Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Dispatch from Carol Urner at the Bio-Weapons Conference in Geneva

Bio-Weapons Treaty Sixth Review Conference
Dispatch from Carol Urner at the United Nations, Geneva, Switzerland. Carol is the co-chair of the WILPF US Disarm! Dismantle the War Economy Committee. She is also the co-chair of the WILPF International Peace & Security Working Group. This dispatch was written regarding yesterday's proceedings.

NOTE: Contact me with questions and comments at carol.disarm@gmail.com. The UN chambers have wireless and I will try to respond.

These are my personal observations after watching the first day of general debate. I am, like all WILPFers, dismayed that the present U.S. Administration has rejected inspection and already invested $44 billion in very questionable "defensive" biological weapons research. However, I am also now heartened by positive efforts of the international community to bring the U.S. back into compliance with and support for the treaty.

Kofi Annan opened the Sixth Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) Review Conference today on a positive note, five years after the last one ended in disarray. He congratulated all governments present for keeping the Biological Weapons Convention alive, and for their determined efforts to remedy short comings, including their own. The positive note became a symphony as delegate after delegate expressed his/her nation's determination to continue on a forward path. (I'll admit I read all this as a concerted effort to draw the United States back into the negotiating process, but it was also each nation's real acceptance of responsibility for achieving the treaty's success.)

At the previous BWC Review Conference in November 2001 delegates had gathered expecting to approve an Inspection Protocol painstakingly negotiated over the past seven years. However, the U.S. had a new Administration wary of disarmament treaties and had already expressed dissatisfaction with the protocol in July. In November, two months after 9/11, John Bolton shocked the delegates by announcing the new U.S. Administration would not support the Inspection Protocol and regarded it as dead. He also demanded the following year that the Review Conference adjourn after half a day since there was nothing to discuss.

However, more seasoned diplomats led delegates into innovative and useful annual sessions, and also convened meetings of experts. Together they explored new areas of cooperation in developing universal adherence to the treaty , national legal frameworks supporting domestic compliance, codes of conduct for scientists involved in biological research, education of populations on the necessity of treaty compliance and ways to enhance lab security and control dangerous pathogens.

Today only a few delegates -- including those from Switzerland, Germany, Russia and the non-aligned nations -- spoke openly of the continuing need for inspection and verification. All, however, concentrated on developing a climate of active support for the treaty. In general they seemed in harmony with Russia's request that all stop playing the blame game and concentrate on improving their own compliance and on making acceptance of the treaty universal. True, the U.S. delegate mentioned the possibility that Iran, Syria and North Korea might be developing biological weapons they could pass on to "terrorists," but otherwise also kept to the positive tone. Algeria raised the need for Israel to stop blocking the WMD free zone which all other Middle East nations support for that troubled region, but again there also a more positive note. Israel, though not a party to the treaty, had requested observer status and hopefully will also move toward accession.

I remembered today Emily Greene Balch's conviction that working together in international institutions could help nations learn to cooperate in achieving common goals, and thus abandon making war on one another. I hope we in WILPF can continue to facilitate the process our foremothers fostered almost a century ago at the same time we point out the dangers to all in secrecy, unilateralism and rejection of international law as well as in policies of "full spectrum dominance" and pre-emptive war.

Editor's Note: WILPF International is documenting the proceedings of the Sixth Review Conference on Bio-Weapons. Reports, Documents, Working Papers, and Statements can all be found via the WILPF International website.


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