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U.S. Views on the 2004 BWC Work Program

U.S. Views on the 2004 BWC Work Program

Ambassador Donald Mahley, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Arms Control
Remarks to the Annual Meeting of States Parties for the Biological Weapons
Convention (BWC), December 6-10, 2003
Geneva, Switzerland
December 6, 2004

Mr. Chairman,

At the Fifth Review Conference of the Biological Weapons Convention, States Parties agreed to a work program for the years 2003-2005, with a view to discussing, and promoting common understanding and effective action on a series of topics. The work in 2003, in which 83 States Parties participated, focused on implementation measures and pathogen security. This work set in motion a number of important activities by respective States Parties on a national level. These efforts have been most welcome.

My government is also pleased with the July 2004 Meeting of Experts addressing disease surveillance, suspicious outbreaks and alleged use of biological weapons, in which 87 States Parties participated. We found the even higher level of participation and interest demonstrated among States Parties valuable and encouraging. In addition, we found the large amount of information shared to be useful and instructive. Experts engaged and collaborated and we are continuing to assess the results. All of these efforts will contribute to combating the BW threat in practical ways, thereby strengthening the norms set forth in the Biological Weapons Convention.

The Experts Meeting has provided a solid basis for our Annual Meeting. The results that emerged indicated that, notwithstanding differing domestic arrangements, States Parties to the BWC are following, and enhancing, similar basic approaches relating to surveillance, detection, diagnosis, and combating of infectious diseases affecting humans, animals and plants, regardless of their origin. Consequently, we believe that the success of the 2004 Work Program already occurred in July.

The work this week should reflect on and acknowledge the accomplishments of our Experts this past July. Undoubtedly, a variety of paradigms could be employed to come to terms with the depth and breadth of the information exchanged then. The Chairman has offered his own synthesis, and my Government appreciates the time and effort the Chairman, his colleagues, and the Secretariat have devoted to reviewing the wealth of material put forth at the July Experts' meeting. In doing our own national review of the July discussions, we took away some broadly similar messages, in a largely different structure and, of course, our review is still ongoing because there was, indeed, a vast amount of information put forward in July.

Our analysis has centered on a perspective that drew heavily on our understanding of the utility underlying the approach BWC States Parties have adopted in this Work Program. One of the outcomes of this process is the recognition that there is a real need to find creative new ways to improve the global response to the threats posed by weapons of mass destruction, in this case specifically the biological threat. One need only look as far as the unanimous support for United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540 to see how critical these issues are for international security.

As the July Experts Meeting demonstrated clearly, there are real potential benefits from improved international response to disease of whatever origin and much of this work begins at the national level.

So the United States has looked at this year's effort to date with appreciation, especially in our collective ability to a) focus on the issues described in the mandate, and b) to resist a false paradigm of trying to fit those assessments inappropriately into the formal, legal framework of the Convention itself. We think this year's work is best used to focus national activity or even encourage activity by other international bodies that do have a mandate and relevant expertise to address particular situations. Each of us should enhance, for example, support of the World Health Organization's disease surveillance and response capability.

Without being constrained artificially to a formal framework, we nonetheless believe a number of themes have emerged from the July discussions. One of the important messages we took away from this exercise is the need to consult a wide range of expertise, ranging from health officials to homeland security experts, in order to effectively address matters related to disease surveillance, suspicious outbreaks, and alleged use of biological weapons. We also see the merit of developing and supporting national capacities for general public health disease surveillance and response. In doing so, we believe States Parties should also be prepared to detect and respond to outbreaks caused by accidental or deliberate release of BW agents. The elements of support and cooperation--between States Parties and with relevant regional and international organizations, in keeping with their respective roles and responsibilities--are important in strengthening surveillance of, and response to infectious diseases, as well as enhancing timely and complete reporting of disease outbreaks. We believe in the importance of being capable of responding to, and working to mitigate the effects of cases of alleged biological weapons use or suspicious outbreaks of disease, nationally and as appropriate at the regional or international level. In that context, the United States sees value in updating and providing national expertise and laboratory capacity to the UN Secretary-General for investigating cases of alleged use of biological and toxin weapons, as well as to the World Health Organization (WHO) and other relevant international health-related organizations, specifically the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) for their efforts in strengthening global health security. We are currently preparing such lists and will forward them to each of these organizations soon. We too see utility in the provision of technical assistance, upon request, by States Parties in a position to do so to other States Parties, particularly in framing and/or expanding their national systems of disease surveillance and response.

Mr. Chairman, my delegation stands ready to work with you on an outcome of this Annual Meeting that could usefully reflect the importance States Parties place on such lessons already learned in the manner in which the report of our 2003 meetings captured those lessons learned.

I would also like to express our thanks to you, the hard-working Secretariat staff, and to our 2003 Chairman Ambassador Toth--who will soon move out of the BWC ambit he has occupied with such dedication these past years--for respective efforts undertaken to move our issues forward in both a constructive and productive manner. The United States continues to attach importance to the BWC and the work we have undertaken in the 2003-2005 timeframe, which is already demonstrating its utility. We hope that by the time of our sixth Review Conference in 2006, progress on all fronts will be measurable. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.


Released on December 7, 2004

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