A new inter-sessional period begins for the BWC

Jul 27 2012
VERTIC Blog >> National Implementation Measures

Edward Perello, London

A new inter-sessional period begins for the BWC
The Meeting of Experts (MX) for the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) took place in Geneva from 16 to 20 July. Ambassador Boujemâa Delmi of Algeria chaired the meeting, which focused on the topics Agreed upon at the Seventh BWC Review Conference in December 2011: recent advances in the life sciences and mechanisms to address the emerging threats they pose, effective ways to further the goals of the BWC through greater cooperation and assistance, enhanced national implementation, and renewed confidence-building measures (CBMs). Experts from states parties, international organisations, observer entities and non-governmental organizations gathered in Geneva to participate in the MX.

Cooperation and assistance
States shared information on their international assistance programmes and on their experiences in receiving assistance. It was noted that global international security and the promotion of peaceful research could benefit from the enhancement of cooperation and assistance in several areas including the exchange of materials and technologies and on ensuring biosafety and biosecurity.  

The Implementation Support Unit (ISU) announced the launch of a database system aimed to facilitate requests for, and offers of, the exchange of assistance and cooperation among states parties. The ISU encourages states to submit offers and requests and ensured that requests do not have to be tied to a specific offer.

Advances in science and technology
It was noted that advances in life sciences have had both positive and negative implications for health and security. Rapid genetic sequencing and enhanced medical diagnostic and treatment capabilities were juxtaposed with more concerning developments like a possible militarisation of converging chemical and biological technologies. Some states parties suggested that sequencing capacities ought to be more fairly distributed across the world as opposed to current concentrations of this capacity, which is something that could be addressed through direct assistance.

States recognized the risks of emerging technologies, but questions remain over how well they and the BWC regime are prepared to deal with them. A desire to improve risk management and mitigation procedures was voiced alongside a need to foster risk awareness in states without formalised biosecurity institutions. Policies of active risk monitoring were regarded as favourable to reactive policies that could impede peaceful and beneficial research.

National implementation and CBMs
Many states drew attention to recent efforts on measures adopted to nationally implement the BWC, for instance Morocco and Malaysia announced draft laws on the handling of biological agents, France’s proposal to implement a peer review system or Guatemala’s engagement with the Central American Integration System (SICA) to ensure the effective regional implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540. 

Guest speaker Scott Spence of VERTIC challenged contemporary views with a scenario designed to encourage governments to consider the utility of different national implementation measures with regard to further H5N1 research, which prompted lively debate and comments from several states parties.

Concern was expressed at the low participation of states in Confidence-Building Measures (CBMs) in accordance with the framework of the BWC; only 62 returns have been received this year. There was a divergence of opinion on whether the production of CBMs is in fact an obligation of state parties and some states suggested a debate on the value of CBMs in actually building confidence.

Extraordinary session on procedure
On the fourth day, Ambassador Delmi suspended the formal session and convened an informal one, which allowed delegates to have open discussions and express individual viewpoints on matters relevant to the proceedings of the MX and the BWC in general. A departure from decorum, the conversations elicited suggestions of introducing several innovative policies in the hope of enhancing the productivity of future MX’s. These included the clustering of sub-topics in order to keep running themes between presentations as well as the use of panel discussions to prompt more focused debate.

Side events
In conjunction with the informal session, the MX also featured several side events. One jointly convened by the Netherlands and the US paid significant attention to the H5N1 controversy, while another by the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) looked at governance procedures on emerging dual-use technologies. The side events are a welcome opportunity for delegates to expand the knowledge of relevant subjects and debate informally in a forward-looking manner.

On the final day, it was noted by the Chair, Ambassador Delmi of Algeria, that the meeting had been ‘very fruitful’.  A final draft report was deemed acceptable by consensus, and will be submitted and discussed at the next BWC Inter-sessional Meeting of States Parties.

Last changed: Jul 27 2012 at 10:47 AM