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

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Fifth Dispatch from Carol in Geneva

From the Bio-Weapons Treaty Sixth Review Conference
Fifth dispatch from Carol Urner at the United Nations, Geneva, Switzerland: 11/24/06

NOTE: Contact me with questions or comments at carol.disarm@gmail.com. Geneva UN has wireless and I will try to respond.

The first week of the review conference ended with formal discussions still moving along at a fast pace, subjecting the treaty to the first article by article review since 1991. Sessions are still private but I talked with the delegate from Argentina at lunch, herself a biologist, who indicated the tone is still upbeat and hopeful, with areas of agreement continuing to emerge. All decisions must be made by consensus, and the delegates have not yet moved to that stage.

The noon forum, presented by Amy Smithson, PhD of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, surveyed 52 U.S. policy makers regarding their current perceptions on the dangers of biological weapons to the US, and on policy and counter measures required . Those surveyed included four former Secretaries of Defense, a past CIA Director, national security experts and current top decision makers Of these 52 75% believe bioweapons are a major threat, and 48% think they are a greater threat to the U.S. than nuclear weapons. 83% felt the threat of attack is on the increase, although 59% do not think it is very likely in the next 5 years. 81%, however, believe an attack is somewhat or very likely in the next ten years. Most (71%) thought any such an attack would be made by a "lone wolf" or deranged individual. (Yes, methinks, probably by someone with access to a hi-level U.S. military lab!)

I think the study would have been much more helpful if she had broken down the groups of respondents. I would have expected a higher perception of threat among current decision makers than among those who had been in power 1992 to 2000, but would like to have seen this confirmed or denied. I also wonder how perceptions of experts compared with those of policy makers.

The second half of the study was more heartening than the first. 98% support vigorous biosecurity measures and. 94% support oversight of genetic engineering involving highly infectious pathogens and want criminalization of biological weapons related activities. The oddest result, however, was that 54% thought bioweapons should be a policy priority, but a whopping 77% made it a spending priority. And spend, spend, spend is what the government is doing with bioweapons now accounting for 44 billion in appropriations since 2001.

The writer did include a range of unattributed quotes in response to each section, and these added life to the pages of charts and percentages. Of course my favorites were ones like "Since this treaty does not have monitoring provisions, there ought to be a major U.S. initiative to inspire them. We should be at the negotiating table on this, leading the way!" Right on! But, unfortunately, that doesn't sound like the response of a current policy maker.

The most heartening finding for me was that a full 69% believed monitoring provisions should be added to the bioweapons ban treaty, but there was no breakdown among classifications of respondents. So out with John Bolton and his friends in the Administration and let's go for it!


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