Inserting useful tools into the BTWC

Since that fateful year of 2001, when the Ad Hoc Group (AHG) negotiations on a legally binding protocol to strengthen the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) collapsed and the 5th Review Conference failed following an attempt by the Bush Administration to terminate the AHG mandate, states parties have been trying to develop useful activities to keep the ailing treaty alive.

A lot of what has been going on since then I would qualify as Beschäftigungstherapie—you know, engaging in games, energising dexterity and developing practical skills to strengthen and motivate an ailing patient. It worked to a large extent. But like any treatment continuing for too long, its efficacy dwindles and the patient begins to question why he has to go to yet another session.

read more

DURC – a chemical angle

Dual-use research of concern—often referred to by its ugly acronym, DURC—is another one of those moronic concepts to have entered the disarmament / arms control discourse as a diversion from real disarmament questions. Of concern to whom? Who defines the dual-use characteristics of research? Who defines the threat? And why the heck should we be scared again of any new development? Anyway, the term is also tautological: Is there dual-use research not of concern?

The term arose in the biological field: genetic manipulations of pathogens to better understand possible mutations might increase infectivity among humans. The risk of escape from laboratories or laboratory accidents drive the concerns about this type of research. Initially the threat was presented as one of catastrophic terrorism. Now the debate has abated somewhat, but global health concerns continue to animate discussions. Meanwhile, the DURC label has stuck. So questions animating debates under the banner of biological weapons control are whether research can be published in full or whether scientists should apply for an export license to have their results printed in overseas scientific journals.

read more

The Geneva Protocol at 90, Part 1: Discovery of the dual-use dilemma

Today, 17 June, the Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare celebrates its 90th anniversary. Short as the document is, it laid the foundations for the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) and the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). How critical that document was to disarmament—the total elimination of a given weapon category—the global community can only appreciate through the growing frustration with the lack of progress in the elimination of nuclear weapons. As the negotiators of the Geneva Protocol came to understand in 1925, without a global ban on use, no other weapon-related activities could legally be curtailed.

read more

On suicide, riot control and ‘other peaceful purposes’ under the BTWC

In the Greater Manchester area a 16-year old boy stands trial for having tried to buy 10 milligrams of abrin on the dark web. Abrin is a toxin found in the seeds of Abrus precatorius, otherwise known as jequirity or rosary pea.

UK authorities arrested him in February and have charged him under the Biological Weapons Act 1974 and Criminal Attempts Act 1981. In particular, the charge refers to the General Purpose Criterion (GPC) as framed in Article I of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) and transposed into British criminal law. As reported in The Guardian on 19 February:

read more

What future for biological disarmament?

[Presentation at the civil society event commemorating the 40th anniversary of the entry into force of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, 30 March 2015.]

In posing the question this way I am making two points. First, the BWC is a disarmament treaty before anything else. It has other functions, certainly, but its disarmament function is primordial. Second, it is not guaranteed a bright future. It could find itself trapped in an acceptance of immobility, an empty ritual exchange of predictable arguments but no forward movement. It risks becoming marginalised as the world moves on. Let us all resolve to make sure that does not happen.

read more

The future of confidence building in biological arms control

[Presentation at the civil society event commemorating the 40th anniversary of the entry into force of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, 30 March 2015.]

Distinguished representatives, colleagues, let me first stress that I am very honoured to be invited to contribute to this event. May I thank the organisers and sponsors very much,

In the next 15 minutes I would like to draw a picture of possible developments of confidence building in the BWC. To that end I will briefly introduce the term confidence and its sources, and will then mainly concentrate on transparency as one of these sources. Finally I am going to consider the possible involvement of new actors and mechanisms in confidence building.

read more

Symmetry of adversary

Yesterday evening a framework document for (yet) further technical discussions on enhancing transparency about Iran’s nuclear activities was announced. A formal group picture was issued.

http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/625/media/images/82100000/jpg/_82100070_026598317-1.jpg

Anything peculiar?

Notice how symmetrical current and historic adversaries are paired up:

  • China – USA
  • France – UK
  • Germany – Russia
  • White over black – Black over white

A deeper message or a trick of the (English) alphabet and diplomatic decorum?

BTWC @ 40: Afternoon impressions

On 30 March 2015 the 40th anniversary of the entry into force of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) was celebrated in the Council Chamber at the United Nations in Geneva, the same room inwhich the treaty had been negotiated.

In the afternoon , the Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding (CCDP) of the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP) and the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) convened a civil society academic seminar. Below are some impressions of that session (Please click for full-size images).

read more

BTWC @ 40: Morning impressions

On 30 March 2015 the 40th anniversary of the entry into force of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) was celebrated in the Council Chamber at the United Nations in Geneva, the same room inwhich the treaty had been negotiated.

In the morning the formal commemoration took place. About 100 people attended the celebration. Below are some impressions of that session (Please click for full-size images).

The full programme and texts of remarks are available from the website of the BTWC Implementation Support Unit.

read more

Flashback: 30th anniversary of the BTWC (2005)

On 24 March 2005 the BioWeapons Prevention Project  (BWPP) and the Geneva Forum co-organised a seminar in the Palais des Nations in Geneva to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention.

It was a tense time: the 5th review conference in 2001 had basically failed and following a one-year suspension, the states parties were able to agree on a work programme that eventually became known as the ‘intersessional process’ — a series of meetings of experts followed by meetings of states parties. In 2005 people began looking towards the 6th review conference that was to take place the next year. Expectations were not very high: saving a troubled treaty was back then the primary goal, The BTWC Implementation Support Unit did not yet exist; the small unit was to be one of the positive outcomes of that review conference.

read more