The Biological Weapons Convention (BWC)Dr. Edward J. Lacey, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Verification and Compliance
Testimony before the Subcommittee on National Security, Veterans Affairs, and International Relations, International Relations Committee on Government Reform, U.S. House of Representatives
July 10, 2001
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
It is an honor to address the Subcommittee today on the issue of the negotiation of a protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). Since Ambassador Mahley, the head of the U.S. delegation, has addressed his remarks to the status of the negotiations, I will focus instead on the issue of verifiability - specifically, whether any protocol would improve the verifiability of the Biological Weapons Convention.
The BWC is inherently difficult to verify. The problem stems from the language of the Convention, which hinges on intent, and the nature of biology and biological weapons. Any protocol must grapple with these inherent verification problems.
The BWC does not establish a formal international mechanism for verifying compliance. Instead, it relies upon self-policing by the States Parties to the Convention. If a State Party identifies a compliance breach by another State Party, it may pursue this concern through bilateral consultations or it may lodge a complaint with the United Nations Security Council which in turn may initiate an on-site investigation. In practice, the self-policing system labors under two fundamental limitations.
First, assessing compliance with the BWC requires detailed information on the intent of biological programs and activities. The BWC prohibits the development, production, stockpiling, and acquisition of biological agents and toxins for hostile purposes, but it does not prohibit such activities if conducted for peaceful purposes. In fact, the BWC not only allows peaceful work utilizing the very substances that it was designed to control, it encourages such peaceful applications. Since almost all biotechnology activities are dual-use in nature, both the activities and the facility at which they are conducted could be used for legitimate purposes or for offensive biological warfare purposes. This requires a judgment as to whether the intent of a dual-capable activity is legitimate or illicit. Intent is very difficult to determine, and typically requires detailed information from sources who had direct knowledge of the purpose of a program. National intelligence, such as from human sources, is essential to detect violations of the BWC. However, such information is often very difficult to collect.
The second limitation is that the nature and scale of biological weapons activities preclude readily identifiable external signatures. Whereas many tons of chemical agent are needed for a militarily significant chemical warfare capability, a comparable biological warfare capability would be measured in pounds of agent. Furthermore, the equipment needed to produce such amounts of biological agent could be housed in a relatively small space inside a building without specific distinguishing features. Given the potentially small-scale and unremarkable features of biological production, the physical signatures that aid us in verifying compliance are simply not present for biological weapons. In the absence of physical signatures, once again it is necessary to acquire detailed information from sources which had direct knowledge about the location and nature of illicit biological warfare activities.
These two fundamental considerations virtually preclude the achievement of an effective international verification regime. An international BWC organization would not be able to collect the detailed intelligence information essential for uncovering illicit intent. Moreover, the absence of external signatures at biological warfare facilities makes it impossible to identify all of the facilities capable of conducting illicit biological warfare activities so that they could then be made subject to declaration and routine inspection. As a consequence, a protocol would not improve our ability to effectively verify compliance with the BWC either in terms of certifying that a country is in compliance with, or in violation of, its obligations.
The U.S. Government has consistently recognized the inability of any protocol to improve the verifiability of the BWC. This position was reaffirmed by the previous administration before the negotiations began in 1995. Instead, the goal established by the previous Administration was to promote measures that would provide some degree of increased transparency of potential biological weapons-related activities and facilities.
I will refrain from commenting on the level of transparency achieved in Chairman Toth's Composite Text and on the potential value of that transparency. Instead, I will provide my views on the key components of the Chairman's Composite Text -- national declarations, visits, and challenge investigations -- and I will explain why these measures would not improve the verifiability of the Biological Weapons Convention.
The Chairman's Composite Text would require annual national declarations of biological activities in the following areas: biodefense, maximum and high containment laboratories, work with listed agents and toxins, and microbiological production facilities. The criteria for declaration are of necessity highly selective and, as a result, only a small fraction of the pool of facilities in a country that could potentially be used for offensive biological warfare purposes would be declared. It is simply impractical to declare all potential dual-capable facilities, as these would encompass beer brewers, yogurt makers, and many academic laboratories. Furthermore, it is an analytical certainty that states conducting offensive biological warfare activities will either not declare such facilities, or will embed illicit activities at declared facilities beneath an effective cover of legitimate biological activities.
The Chairman's Composite Text also provides for an annual series of so-called "Randomly-Selected Transparency Visits" to declared facilities. As their name suggests, these visits are intended to enhance transparency and not to improve our ability to verify compliance or non-compliance with the Convention. These visits are directly tied to the annual declaration submission and, therefore, suffer from the same verification failings. Only a small-fraction of the facilities declared as potentially relevant to conducting offensive biological warfare activities would be subject to visits on a random basis. Even at visited facilities, illicit biological warfare work could easily be concealed or cleaned up, rendering it highly improbable that international inspectors would detect evidence of non-compliance. Moreover, violators could remove any risk associated with such visits by engaging in illicit biological warfare activities at non-declared facilities.
Finally, the Chairman's Composite Text establishes a challenge investigation mechanism for addressing violations of Article I of the BWC - the central prohibitions of the Convention. There are two types of challenge investigation in the Chairman's Text. The first type is a "facility investigation" conducted at a particular facility to address concerns that it is engaged in biological warfare activities prohibited by the Convention. The second type is a "field investigation" of the release of -- or exposure of, humans, animals or plants to -- biological agents or toxins in violation of the Convention. Field investigations encompass allegations of biological weapons use and, in addition, concerns about an accidental release of biological agents or toxins or suspicious outbreaks of disease connected to prohibited biological warfare activities.
Generally, challenge investigations could help to deter cheating. However, they have inherent limitations. The inherent delay in securing approval for the investigation request from the implementing organization and in getting an investigative team physically on the ground would likely permit more than enough time to clean up or otherwise conceal evidence of a BWC violation. In addition, the dual-capable nature of biological activities and equipment could readily be exploited by a violator to "explain away" any concerns, with "managed access" rights available as a last resort to deny access to any incriminating evidence.
Let me sum up. Regardless of whatever transparency value a protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention might provide, it would not improve our ability to verify compliance. The dual-capable nature of biology and the advance, as well as worldwide spread of biotechnology, have conspired to make the BWC not amenable to effective verification, especially by an international organization. However, it is possible to determine that a country is conducting an offensive biological weapons program. In fact, after years of compiling intelligence information, the United States established that the Soviet Union and Iraq were engaged in such activities. National intelligence is essential to detect BWC cheating. U.S. efforts to strengthen the verifiability of the Biological Weapons Convention should always proceed from that fundamental reality.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.