Tracking Number:  221919

Title:  "US 'Open Minded' to BWC Proposals, Lacey Says." Speaking during an interview, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency official Edward Lacey said that the US believes insurmountable problems prevent the development of a verification regime for the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons (BWC) convention, but will try nonetheless to remain open minded to proposals by other nations. (920402)

Date:  19920402


(But is skeptical regimes could be verified) (530) By Robin Newmann USIA European Correspondent Geneva -- The United States believes insurmountable problems prevent the development of a verification regime for the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC), but it will nonetheless remain "open minded" to proposals by other nations.

"The small size, widespread availability, and dual-use nature of items involved in biological research pose enormous problems in improving the effectiveness of the BWC through the addition of verification measures," Dr. Edward Lacey said in an interview in Geneva April 2.

"The United States thus far has been unable to identify any measures that will make verification of the biological weapons convention more effective," added Lacey, deputy assistant director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA).

"Nevertheless," Lacey said, "the United States is willing to conduct a complete review of any verification measures proposed for the biological weapons convention."

Lacey is the U.S. delegate to a March 30-April 10 meeting of government experts charged by the last review conference of the biological weapons convention with identifying and examining "potential verification measures from a scientific and technical standpoint."

Lacey said the United States would not be tabling any proposals at the meeting but would consider proposals and suggestions made by the other 57 state-parties attending the meeting.

The convention prohibits the development, production and stockpiling of biological (bacteriological) and toxin (organic poisons) weapons. It has confidence-building measures to deter illegal biological activities. However, it has no verification measures because of the difficulty of distinguishing between biological agents used for legitimate medical, pharmaceutical and defense purposes and those for offensive biological warfare purposes.

The convention cannot prohibit the needed civilian uses of biological agents or the perceived need by countries to retain biological agents for legitimate defensive purposes (for example, to develop methods to protect against a biological weapons attack).

Lacey explained it would be "extremely difficult" to implement an international inspection regime.

"You could establish a biological weapons production facility in a small house," Lacey said. "It requires only a very small quantity of a biological agent to produce a tremendous amount of harm. And you can very readily conceal such a facility in an otherwise innocuous appearing building or facility."

So "where would you inspect?" he asked. "You would have to be in a position of inspecting every household, every reasonably sized building, and every laboratory."

The United States also is concerned, he said, that new verification measures "could even hinder effective verification by providing a false sense of confidence," since an inspection might not be able to uncover illegal biological research.

Before adopting new measures, countries should ascertain their cost, not only in financial terms but also in terms of the potential loss of proprietary information and the disruption of legitimate biological activities, Lacey said.

The United States and other countries currently use various "national means" for verifying compliance with the convention, he said. This includes processing data from national technical means (satellites and other technical sensors), press reports, and any other information available.