Determined Elimination of the Danger of Deliberate Disease

By Pearson, Graham S. | UN Chronicle, Fall 2000 | Go to article overview

Determined Elimination of the Danger of Deliberate Disease


Pearson, Graham S., UN Chronicle


When the Security Council met for the first time at the level of Heads of State and Government on 31 January 1992, following a year in which the United Nations had successfully countered the aggression of Iraq against Kuwait, there was a sense of real promise for the world that its permanent members would work together to assure the security of all nations and create a safer and more secure world. In a statement issued that day by the Security Council President, the members "agree that the world has now the best chance of achieving international peace and security since the foundation of the United Nations".

The statement also noted that "the proliferation of all weapons of mass destruction constitute a threat to international peace and security. The members of the Council commit themselves to working to prevent the spread of technology related to the research for or production of such weapons and to take appropriate action to that end." There was, therefore, real grounds to expect the permanent members to show leadership in strengthening the regimes to eliminate weapons of mass destruction and to be resolute against any States which seek to retain such weapons.

The first weapon of mass destruction to be totally prohibited was the deliberate use of disease as a weapon to attack humans, animals or plants. The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction opened for signature in 1972 and entered into force in 1975. The Convention prohibits developing, producing, stockpiling or acquiring microbial or other biological agents, or toxins, whatever their method of production, of types and in quantities that have no justification for prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes. This general purpose criterion ensures that the prohibition is all embracing and includes any advances in microbiology and bio-technology.

The decade since that 1992 meeting has not fulfilled its promise, especially in regard to the elimination of the danger from deliberate disease. A few months later, Russian President Boris Yeltsin admitted that the former Soviet Union, despite being a co-depositary, with the United Kingdom and the United States, of the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, had continued an offensive biological weapons programme until 1992. The trilateral attempts since then to gain confidence that this programme has indeed been terminated has not been a success. And for many years the United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency's annual reports to Congress have stated that the trilateral process has not resolved all United States concerns.

March 1995 saw the sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway by the Aum Shinrikyo sect, who were subsequently found to have also been working with biological agents and devices. This caused the international community to recognize that there was a real vulnerability to attacks using chemical or biological agents by terrorist groups.

The decade has also seen the determined uncovering of Iraq's biological weapons programme by the United Nations Special Commission. Although UNSCOM had demonstrated beyond any shadow of doubt that Iraq had a significant biological weapons programme-which had resulted in weapons filled with biological agents being deployed with predelegated authority for them to be used in the coalition force that had attacked Baghdad with nuclear weapons-the United Nations and the Security Council have failed the global community by the absence of a resolute determination to deal with Iraq and thereby show all would-be acquirers of weapons of mass destruction that such actions will not be tolerated in the interests of safety and security of all States. …

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