Disarmament Insight


Friday, 31 August 2007

BWC: 2007 Meeting of Experts

If you were in the Palais des Nations last Friday morning, you might have heard applause emanating from one of the conference chambers. That was the end of the 2007 Meeting of Experts of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). In comparison to other events in the Palais like the Human Rights Council, it was a low-key gathering. It is, however, the latest chapter in the reinvigoration of multilateral efforts to strengthen the norms against poisoning and deliberate spreading of disease.

One of the highlights of the meeting was the official launch of the new Implementation Support Unit (ISU) for the BWC. The ISU has three staff. As the ISU’s size suggests, it isn’t designed to solve the problem of biological weapons by itself. Rather, it was created to help states help themselves. They decided not to contain resources dedicated to addressing these weapons in a single monolithic institution but to keep them in the hands of governments and other international organizations, where most of the time they are dedicated to other issues, such as tackling naturally occurring infectious disease.

The ISU, however, will be key in bringing these resources together when necessary, and ensuring that they are interwoven to form a new type of fabric - one that will offer the flexibility of lycra, the strength of silk but be as soft on political sensitivities as cashmere is on skin. (Ed – Piers, I think we need to get you to the pub for a pint and a game of darts.)

Last week’s BWC meeting was an important opportunity for experts from governments, international and non-governmental organizations to meet and discuss national and regional measures and approaches to implement the provisions of the Convention. This year’s discussions had a special focus on law enforcement. While clearly not the stuff of newspaper headlines, this kind of collective work is absolutely crucial to building a norm that’s effective in preventing biological weapons, and identifying emerging risks to the regime.

By all accounts the BWC meeting was considered a success, with many substantive proposals. As importantly, there’s a renewed sense of confidence present despite past difficulties stewardship of the Convention has faced. This will help move the BWC higher up national agendas and strengthen impetus for implementing its obligations.

Although it’s clear that there’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution to implementing the BWC, a number of common understandings, themes and elements emerged during the course of the meeting. There was also a shared sense that better use could be made of the new ISU as a catalyst in better coordinating and managing implementation activities. Another important sense was that there’s a need to build national capacities – in addition to guidance and advice on enacting legislation and regulations, some states need practical assistance to be able to enforce and manage such measures.

The ideas and proposals tabled at this meeting come on top of more general discussions on national implementation held in BWC meetings in 2003 and the review of the BWC’s operation late last year. The next annual Meeting of BWC States Parties, due to be held this December, will be tasked with ‘cooking up’ these raw ingredients into something more accessible and polished that can then be ‘served’ to those states looking to improve or enhance their national arrangements or who have just joined the treaty (4 countries already have this year.)

There is an old maxim that a chef is only as good as his last meal. So if the BWC is to continue to be at the forefront, it will be critical that each and every one of its meetings add something new to the ‘stockpot’. This one certainly did, and it bodes well for December’s menu.

This is a guest blog by Dr. Piers Millett, a member of the BWC Implementation Support Unit team.


The BWC Implementation Support Unit’s website can be viewed here.

Video entitled "What You Should Know About Biological Warfare (1952)", available on Youtube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6NdxEmqvtk.


Anonymous said...

Congrats to the ISU on its official establishment.
Love the film - a cut above its contemporary films on nuclear civil defence with the old duck & cover. Although the whitey aspect of the film is such a perculiar feature to modern-day eyes. It is almost as though African Americans did not exist.