View Header


Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release January 27, 1998


The Biological Weapons Convention

The President announced today that the United States would lead the effort to erect stronger international barriers against the proliferation and use of biological weapons.

We must act to prevent....the use of disease as a weapon of war and terror, the President said. The Biological Weapons Convention has been in force for almost 25 years, but frankly, it lacks the teeth of tough enforcement measures. This year, we must strengthen that treaty with an international inspection system to help detect and deter cheating.

Under the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), some 140 countries have committed not to develop, produce or possess biological or toxin weapons. However, the BWC lacks provisions for enforcing these commitments through mandatory declarations and inspections and thus for deterring violations.

Negotiations have been underway in Geneva since 1995 on a compliance and transparency protocol for the BWC. Under the new initiative announced by the President today, the United States will seek to complete the framework of a strong BWC protocol by the end of 1998. The United States will work closely with U.S. industry to develop and reach international agreement on the following tools:

Declarations: BWC Parties would be required to submit annual declarations to the BWC implementing organization about facilities and/or activities that are especially suited for possible BW purposes, such as facilities that contain certain types of aerosol test chambers or that send or receive international transfers of dangerous pathogens, such as anthrax.

Voluntary Visits: BWC Parties would be encouraged to allow a visit to any of their facilities declared under the protocol to address questions regarding the BWC or the protocol. These voluntary visits would be at the discretion of the facility concerned, and all decisions regarding access during this type of visit would be the made by appropriate authorities of the particular facility.

Non-challenge Clarifying Visits: BWC Parties would be required to accept a reasonable number of on-site visits by the BWC implementing organization to clarify an ambiguity, uncertainty, anomaly, omission or other issue related to their annual declaration. Such NCVs would be different from routine or random visits, which the United States opposes, and from challenge investigations, which are discussed below.

Challenge Investigations: BWC Parties would be required to accept an investigation by the BWC implementing organization of any location under their jurisdiction and control if there is evidence of noncompliance with the basic prohibitions of the BWC. Such investigations should be subject to a green light filter, under which a simple majority of the governing body of the BWC implementing organization must vote to approve an investigation before it can proceed.

In negotiating these measures, the United States will ensure that the protocol includes strong provisions for protecting constitutional rights, Confidential Business Information (CBI) and National Security Information (NSI) during any on-site activity. These protections should include the use of managed access procedures, appropriate timelines and other protective mechanisms. In the event that access is limited to protect constitutional rights or CBI or NSI, the BWC Party should be obligated to make every reasonable effort to provide alternative means to clarify the ambiguity or compliance concern that generated the on-site activity. The protocol should also require the BWC implementing organization to protect any sensitive information it receives from BWC Parties.

# # #