Tracking Number:  287053

Title:  "Experts Study Possible BWC Verification Regime." US delegate to a conference of government experts reviewing the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) ambassador Edward Lacey said that the US is reviewing its policy on BWC verification within the context of a larger review of US non-proliferation efforts. (930603)

Translated Title:  Expertos estudian posible regimen verificacion CAB.; La Convention de Geneve et son application (930603)
Date:  19930603


(Twenty-one proposals under consideration) (700) By Wendy Lubetkin USIA European Correspondent Geneva -- Stopping the spread of weapons is the United States' "highest priority in the post Cold War era," says U.S. Ambassador Edward Lacey, who is the midst of talks in Geneva with representatives to the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC).

Lacey is the U.S. delegate to a May 24-June 4 meeting of government experts charged by the last review conference of the biological weapons convention to "identify and examine potential verification measures from a scientific and technical standpoint."

The experts, who include scientists, technicians, verification experts and diplomats from 48 countries, have identified 21 potential verification measures and are now in the process of evaluating them.

"Proliferation is one of the major national security issues confronting all nations as we approach the 21st century," Lacey said in an interview June 3.

"We are reviewing our policy on BWC verification within the context of re-examining our larger non-proliferation effort. Halting the spread of weapons of all kinds throughout the world is our highest priority in the post-Cold War era."

In the past, the United States has said it knew of no means or measures by which the convention could be verified. However, the Clinton administration is reviewing U.S. policy on a verification regime for the treaty.

Although the United States has not tabled any proposals at the current meeting, it has evaluated each of the proposed measures considering state-of-the-art technologies and available hardware.

"We have been in this process for a year-and-a-half now and we are learning through it just as the other countries are," said Lacey, who is acting assistant director for verification of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA). "The United States is committed to making the BWC more effective," he added.

Some 120 nations are parties to the 1972 convention, which 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.

"This treaty should have eliminated biological weapons, but quite frankly it has not," Lacey said. "In at least two cases since 1972 the U.S. government has documented the possession of biological weapons. One of those countries was Iraq, and the other was the former Soviet Union."

The Gulf War and the threat of biological weapons posed by Saddam Hussein led a number of countries around the globe to suggest that measures were needed to insure compliance with the treaty, he noted.

But, he explained, numerous problems exist with verification. "The agents involved in biological warfare are small, and many of the same agents that might be used in warfare also have legitimate uses that in fact help mankind," Lacey said. "For example, the same strain of bacteria that you need to produce a biological weapon, you also need in order to produce a vaccine to counter a disease."

Lacey also stressed that before adopting any new measures, countries need to consider their costs, not simply in financial terms, but also in terms of the potential loss of proprietary information and the disruption of legitimate biological activities.

He said that the United States has focused on how the proposed measures might impact on industrial development and scientific research. "The United States is a world leader in biotechnology, an industry where commercial secrets are often such that they cannot be protected by patent. Any mechanism to enhance the effectiveness of the BWC will have to ensure that legitimate commercial interests are appropriately safeguarded."

The experts hope to complete their evaluation by the next BWC meeting, scheduled for mid-September. A final report will then be sent to all states party to the convention. Signatory states may then decide to convene a conference to take a more active look at creating a verification regime.