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Informal Ministerial Meeting held to strengthen the biological weapons convention



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M ED IA RELEASE MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS ALEXANDER DOWNER

FA125 24 September 1998

INFORMAL MINISTERIAL MEETING HELD TO STRENGTHEN THE BIOLOGICAL WEAPONS CONVENTION

I warmly welcome the outcome of the Informal Ministerial Meeting held in New York on 23 September designed to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). The meeting was part of Australia’s initiative to address the scourge of biological weapons and enhance Australian and international security.

I convened the meeting but was unable to attend because of the Federal elections: the meeting was chaired in my place by the New Zealand Foreign Minister, Mr Don McKinnon.

The meeting was attended by representatives from over 50 countries - including 25 ministers - from all regions of the world and produced a declaration co-sponsored by 57 countries.

The declaration calls for the conclusion as soon as possible of the negotiations on a protocol to strengthen and enhance the BWC. Strengthening the BWC through the conclusion of a verification protocol is of fundamental importance for international security.

As it currently stands, the BWC is an imperfect instrument because compliance with the Convention cannot be verified. The key message from the Informal Ministerial Meeting is that this shortcoming must be resolved as soon as possible.

Australia has been at the forefront of efforts to ensure that the strengthening of the BWC gets the urgent attention it requires. The Government’s Biological Weapons initiative, announced by Prime Minister Howard in March 1998, included in particular a call for a high-level . meeting to give political impetus to the negotiations to strengthen the Convention.

I am particularly pleased therefore that the declaration endorsed Australia’s proposal for a high-level meeting to be held in 1999 to lend further political support to the protocol negotiations.

The meeting saw a cross-regional group of countries come together for the first time at Ministerial level to give political support to the objective of strengthening the BWC. The number and range of countries in attendance, and the strength of the Declaration issued, is testament to the determination of the international community to do all it can to reduce the

potential threat to global security posed by biological weapons.

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Of all the weapons of mass destruction that potentially threaten regional and global security, biological weapons are the cheapest to obtain and the easiest to conceal. Establishing a means to ensure that the world-wide ban on biological weapons is as effective as possible is thus of

vital importance for international security.

The Informal Ministerial Meeting and its declaration have significantly enhanced prospects for strengthening the Convention in the near future. Australia welcomes this, and will continue to play an active role in working towards this goal.

5.

Declaration

of the Informal Ministerial Meeting on the Negotiation Towards Conclusion of

the Protocol to Strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention

1. The Ministers view with deep concern the threat to global and regional security posed by biological weapons. They agree on the importance of strong and urgent international action to ensure the strengthening of the ban on biological weapons. The Ministers welcome Australia’s initiative to convene this informal meeting of Ministers under the chairmanship of the Foreign Minister of New Zealand to assist in achieving these goals.

2. The Ministers affirm their strong support for the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention and for strengthening the effectiveness and improving the implementation of the Convention. The Ministers underline the political and security imperatives of concluding, as a matter of priority, a protocol to the Convention. They recognise the gravity of the work of the Ad Hoc Group and the pressing need for further progress in that work, and they warmly welcome the progress achieved to date. The Ministers stress the importance of fulfilling all aspects of the Ad Hoc Group mandate, recognising its scope and significance. They strongly believe that benefits in terms of security and development will accrue to all States Parties to the protocol.

3. The Ministers are determined to see this essential negotiation brought to a successful conclusion as soon as possible. They give their full support to the Chairman of the Ad Hoc Group, including on securing necessary time for the Ad Hoc Group to complete its work . The Ministers call on all States Parties to accelerate the negotiations, and to redouble their efforts within the Ad Hoc Group to formulate an efficient, cost-effective and practical regime and seek early resolution of the outstanding issues through renewed flexibility in order to complete the

protocol on the basis of consensus at the earliest possible date.

4. The Ministers highlight the value of close dialogue and cooperation with industry in order to enable industry perspectives to contribute to the development of a credible and effective protocol.

5. The Ministers reiterate the importance of strong and urgent action to eliminate the threat of biological weapons. They are committed to sustaining high level political support for the negotiations, including, after consultation among all States Parties to the Convention, through convening a high level meeting at the most appropriate time during the negotiating process in

1999, open to all States Parties to the Convention, in support of the work of the Ad Hoc Group.

