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Profile: Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC)

Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) was a participant or observer in the following events:

The 24th negotiating session convenes to negotiate a proposal to add an enforcement and verification protocol to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC). For three days, representatives from 55 member-states speak favorably of ending the negotiations and adopting the protocol. The mechanism would require member-states to annually declare their biodefense facilities and programs as well as any industrial facilities with capabilities to produce microbial cultures in quantity. Additionally, all member-states would be subject to random inspections of any plant where biological weapons could be made. Inspections would also be conducted if a facility is suspected of illegally producing bioweapons; there are allegations of bioweapons use; or in the event of a disease outbreak suspected to be the result of the activities of a bioweapons facility.
Abrupt US Withdrawal - But on July 25, US Ambassador Donald Mahley announces that the US will block any consensus on the proposed changes to the convention. “The United States has concluded that the current approach to a protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention… is not, in our view, capable of… strengthening confidence in compliance with the Biological Weapons Convention,” he says. “We will therefore be unable to support the current text, even with changes.” US opposition to the convention is based on fears that inspections of US facilities might harm the profits of US biotech companies and impede the United States’ current “biodefense” program. [US Department of State, 7/25/2001; CounterPunch, 10/25/2001; CNN, 11/1/2001; Common Dreams, 8/5/2002; Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 1/2003] While the protocols cannot guarantee with 100 percent accuracy that signatory nations will not violate the treaty, the participants in the negotiations are well aware of the limitations, and the impossibility of 100 percent verification. The protocols are designed to make it harder for signatories to cheat. But, as State Department official John Bolton says, that is no longer good enough for the US: “The time for ‘better than nothing’ proposals is over. It is time for us to work together to address the [biological weapons] threat.” However, instead of proposing stiffer verification proposals, the Bush administration will later propose much laxer “voluntary” standards (see November 19, 2001-December 7, 2001), and when those are rejected, will demand that further talks be postponed for four years. Bolton will later say of the treaty, “It’s dead, dead, dead, and I don’t want it coming back from the dead.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 186]
US 'Standing Alone' - Negotiations for the new treaty have been ongoing for seven years, and enjoyed the full support of the US under President Clinton. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan says the US is “practically standing alone in opposition to agreements that were broadly reached by just about everyone else.” After the US withdraws its support, the treaty conference will quickly be suspended. Chairman Tibor Toth will explain that delegates see no reason to continue without US participation: “In the light of the US concerns about the overall approach, it would be some sort of negotiations in a vacuum without the US being engaged. They were referring to the overwhelming role the US is playing in the industry. The US has more than one-third of the global industry and in the defense area, which is disproportionately higher than others.”
Bush Administration's 'Wholesale Assault on International Treaties' - Author and former National Security Council member Ivo Daalder says, “The [Bush] administration has, from day one, engaged in a wholesale assault on international treaties.” Daalder is referring, among other treaties, the Kyoto Protocols governing global warming that the Bush administration summarily rejected (see March 27, 2001). [CBS News, 7/24/2001; Chicago Sun-Times, 7/25/2001; Voice of America, 8/17/2001; Carter, 2004, pp. 271]

Entity Tags: Donald Mahley, Clinton administration, Ivo Daalder, Kofi Annan, Bush administration (43), Tibor Toth, John R. Bolton, Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention

Timeline Tags: US Military, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US International Relations

A second attempt at crafting and ratifying the Biological Weapons and Toxin Convention (BWC) fails after US officials disrupt the negotiations with what the journal New Scientist calls “a last-minute demand it knew other governments would reject.” The conference members hoped to complete the negotiation of an enforcement and verification protocol. The BWC would ban all biological warfare, and would provide enforcement for the ban, something the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention lacks. The US scuttled earlier talks on the new convention by abruptly pulling out of the proceedings (see July 23-25, 2001). Though US officials continue to insist that the Bush administration is in favor of a new treaty, European Union officials now believe that the US has no intention of allowing any such treaty to be ratified. EU officials question if they can continue to work with US officials on any international arms control treaties. One hundred and forty-four nations are attempting to salvage the talks, but the US’s participation is considered critical. An hour before the talks were to wrap up for the week, the US introduces a demand to strike a mandate under which treaty members have been negotiating legally binding compliance measures. Other nations have long since accepted the legally binding mandate, and, until Friday afternoon, US delegates had not voiced an objection. When US officials suddenly demand that the mandate be “terminated” in favor of a measure that would merely require signatories to follow current technological developments, it sparks an uproar among other delegates from European and Asian countries. To prevent the outright failure of the Review Conference, the chairman suspends negotiations until November 2002. Oliver Meier of the arms-control lobbying group Vertic says: “[T]here was never a question of that [measure] substituting for the negotiating mandate. If the US wanted to discuss that it could have brought it up any time during the three weeks.” The last-minute demand, says Meier, “was obviously an attempt to sabotage the conference.” Jan van Aken of the Sunshine Project, a German-American anti-bioweapons group, calls the US officials “liars” and characterizes their behavior as “insulting.” EU officials refuse to continue meeting with US officials after the sudden demand. Elisa Harris of the Center for International and Security Studies says that a failure to reach an agreement on the treaty “would send a very bad signal to proliferators that the international community lacks the will to enforce compliance with the BWC.” [New Scientist, 12/10/2001; Nuclear Threat Initiative, 2/2002; Common Dreams, 8/5/2002; Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 1/2003]

Entity Tags: Jan van Aken, New Scientist, Oliver Meier, Bush administration (43), Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, Elisa Harris, European Union

Timeline Tags: US Military, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US International Relations


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