Statement by Dr. Paul F. Walker, GCI ESS Director, to 8th 5-year review conference of the BWC

Mr. President, Excellencies, Distinguished Representatives, Ladies and Gentlemen: On behalf of Green Cross International, a non-profit, charitable, and non-governmental organization, founded by Mikhail Gorbachev 23 years ago and headquartered here in Geneva, I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak, however briefly, to this year’s Eighth Five-Year Review Conference of the BWC. For more than two decades Green Cross International has been actively promoting and facilitating international cooperation of various stakeholders on security, nonproliferation, sustainability, and public health issues and we are pleased to join this important conference once again. We maintain Green Cross offices in over 30 countries today and have sought to strengthen many international regimes in Vienna, Geneva, The Hague, and elsewhere in order to build a more safe, secure, and equitable world.

Mr. President, The BWC was opened for signature in 1972 and entered into force in 1975. Although the treaty is now over four decades old, it remains a very important part of our international security architecture, illustrated by the commitment of many States Parties here this month and in this year’s preparatory meetings in April and August.

We have had many positive results in recent years: for example, enhancement of national capacities by supporting the implementation of International Health Regulations, enforcement of BWC-related national legislation, improvement of biosafety and biosecurity regulations, promotion of education and awareness-raising, and launching of new initiatives such as the Global Health Security Agenda. The realities of today’s world, however, call for even greater efforts and much work ahead as we all strive to strengthen and universalize the BWC. The bottom line of our work here is of course to preserve and strengthen the global norm against use of disease as a weapon.

Mr. President, Let me make just a few key and brief points which I hope will complement the many helpful statements and working papers already presented. First, universality of the Convention continues to be a very important issue. The BWC has now expanded to 177 States Parties; thirteen states have neither signed nor ratified the Convention, and another six countries have yet to ratify their commitments. In comparison, the Chemical Weapons Convention, half the age of the BWC, today includes 192 States Parties. We urge States Parties to provide these 19 non-member states with the necessary assistance and guidance to facilitate their joining the BWC in the near future.

Second, national implementation, including export control, under BWC Articles III and IV likewise remains very important. Many States Parties have failed to fully implement their obligations under the BWC, oftentimes simply due to lack of attention or expertise. We know that specific attention to this issue for both the BWC and CWC has smoothed the way for many countries to move forward on this issue.

Third, science and technology (S&T) developments will always remain one of the key issues which must be closely tracked by States Parties. Establishment of a Science Advisory Board (SAB) for the BWC, similar to the very helpful group of outside experts which regularly advises the CWC, would be a very useful step for this Review Conference.

Fourth, in the absence of any verification regime, peer reviews and voluntary visits on a bilateral or multilateral basis regarding biosecurity and safety issues would be a very useful step in international cooperation and assistance and confidence-building for States Parties.

Fifth, all of these efforts need to be coordinated, managed, and in most cases implemented by the Implementation Support Unit (ISU) which remains both understaffed and underfunded. This Review Conference needs to take the important step of expanding the ISU beyond its current three-person staff, unfortunately reduced to two for the past six months due to the failure to budget for possible substitute staffing. A working paper of the ISU covers this subject well, but I would note that additional travel and equipment funding is also a necessity.

And sixth and lastly, all of this requires adequate funding. The ongoing failure of States Parties to adequately staff and fund this very important abolition regime, and then wonder why it’s not yet universal or fully implemented, remains an embarrassment in international governance. And the recent United Nations Secretariat report of October 17, 2016, also points out that almost $2 million remains outstanding in assessed contributions for the BWC, with over half of the States Parties in arrears on payments. Three States Parties account for a quarter of this unhealthy deficit, and the balance in the BWC account three weeks ago was only $55,000.

Mr. President: Finally, I would point out that our Green Cross founding chairman, Mikhail Gorbachev, has long underlined the close relationship between security and sustainability in today’s world. The Biological Weapons Convention is an excellent example of this. As we witness the recent commitments from the climate change conference (COP 21) in Paris last year to address global warming and carbon emissions, and convene here the same week as the COP 22 meeting in Marrakesh, it behooves us all to recognize how important a fully functioning BWC is to a sustainable and safe world today, and to work cooperatively to ensure that biology is never used for nefarious purposes.

Thank you for your time and attention.