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 You are in: Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security > Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation (ISN) > Releases > Remarks > 2003

U.S. Opening Statement

Ambassador Donald Mahley, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Multilateral and Conventional Arms Control
Opening statement to the Annual Meeting of States Parties for the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), November 10-14, 2003
Geneva, Switzerland
November 10, 2003

Mr. Chairman,

As we open this inaugural Annual Meeting of BWC States Parties under the Work Program we agreed at the 2002 Review Conference, I want to express the appreciation of the United States for your many years of dedicated leadership in pursuit of our shared goal of strengthening the international norm against biological weapons set forth in the Convention and in stemming the BW threat. It is noteworthy that the nation of Sudan deposited its instrument of accession in Washington last Friday. We hope all here will welcome this news. The vast majority of the now 151 BWC States Parties have clearly recognized the necessity for and identified the first steps for engaging in practical efforts to combat the growing biological weapons problem. However, much work remains for many States Parties who lack or have yet to undertake effective efforts on a national level to implement the obligations they have assumed by becoming States Party, and thus to strengthen the BWC regime. States Parties must do more than simply sign and ratify the BWC -- they must embrace its normative value in a concrete, meaningful way. Addressing the BW threat is more important now than ever before in the Convention's 30-year history. We need to continue to make strides, as we did this year, in providing impetus for all States Parties to undertake effective national efforts to implement the Convention. The BWC will only sustain its strong moral and legal foundation against biological weapons worldwide, if States Parties implement the legally binding obligations they assumed when joining the Convention. The BWC provides a collective framework -- or umbrella -- for those national efforts and actions upon which the effectiveness of the Convention ultimately rests. All States Parties gathered at this Annual Meeting have the responsibility for ensuring that each State Party understands its responsibilities for keeping the world collectively secure against BW. We must encourage all States Parties to take appropriate steps, and to hold each other accountable. Stemming the threat, after all, includes several components: not only enactment of necessary measures, but thorough implementation, strict enforcement and constant monitoring of compliance. All States Parties should continue to press those states not parties to the BWC to become a party as soon as possible.

The timeliness of the 2003 Work Program topics of national implementation measures and security and oversight of pathogens (what we have called "biosecurity") is apparent. The August Meeting of Experts reflected extensive presentation by some individual States to document their existing domestic measures. This had the important effect of revealing not only how states have gone about implementing and enforcing their obligations, but -- perhaps more importantly -- highlighted gaps which need urgent attention. The discussions were not confined to the experiences of States Parties but also provided a focal point for the crucial efforts underway by States Parties and intergovernmental organizations, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), to address some fundamental aspects of the BW problem. The United States believes that this initial session served as a good model for the 2004 and 2005 experts' activities. If they conform to the practices of the 2003 meetings, they have the potential to prevent the misuse of biology against mankind and our sources of food and livelihood. The number, variety, and high caliber of presentations by many of the eighty-three States Parties that participated during the 2003 Experts Meeting were evidence that others also found this to be more than just an educational exercise. The meetings were well attended, serious and substantive. It is our impression that other participants found the meetings useful, productive, and capable of encouraging efforts to strengthen the principles set forth in the BWC. These results reinforce the United States' long-held view that a focus such concrete, practical steps that States Parties can take now at national levels contributes to the goal and purpose of the BWC and to a higher level of global security overall.

While generally pleased with the participation in, and substantive content of, the August Expert Meeting, the United States would like to encourage an even greater level of expert participation from still more States Parties in next year's Work Program. Now that the Experts Meeting approach has demonstrated worth, it is our hope that States Parties that have been participating in the process will encourage others to engage as well. Though we keenly desire broader expert participation, the key determinant of success is not attendance, but the willingness of States Parties to actually undertake the national measures that are not only obligations under the Convention but essential for preserving its relevance.

On national implementation measures, it is encouraging that a significant number of States Parties, despite widespread differences in governing principles and organization, have developed similar practices. A number of States have already undertaken important steps in implementing and enforcing appropriate measures. Other States at least recognize what they still need to do to implement the BWC. Regrettably, however, there are a number of States Parties that have yet to recognize, or at least to enforce, their obligations under the Convention. However, this initial survey has made it clear that many States Parties still need to implement national measures, while others need to review and update their national measures to fully comply with their legal obligations under the Convention. And let me emphasize another element -- enforcement. In the eyes of someone seeking to misuse biology, those who pass laws without providing the means of enforcing them are in no consequential way different from those states outside the Convention.

We all agree, of course, that becoming a party to a treaty is only the first step in a continuing process -- it takes an active, ongoing effort to meet the national obligations contained within any such Convention. Those States Parties that have failed to undertake their national obligation to implement the treaty may not create as immediate and critical a problem as those who deliberately plot to undermine its core prohibitions. Nonetheless, the lack of action and effort weakens its norms. The United States stands ready to help countries initiate, review, and update their national laws and regulations to enforce BWC prohibitions within areas under their jurisdiction.

