intensify its efforts with a view toward completing its work as soon as possible before the Fifth Review Conference in 2001.

But let me suggest that in light of the mounting BW danger, such a timetable is still inappropriately relaxed. Certainly arduous work remains in translating concepts into protocol language, and completing needed procedural and logistical elements. But most of the States Parties here today could identify and write down the essential elements for a protocol.

President Clinton's September address to the United Nations called for completion of the Protocol by 1998 -- a goal shared by the European Union. Progress to date makes that goal realistic.

Some countries object to Ad Hoc Group sessions in parallel with those of the Conference on Disarmament. I am eager to hear their ideas on how work on the fissile material cutoff treaty can become unblocked, so our CD delegations can do more than tread water. But even if that happens, it need not impede work on the BWC protocol. For the Ad Hoc Group is quite specialized -- its experts are typically not those working on other arms control negotiations. And in any case, this work deserves due priority.

We should resolve here that a protocol cannot await the next century. Rather, the final report of this Review Conference should: (1) urge the Ad Hoc Group to further intensify negotiations in 1997, even if that may entail some overlap with the CD calendar; (2) set a target date of 1998 for completion of a legally binding protocol; and (3) call for the convening promptly thereafter of a Special Conference of States Parties to consider the draft instrument.

Conclusion

Mr. Chairman, it is tellingly descriptive that biological warfare dates back to the Dark Ages -- when the bodies of Tartar soldiers who had succumbed to the plague were thrown over the walls of the besieged city of Kaffa in 1346. Just so uniquely perverse is the conduct outlawed by the Biological Weapons Convention: taking diseases that all humanity has labored to banish, and deliberately fashioning them into instruments of terror and war.

Now we face tyrants and terrorists who would return us to the Dark Ages. Today's outlaws share their predecessors' ancient depravity. But the means at their disposal are frighteningly modern.

Arms control and science have given us means no less modern to combat them. But we must marshall great will and wisdom to do so. The choices we make here will be fateful.

We can wait for tragedy -- for biological weapons to surpass what other weapons have done in Tokyo, Oklahoma City, or the Gulf War.

We can haggle -- playing international politics as usual and subordinating security to barter.

Or we can act -- first, with prudence, to protect the Convention; then with boldness and statesmanship, to make it stronger.

I know we will choose this third path -- not just to renounce these weapons, but finally to banish them from the earth.

For this is what we long ago pledged to one another -- and what we owe to those we represent. This is the path that will at once confirm our common humanity, and make all nations and people more secure.