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 You are in: Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security > From the Under Secretary > Remarks > 2002

The U.S. Position on the Biological Weapons Convention: Combating the BW Threat

John R. Bolton, Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security
Remarks at Tokyo America Center
Tokyo, Japan
August 26, 2002

As Delivered

I am honored to be here at the Tokyo America Center in Japan and pleased to be able to speak to you about the U.S. position regarding the Biological Weapons Convention, the international treaty that prohibits the development, production, stockpiling, and acquisition of biological weapons. Over three decades ago, the United States foreswore biological weapons and became a driving force in negotiating the BWC. The United States strongly supports the global norm established by the BWC and places high priority on combating the threat posed by biological weapons. We continue to be a strong supporter of this treaty.

The threat from biological weapons is real, growing, and extremely dangerous, and is evolving rapidly with the pace of technology. Given the deadly potential of such weapons of mass destruction, as President Bush has said, "there is no margin for error, and no chance to learn from our mistakes."

The United States believes that over a dozen countries are pursuing biological weapons. These BW programs are at various stages of development. Some pose a considerable international security threat. Unrepentant rogues, such as Saddam Hussein, continue to seek illegal weapons to sow massive destruction on civilian targets with complete disregard to the BWC and other international agreements. Iran, Libya, Syria, and North Korea are also pursuing these illegitimate and inhumane weapons. There are still other states with covert BW programs that we have not named in Biological Weapons Convention fora. The United States has spoken to several of these states privately over the last year. We have also noted that Cuba has at least a limited, offensive biological warfare research-and-development effort. Terrorist groups are actively seeking the knowledge, equipment, and material necessary for biological weapons.

In 1995, Japan experienced the most deadly terrorist attack in its modern history from the Aum Shinrikyo cult, which released sarin nerve gas into a rush-hour subway train in Tokyo, killing 12 and sickening thousands of others. In addition to its chemical warfare capabilities, the cult was later implicated in several smaller-scale attacks with biological agents, including anthrax and botulism, which it launched prior to the attack on the subway.

And last year, soon after the September 11 terrorist attacks, the United States was further terrorized by anthrax attacks that were sent using plain envelopes and $.34 stamps; 23 people contracted anthrax, and 5 people lost their lives.

Both events showed the world how much serious damage could be done in both physical and psychological terms by even a single person or small group with limited means but with access to biological or chemical weapons. All that was required to inflict harm and widespread panic in both cases was the relevant knowledge, the right materials, and the opportunity.

In the aftermath of these events and of the attacks of September 11, the United States is more determined than ever to put an end to terrorism and to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction. We are grateful for Japan's unwavering support and cooperation in this effort. As partners in the war against terrorism, we must work together to ensure that those who seek to use disease as a weapon are never allowed access to the materials or technology that will assist them in their aims.

Some have questioned the U.S. commitment to combat the biological weapons threat due to our rejection of the draft BWC Protocol. Put simply, the draft Protocol would have been singularly ineffective. The United States rejected the draft protocol for three reasons: first, it was based on a traditional arms control approach that will not work on biological weapons; second, it would have compromised national security and confidential business information; and third, it would have been used by proliferators to undermine other effective international export control regimes.

Traditional arms control measures that have worked so well for many other types of weapons, including nuclear weapons, are not workable for biological weapons. Unlike chemical or nuclear weapons, the components of biological warfare are found in nature, in the soil, in the air and even inside human beings. The presence of these organisms does not necessarily connote a sinister motive. They are used for many peaceful purposes such as routine studies against disease, the creation of vaccines, and the study of defensive measures against a biological attack. Components of biological weapons are, by nature, dual use. Operators of clandestine offensive BW programs can claim any materials are for peaceful purposes or easily clean up the evidence by using no more sophisticated means than household bleach. Detecting violations is nearly impossible; proving a violation is impossible. Traditional arms control measures are based on detecting violations and then taking action -- military or diplomatic -- to restore compliance. Traditional arms control measures are not effective against biology. Using them, we could prove neither non-compliance nor compliance.

Traditional arms control measures, in fact, applied to biological activities yield no benefit and actually do great harm. Declarations and investigations called for under the draft Protocol at industrial plants, scientific labs, universities, and defense facilities would have revealed trade secrets and sensitive bio-defense information. The United States invests over a billion dollars annually on bio-defense. The U.S. pharmaceutical and biotech industry leads the world; each year, U.S. industry produces more than 50% of the new medicines created. It costs an average of $802 million to bring a new product to market and takes between 12-15 years to do so. Such disclosures, intentionally or inadvertently, also could result in putting the men and women in uniform at increased risk to biological weapons attacks. Protective devices and treatments could be compromised.

The draft Protocol would also have put in jeopardy effective export control regimes. Countries such as Iran, Iraq, and Cuba have fought the hardest for free access to the technology, knowledge, and equipment necessary to pursue biological weapons. Their argument was simple: as States Parties to the BWC they should be allowed free trade in all biological materials. These countries sought to dismantle effective export control regimes such as the Australia Group. They argued that export controls should not be applied to BWC States Parties. The problem is that some BWC States Parties are pursuing biological warfare programs and it is no coincidence that these countries are also the ones pressing for access to sensitive technology. This "Trojan Horse" approach was not combated effectively by the draft Protocol. The result was a so-called "Cooperation Committee" whose job would have been to promote scientific and technological exchanges. The Cooperation Committee was touted as a way to appease Iran and Cuba. We viewed it as dangerous, harmful, and unnecessary. Protecting existing export control regimes is another important reason for the United States to reject the draft Protocol.

