In its situation report of 11 March 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) tallies a death toll of 9,961 out of 24,247 cases (41% mortality rate) in the three West-African countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. While the overall rate of new infections seems to be slowing down, the numbers nevertheless continue to rise. Infectious disease is the greatest threat to mankind, far higher than any imaginable terrorist plot. According to WHO statistics from about 10 years ago, infectious diseases are responsible for over 13 million deaths worldwide each year. That is 25% of all deaths worldwide each year. Distribution across the planet is highly uneven: in developing countries that percentage rises to half of all deaths. What does more than 13 million fatalities per year represent? Well, it corresponds more or less to the number of people who died in the Twin Towers on 9/11 every two hours.
It is true that pressure for Israel to join the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) is steadily mounting. Presently 190 states are party to the treaty. Besides Israel, only Angola, Egypt, Myanmar, North Korea and South Sudan have not ratified or acceded to it. As participants in the 2014 Jonathan Tucker Conference on Chemical and Biological Arms Control heard yesterday from Dr Peter Sawzcak, Head of Government Relations and Political Affairs Branch of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Myanmar is expected to ratify the CWC in its forthcoming parliamentary session in January. The Council of Ministers of Angola, which will take up a non-permanent seat in the UN Security Council next year, is to decide on joining the Arms Trade Treaty, Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, and CWC really soon. South Sudan may also become a party to the CWC in the near future as part of a broader package deal under development. As was pointed out by some other speakers at the Jonathan Tucker Conference, being in the company of North Korea is not good for a democracy such as Israel.
The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) is neither in crisis nor at a cross roads, and hyperbole to the contrary is unhelpful. Yet it is perhaps because the BWC continues to trundle steadily along towards an undecided destination, that the period of relative calm should be exploited to bolster the Convention, to future proof the BWC and the norm against the hostile exploitation of infection that it embodies. To do this, there is a need for a more ambitious approach. The first two intersessional processes may have proved unexpectedly fruitful; however, this approach appears to have moved beyond its ‘best-before-date’ and gone stale. Accordingly, several states have proposed alternative approaches to building the BWC: France has proposed and piloted a peer review mechanism, something taken further forward by the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg; the Czech Republic along with Canada and Switzerland have explored compliance assessment; Russia has proposed returning to the 1994 mandate (see discussion at Days of Future Past); and several countries, including the UK, Australia, Canada, Finland, Lithuania, Spain and the US, have constructively engaged in a debate on compliance. Although there is little agreement on exactly what should be done, there does appear to be an emerging critical mass, seeking to move beyond ‘tinkering around the edges’ and, once again, deal with the difficult topic of compliance.
Russia proposed to return to negotiations on a legally binding protocol to strengthen treaty implementation at the Meeting of Experts of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC), which was held in Geneva from 4–8 August. Its informal note discusses the creation of an international body, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Biological Weapons (OPBW). It also tackles two frustrations prevalent among states parties: the convention’s institutional deficit and the lack of any progress in the so-called intersessional process—a series of annual Meetings of Experts (MX) during the summer followed by Meetings of States Parties (MSP) in December in between the quinquennial review conferences.
Jean Pascal ZANDERS
Senior Research Associate
Fondation pour la recherche stratégique
Enhancing compliance of the BTWC
through national implementation and other means
Brussels, 24 April 2014
The workshop, organised by the EU Non-Proliferation Consortium in cooperation with the European External Action Service (EEAS), was held in Brussels on 24 April 2014. Its purpose was to have an in-depth brainstorming session on the future of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) with officials from EU Member States.
The event was the 1st Ad Hoc Seminar to be organised under the new Council Decision 014/129/CFSP of 10 March 2014 supporting the continued activities of the EU Non-Proliferation Consortium.