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Giving the Biological Weapons Treaty Eyes to See and Teeth to Bite

Alexander Kelle
Center for International Security and Cooperation
Stanford University
March 2002


I am doing research in the issue area of biological weapons arms control, in which an international treaty - the Biological Weapons Convention or BWC - regulates the behavior of the majority of states. However, the BWC does not contain any provisions to monitor and enforce the compliance of its member states, i.e. to "see" and "bite" them when they are violating the treaty. An attempt to negotiate such measures has failed in summer of 2001. Given the continuing suspicions that some states are violating the BWC, it is essential to close these loopholes in the treaty. In my project I try to formulate a set of measures that would do the job and could be utilized by interested states once the diplomatic standstill that began last summer is overcome.

The Biological Weapons Cponvention (BWC) prohibits the development, production and use of biological weapons. It came into effect in, 1975 and has attracted more than 140 member states. Since the BWC does not contain any provisions to check on or enforce the compliance of its member states, it has often been called a "toothless tiger" that cannot bite the states which do not comply with its provisions. Worse still, this "toothless tiger" is half-blind and is - due to the lacking verification mechanisms - unable to identify its prey, i.e. those states who are violating the BWC´s provisions. In order to remedy this unsatisfactory state of affairs, the BWC member states agreed in 1994 to negotiate a set of measures to complement the treaty and provide it with the very capabilities it is lacking.

The so-called Ad-hoc group of governmental experts was set up and engaged in negotiations for more than six years. These diplomatic negotiations broke down in the summer of 2001 when the U.S. administration declared that it would not support the package deal of measures that was negotiated. At this point my research project sets in: it asks to what extent the effectiveness of the BWC can be strengthened without the package deal of measures on which a consensus had almost been achieved in the Ad-hoc group.

The project is divided into three components. I start this section with an introduction into regime theory which forms the conceptual basis of my analysis. Following this, I give a description of the biological weapons control regime with the BWC at its center. Then I provide a working definition for the effectiveness of a control regime and ask how regime effectiveness can be strengthened. One central question in this respect is, how important negotiated and legally binding agreements are in comparison to informal arrangements or unilateral measures.

The project's second component consists of a detailed analysis of the package deal of measures that were negotiated by the Ad-hoc group of governmental experts. Which compliance measures were negotiated in the areas of declarations (to be submitted by participating states), visits to facilities or investigations of suspicious activities? How should export controls and cooperative measures in the peaceful applications of the biosciences be balanced? The working papers that were submitted by member states participating in the negotiations as well as the emerging text of the compliance protocol are in the public domain and can be accessed on the internet. This section will conclude by an assessment of how the envisioned compliance protocol would have strengthened the BW control regime.

The third section then tries to formulate an alternative mix of measures that could be put together short of the complex BW compliance protocol. Which components might such an alternative set of measures consist of?

Given the fact that the main criticism of the compliance protocol was brought forward by the U.S. administration, the U.S. proposals of fall 2001 are taken as starting point for answering this latter question. How would these measures compare to the envisaged compliance protocol in terms of strengthening regime effectiveness? Finally, the project will address the question whether an incremental implementation approach might be a useful strategy for strengthening the BW control regime. In other words: can some aspects of the compliance protocol - or of an alternative set of compliance measures - be "put on ice" in order to be resurrected" at a later point in time, when political conditions for their implementation are more favorable?

Currently part one of the paper is finished, work on the second section is well under way and the paper should be finished by early summer. This will allow for publication of the project results in time for the next meeting of BWC member states, which is scheduled for November of 2002.