Expert says BWC needs to make improvements

In an editorial written by Laura H. Kahn, a general internist on the research staff of Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security, Kahn suggests potential improvements to the Biological Weapons Convention.

The column comes with the impending review conference for the BWC set for December in Geneva. Kahn writes that the treaty has many well-recognized deficiencies, such as a lack of an implementing body, verification protocol, universality, industry support, and the ability to investigate alleged violations, The Bulletin reports.

While Kahn writes there have been successes with the program, notably the annual intersessional work programs and the Implementation Support Unit, a lack of a verification protocol is one of the major issues of the BWC.

“Yet unfortunately there is still no agreed way under the treaty to verify whether a country has an offensive bioweapons program, nor is there an agreed way to find out if sub-state actors, much less individuals, are engaging in offensive bioweapons development,” Kahn wrote, according to The Bulletin.

Since efforts to adopt a verification protocol in the past have failed, such as a 2001 attempt that effectively died when the United States withdrew its support, Kahn discusses four main alternatives.

The first is that meetings of the BWC state parties should include a large technical component and rotate the technical discussions across the Americas, Europe and Asia. Kahn writes that these closer interactions with the pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical industries with the BWC might enhance transparency and connectivity. Another alternative is to utilize the internet more effectively to publicly share information on biotechnology and biosecurity.

Kahn also points out the other international institutions, such as the World Health Organization, could be strengthened and expanded to encourage and support the surveillance of human, animal and plant diseases, The Bulletin reports. Another alternative is to increase interaction between humans, laboratories and scientists via academic exchanges, scientific conferences and visiting scholars beyond formal protocols and declarations.

“These broad-based efforts, which would ideally include scientists, business executives, public health professionals, and diplomats, would strengthen the treaty regime by assuaging fears about bioweapons -- and would do so without a protocol,” Kahn wrote, according to The Bulletin.