This week in Geneva, Switzerland experts in various field including security, science, health, and law enforcement will kick off the seventh review conference of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention. Like most United Nations confabs, there will be several weeks of discussions, and parties, all on the taxpayer dime.
These meetings are not without consequence. Most of the consensus positions reached at these gatherings become fodder for laws and regulations right here in the United States. For example, many of our laws and regulations to control the spread of biological weapons research and technology start off as chatter in these and other fora such as the Australia Group.
Why do we participate? For starters, the U.S. is a party to an international agreement that gives rise to these meetings under the UN process: the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). In addition to the conferences, the BWC requires each country to take any necessary measures to prohibit and prevent the development, production, stockpiling, acquisition, retention, transfer or use of biological weapons by anyone under their jurisdiction, as well as parallel measures to prohibit and prevent encouraging, inciting or assisting others in any of these acts.
While a majority of nations have signed on to the BWC, not every country is a party and, some who are, are not as diligent as we are about controlling the spread of biological weapons or setting up control regimes. Then there are some countries that wish the BWC would just go away. Pakistan, Cuba, and, surprise, Iran, have been lobbying for decades to do away with it because, they claim, it inhibits “peaceful” biological research programs. Some countries who should know better, such as Russia, has been in non-compliance for some time. The jury is still out on China and its commitment to the process.
What input do you, the taxpayer, have at these gatherings? Absolutely none. At least not directly. We need to trust whoever is in the White House to dispatch U.S. officials and foreign service officers to do the right thing. If you’re interested in learning what Obama Administration aims to do at the conference, you can read this brief White House press release.
Are these gatherings a good idea? Generally speaking, yes. If you believe in the international processes established under the UN system that is. As usual, however, the U.S. puts in a lot more money and sweat equity than a majority of the other signatory countries. While it is in need of updating, our export control system, warts and all, along with law enforcement, is much better than any other national legal regime currently in place. We should require a lot more from our allies. They sure demand a lot from us.