We will speak in more detail to the "lessons learned" when we turn to the specific issues that are the focus of 2003 efforts: national implementation and biosecurity measures. But, at this juncture, I would like to point to what the United States believes could be an important outcome or "deliverable" of the year 2003 effort -- an undertaking by all States Parties to review, update, and/or implement their national measures relative to both issues under discussion. A second "deliverable" could be a commitment from countries with the means to assist others on a national basis to do so in meeting their BWC obligations. For example, the United States, among others, has offered to provide expert assistance to other States Parties. Based on our experience at the 2003 Experts Meetings, we believe States Parties now understand well enough what has to be done with regard to national implementation and biosecurity measures and will implement such measures in accordance with existing practices or develop new, but equally effective, measures commensurate with their national obligations. Therefore, we do not believe we should try to negotiate an agreement by the Parties at this Annual Meeting on sets of "common elements" or "best practices" relating to national implementation measures and/or biosecurity. The important focus needs to be on what States can do now, on a national basis, to implement their obligations. Any attempt to negotiate common elements will only serve to distract States from acting sovereignly now, when it is necessary. Additionally, negotiations may reduce the quality of measures States would enact by establishing only a least common denominator model, and actually making it more difficult for a willing state to put in place effective barriers. The United States believes negotiations are most likely to dangerously delay institution of strict measures and to reduce their quality. Therefore, intend to focus instead on helping others implement appropriate measures nationally.

There is, however, one matter which should be clarified before measures are implemented. Some States Parties continue to inappropriately link or confuse biosecurity and biosafety, which is not helpful. Biosecurity practices and principles are designed to reduce the risk of unauthorized access to or diversion of dangerous pathogens and toxins -- practices designed to keep pathogens and toxins safe and out of the hands of unauthorized or unsafe people. Biosafety, on the other hand, involves practices designed to keep people safe from pathogens. It is essential that States Parties understand the differences between biosafety and biosecurity and the critical relevance of biosecurity to our efforts to counter the biological weapons threat.

The United States strongly believes that measures that raise biosecurity awareness at specific facilities enhance both local and global security. All States Parties should strive to implement and enforce national measures necessary to prevent unauthorized diversion of dangerous pathogens and toxins from facilities approved for their use. Effective biosecurity efforts require that agents of concern be identified and that plans be developed to regulate and monitor the safekeeping of those agents. Since common universal guidelines and practices are not practicable, the most effective means for ensuring global biosecurity are thorough, enforced national implementation plans that require site-specific biosecurity assessments and programs.

Critically important activities are ongoing at the World Health Organization, the Office Internationale des Epizooties and the Food and Agriculture Organization, as well as other related intergovermental bodies that will enable States Parties to undertake meaningful biosecurity measures. These activities intersect with our work and should not only be lauded, but should be supported in concrete ways through additional financial and in-kind contributions such as the temporary loan of national experts. These bodies are the appropriate repositories of global information related to our Work Program topics and, as such, should be actively engaged and strengthened. The WHO is in the process of drafting biosecurity guidelines that foster the goals we have outlined in this forum and has mechanisms in place to engage the widest possible audience with concrete programs for increasing biosecurity awareness and implementation.

The United States and a number of other States Parties that have made progress in adopting effective biosecurity measures have offered to assist other countries in developing implementation measures and biosecurity practices that are appropriate for their needs. Our efforts parallel those of intergovernmental bodies and, taken together with the work done by the WHO and others, will help us assist those who want to implement effective biosecurity measures. We encourage all States Parties to take advantage of these offers of assistance so that as many BWC States Parties as possible will be able to report implementation of effective national biosecurity practices by the 2006 Review Conference.

As I mentioned earlier in the context of national implementing measures, we do not believe it appropriate or useful to try to negotiate on biosecurity -- the Experts Meetings provided States with many good examples to draw from, as well as ample offers of assistance. This is an important aspect in keeping Experts' Meetings focused, productive, and successful. The United States believes that if future Work Program topics are to be successful, as were those of 2003, the focus of the limited time for those programs should remain on the pre-approved topics and should not attempt to reprise, report on, or revisit the 2003 work program, however important we find that work to be. A realistic time to measure the success of not only the 2003 Work Program but of subsequent years will be the 2006 Review Conference when State Parties will have had time to act meaningfully upon the knowledge they gained in the 2003 and subsequent meetings.

As one of the depositaries to this key security treaty, the United States has every interest in maintaining the ongoing relevance of the BWC. However, we alone cannot preserve its relevance if other States Parties do not share this commitment and demonstrate so in concrete, meaningful ways by undertaking their national obligations to implement the convention. We believe States Parties have gotten off to a good start this summer in addressing national implementation and biosecurity measures. But we harbor no illusions. Much work needs to be done. Given universal concerns about the rapid global reach of disease outbreaks, we anticipate and strongly encourage the full and active participation and cooperation of all States Parties in next year's focus on disease surveillance and response to alleged or suspicious outbreaks. Since every country in the world can be subject to sudden outbreaks of disease, the 2004 topics should inspire all States Parties in a way not even biosecurity may have. We look forward to the 2004 topics of discussion as another opportunity to exchange valuable information, as well as to encourage States Parties to undertake their national obligation to implement the Convention. We look forward to the culmination this week of our efforts regarding national implementation and biosecurity measures. We welcome the Non-Aligned Movement to the leadership of this vital forum over the next year and pledge our support to South Africa as it takes up the Chairmanship and certainly have every hope it will be as successful and hard-working as yours has been.  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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