23 September 1998 NEW YORK -

4 .

Informal Ministerial Meeting on the Negotiation Towards Conclusion of the Protocol to Strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention

New York, 23 September 1998

Co-sponsors of the Declaration

Argentina Mexico

Australia Netherlands

Austria New Zealand

Bangladesh Norway

Belgium Peru

Brazil Philippines

Bulgaria Poland

Canada Portugal

Chile Republic of Korea

China Romania

Colombia Russia

Czech Republic Singapore

Denmark Slovakia

Fiji Slovenia

Finland Solomon Islands

France South Africa

Germany Spain

Greece Sweden

Hungary Switzerland

Indonesia Thailand

Iran Tonga

Ireland Turkey

Italy Ukraine

Japan United Kingdom

Jordan United States of America

Kenya Uruguay

Kuwait Vietnam

Luxembourg Malaysia

Zimbabwe

Total Co-sponsors: 57

FACT SHEET

INFORMAL MINISTERIAL MEETING ON THE NEGOTIATION OF A PROTOCOL TO STRENGTHEN THE BIOLOGICAL WEAPONS CONVENTION

23 SEPTEMBER, NEW YORK

The Informal Ministerial Meeting is a collaborative effort by a group of countries from all regions to reinforce high-level political support for the negotiation of a protocol to strengthen and enhance the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). More generally, the meeting aims to focus international attention on the need for urgent action to strengthen barriers against the development and proliferation of biological weapons.

Of all the terrible weapons of mass destruction that potentially threaten regional and global security, biological weapons are the cheapest to obtain, and the easiest to conceal. Advances in biotechnology may make these weapons more attractive and effective as tools of war and terror.

The international community recognised, even at the height of the Cold War, the need to outlaw these devastating weapons. The Biological Weapons Convention was completed in 1972, over twenty years before the conclusion of the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty. The BWC is historic as the first multilateral treaty to completely ban an entire class of weapons of mass destruction. It bans all development, stockpiling or other acquisition of biological weapons and requires the destruction of all such weapons. The BWC entered into force in 1975, and currently has 141 States Parties.

But unlike its modem counterparts the CWC and CTBT, the BWC is handicapped by the absence of provisions or machinery to enhance confidence in global compliance with the Convention or to enable verification of compliance with the Convention. The experience with Iraq’s clandestine biological weapons program in the wake of the 1991 Gulf War was

one factor which focused attention on the shortcomings of the BWC, and galvanised the international community towards taking action to strengthen the Convention.

Current efforts to strengthen the BWC were initiated at the Third BWC Review Conference in 1991. Negotiations towards a protocol to the Convention began in 1995, after a group of experts met and reported that a verification regime was technically feasible. The body negotiating the protocol - the Ad Hoc Group of States Parties to the BWC, based in Geneva -' is mandated to "consider appropriate measures, including possible verification measures, and draft proposals to strengthen the Convention, to be included, as appropriate, in a legally binding instrument...". The protocol would also provide important benefits and opportunities

for cooperation in the field of biological science and technology. The Ad Hoc Group has made important progress towards the conclusion of a draft protocol.

The countries participating in the Informal Ministerial Meeting are working together to provide high level political support to the Ad Hoc Group negotiations to conclude a protocol as soon as possible in accordance with its mandate, and to seek early resolution of outstanding issues throughlenewed flexibility in order to achieve this goal. The meeting will issue a declaration in which Ministers:

. recognise the threat posed by biological weapons, and the need for urgent international action to strengthen the regime against them.

. call on all States Parties to redouble their efforts in the Ad Hoc Group to complete the protocol at the earliest possible date.

. affirm continued high level political support for the negotiations, including through convening, after consultation with States Parties to the Convention, a high level meeting at an appropriate time in 1999.

This declaration represents the first time in the context of the Ad Hoc Group negotiations that a cross-regional group of countries has come together at Ministerial level in a collaborative effort to give expression to their common interests in concluding the negotiations and their determination to see agreement reached on an effective protocol which strengthens the BWC and reduces the threat to global security posed by biological weapons.