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US International Relations

Biological Weapons Programs

Project: US International Relations
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In Montreal, Canada, the Ad Hoc Working Group on Biosafety (BSWG) continues negotiations on the text of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB), the first protocol to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The conference is the last in a series of BSWG discussions that began on February 22, 1999 in Cartagena, Colombia. It is attended by over 750 participants, representing 133 governments, NGOs, industry organizations, and the scientific community. The purpose of the protocol is to develop a set of international minimum safety standards for the regulation of trade in genetically engineered organisms (GMOs). The major points of contention during the negotiations relate to (1) the obligations of an exporter to inform importers of shipments containing GMOs, (2) the rights of an importer to reject GMO imports, and (3) whether CBD or World Trade Organization (WTO) regulations have primacy in cases where there is a conflict between the two. The two main negotiating blocks are the “Miami Group” (which includes the GMO-exporting countries of the US, Canada, Australia, Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay) on one side and the European Union and the Like Minded Group (which includes most developing countries) on the other. The Miami Group had formed earlier in Cartagena in order to prevent genetically modified agricultural commodities from being included within the scope of the Protocol, preferring that their regulation remain solely under the jurisdiction of the WTO. The delegates agree on a final draft during the early morning hours of January 29. [Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB), 6/5/1992; IISD Linkages, 2/18/2000; EAAP News, 8/2000; Genewatch, 3/24/2004; Convention on Biological Diversity, 2/26/2005; Biowatch, 3/26/2005] The Protocol will enter into force on September 11, 2003, ninety days after receiving its 50th ratification. [Convention on Biological Diversity, 2/26/2005]
Biodiversity Clearing-House - The CPB establishes a “Biodiversity Clearing-House” to facilitate the exchange of information on GMOs and to assist countries in the implementation of the Protocol. [Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB), 6/5/1992; Genewatch, 3/24/2004; Biowatch, 3/26/2005]
Advanced Informed Agreement (AIA) - The Protocol requires exporters of GMOs to seek permission from the importing country before the GMOs are exported. For most GMO exports, the exporter will be required to follow a set of procedures referred to as the “Advance Informed Agreement” (AIA). However, for GMOs intended for food, feed, or processing (LMO-FFPs), and not planting, a different, less rigorous notification system applies. For these types of GMOs the CPB only requires governments to notify the Biodiversity Clearing-House when they have decided to permit the use of a GMO in their own country and to supply certain information about it. This alternative notification system for food, feed, and processing GMOs was a concession negotiated by the GMO-exporting Miami Group. Pharmaceutical GMOs, GMOs-in-transit, and GMOs intended for use in a laboratory, are also subject to fewer, less stringent regulations. [Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB), 6/5/1992; Genewatch, 3/24/2004; Biowatch, 3/26/2005]
The Precautionary Principle - The CPB permits countries to restrict or ban a GMO if they believe there is a potential for the GMO to cause adverse affects. Conclusive scientific evidence is not necessary. “Lack of scientific certainty due to insufficient relevant scientific information and knowledge regarding the extent of the potential adverse effects of a living modified organism shall not prevent that Party from taking a decision, as appropriate, to avoid or minimize such potential adverse effects.” [Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB), 6/5/1992; Genewatch, 3/24/2004; Biowatch, 3/26/2005]
Multilateral Trade Agreements vs. Convention on Biological Diversity - The Cartagena Protocol contains provisions that address circumstances that would also be under the jurisdiction of certain trade agreements. But it does not address the issue of which set of regulations should take precedence, only stating that “trade and environment agreements should be mutually supportive with a view to achieving sustainable development.” [Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB), 6/5/1992; Biowatch, 3/26/2005]

Entity Tags: Ad Hoc Working Group on Biosafety, World Trade Organization

Timeline Tags: Seeds, Neoliberalism and Globalization

Category Tags: Biological Weapons Programs

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

Category Tags: Biological Weapons Programs

The New York Times reports: “Over the past several years, the United States has embarked on a program of secret research on biological weapons that, some officials say, tests the limits of the global treaty banning such weapons.… The projects, which have not been previously disclosed, were begun under President Clinton and have been embraced by the Bush administration, which intends to expand them.” The US claims that this research is needed to protect Americans from the threat posed by rogue nations or terrorist groups who may be developing such weapons. [New York Times, 9/4/2001]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Biological Weapons Programs

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

Category Tags: Biological Weapons Programs

The Bush administration, prodded by State Department official John Bolton, refuses to certify that Russia is in compliance with international accords banning chemical and biological weapons. As a result, Russia is no longer eligible for State Department and Defense Department funding for nuclear nonproliferation programs (see January 10, 2001 and After). The Clinton administration harbored similar concerns, but believed that helping Russia secure its loose nuclear weapons and technology was more important than holding Russia in noncompliance in the CBW accords. In related negotiations, Bolton successfully impedes progress in negotiations in a liability agreement with the US over the securing of “loose nukes”; Bolton insists on absolving US government officials, as well as private firms and personnel, of any liability for accidents or even sabotage encountered as part of the nonproliferation programs. The dispute will not be resolved until September 2006. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 209]

Entity Tags: Clinton administration, Bush administration (43), US Department of State, John R. Bolton, US Department of Defense

Category Tags: Biological Weapons Programs, Chemical Weapons Programs, Neoconservatives in Foreign Policy, Nuclear Nonproliferation Efforts, Nuclear Weapons Treaties, US Nuclear Weapons Programs, Post-Soviet Relations

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