A lot of pressure was put on the United States to continue to support the draft Protocol simply because it was the result of seven years of hard negotiations. Several states urged our support by telling us that the draft Protocol was "better than nothing." Well, this was simply not sufficient to win U.S. support. We carefully studied the draft Protocol and found it to be a least common denominator compromise that, in our view, was worse than nothing.

Let me tell you something else about the draft Protocol. Several nations came to the United States privately and thanked us for rejecting the Protocol, which in their view was seriously flawed but for them was untouchable for political reasons. I know the United States did the right thing in rejecting the draft Protocol. The time for "better than nothing" proposals is over. It is time for us to work together to address the BW threat. We will not be protected by a "Maginot treaty" approach to the BW threat. I know from my consultations with BWC parties that many states agree with us.

Over the last year, however, there has been confusion about America's policy toward the Biological Weapons Convention. Today, I want to discuss this policy.

The world must end its silent acquiescence to illicit biological weapons programs. The United States seeks to put maximum political pressure on proliferators by naming state parties that are violators of the BWC. We believe it is critical to put on notice such states that choose to ignore the norms of civilized society and pursue biological weapons. These states must realize that their efforts to develop these terrible weapons will not go unnoticed. Our President has set a standard all should meet: tell the truth; speak out; be clear. Advice worth following, especially when it comes to biological weapons.

Now concerning the Ad Hoc Group, the negotiating body for the BWC Protocol, the raison d'etre of the Ad Hoc Group has been to see that a draft Protocol based on traditional arms control measures comes into force. Many nations want to use the Ad Hoc Group to revive the draft Protocol at a later date or negotiate a new agreement based on traditional measures. Having determined that the traditional measures are not effective on biology and that those measures would put national security information and confidential business information at risk, the United States said there was no longer a need for the Ad Hoc Group. Our objections to the Protocol and those traditional measures on which it is based are real. We need to find a way to move beyond this debate and focus on what counts: a strengthened commitment to combat the biological weapons threat.

My speech up to this point may have led some to question what can be done to combat that threat. Well, I have good news. The United States last fall proposed several important measures to combat the BW threat, through means that would be far more effective than the draft Protocol. In the past year great progress has been made to combat the threat posed by biological weapons. National, bilateral, and multilateral efforts have made it more difficult for those pursuing biological weapons to obtain the necessary ingredients and made it easier to detect and counter any attack.

Since the anthrax attacks last year, the United States has enacted two new laws to improve our ability to combat the threat.

  • The USA Patriot Act, signed on October 2001, provides national security and federal law enforcement officials with the necessary tools and resources to better counter terrorist activities.
  • In June 2002, the Public Health Security and Bio-terrorist Preparedness and ResponseAct was adopted, which strengthens and enhances national bio-defense activities.

The United States has placed great emphasis on working multilaterally and with likeminded groups to combat the BW threat.

  • At the G-8 Summit in June, members announced the "G-8 Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction." The United States pledged $10 billion toward this effort and urged other G-8 states to donate $10 billion over 10 years, with the aim of enhancing projects underway in the former Soviet Union, including projects dedicated toward reducing BW proliferation.
  • In May 2002, World Health Organization members agreed to strengthen health surveillance systems to detect any possible BW attack and improve international responses to stop any resultant outbreak.
  • Also in May 2002, NATO's Defense Group on Proliferation set forth a number of initiatives to improve NATO's ability to combat and counter any biological weapons attack, including stockpiling medicines and protective equipment.
  • In June 2002, Australia Group members adopted tougher export measures to control more effectively items that could be used to produce biological weapons, including adding controls on the transfer of information and knowledge that could aid BW proliferation.

The United States is committed to combating the BW threat. We will do so where we can and when we can. Recent efforts illustrate the U.S. commitment to combat the threat. Our other initiatives are underway in other effective forums. In each of the examples above, Japan has played a key role and deserves much of the credit for the work that has been done to combat the BW threat.

In conclusion, I would like to point out that the approaches of Japan and the United States to combating the threat posed by biological weapons are actually quite similar, and our goal of stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction is the same. The Aum Shinrikyo sarin attack in Japan and the anthrax attacks in the United States have made both of our nations painfully aware that biological and chemical weapons can be used against us at any time. And the tragic events of September 11 showed us that terrorist groups will use any means at their disposal to strike against innocent targets. We must not allow biological weapons to become part of their arsenal.

Given the unique challenges involved in regulating biological agents and detecting their misuse, we must remain creative, vigilant and forward-looking in combating the BW threat. And we will remain steadfast in rejecting proposals that do not address the BW problem in a realistic manner but are simply the product of bureaucratic compromise. As the Japanese proverb goes, "Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare."

I ask Japan to join the United States in promoting an aggressive and effective anti-BW campaign that combats the BW threat without crippling other national and multilateral efforts. Stemming the proliferation of biological weapons cannot be accomplished by one country alone. "A single arrow is easily broken, a bundle of ten is not," as they say here in Japan. By working together, and by exchanging ideas and proposals that will help us meet this critical security challenge, I am confident we can succeed in advancing the worldwide effort to reduce and ultimately eliminate the biological weapons threat. Thank you very much.

Released on August 27, 2002

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