Common Ground on the BWC: An Interview with U.S. Special Representative Laura Kennedy

By Horner, Daniel; Tucker, Jonathan B. | Arms Control Today, June 2011 | Go to article overview

Common Ground on the BWC: An Interview with U.S. Special Representative Laura Kennedy


Horner, Daniel, Tucker, Jonathan B., Arms Control Today


Laura Kennedy, the U.S. ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, was named last December to serve also as U.S. special representative on issues relating to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). In that position, her principal focus is the treaty's review conference later this year. Her previous diplomatic postings include a broad range of arms control assignments.

Arms Control Today spoke with Kennedy by telephone May 12. She described the U.S. approach to the BWC and the upcoming review conference, which is scheduled to take place December 5-22. The interview covered many of the topics that are expected to be central to the review conference, including verification, peaceful cooperation, and the BWCs intersessional process.

The interview was transcribed by Xiaodon Liang. It has been edited for clarity and length. The text of the full interview is available at http://www. armscontrol.org/interviews.

ACT: Could you bring us up to date on where things stand after the April BWC preparatory committee meeting and tell us what the results ofthat meeting indicate about the outlook for the December review conference?

Kennedy: I'd be delighted. We finished the PrepCom on April 14. It went extremely well - so well, in fact, that we finished a day early, which in my experience happens very, very rarely. Now this was a procedural meeting, but on the other hand, I've certainly been at procedural meetings that were pretty unproductive and nasty, and this went extremely well. It was efficient. As I mentioned, we even finished early, so that is a very good sign. We were also very impressed with the president-designate of the review conference, a colleague of mine incidentally here (in Geneva], Ambassador [Paul] van den IJssel, who was, as one would expect from a chairman, impartial, and, we are delighted to see, effective. It was a very constructive tone, I thought, throughout the discussions.

That is not to say that there were not differences of view; there certainly were and are. But I found that the delegations there were focused on finding solutions and avoiding polemical speeches. That's a good thing. So I think that judging by this and other signs, the outlook for the review conference is a positive one. We, and I mean the U.S. here, certainly see it as a real opportunity to strengthen implementation of the BWC, reinforce its importance and relevance for this next century. Although people properly look at areas of disagreement, there's also a huge amount of common ground in the international community.

ACT: There has been quite a lot of discussion about what threats the BWC should be trying to address. You and other U.S. officials have been quite clear in saying that the focus should include subnational threats as well as national programs and that it should also cover areas, such as the surveillance of natural epidemic diseases, that go beyond "security" as it's normally defined. Can you describe the relative importance of these threats and how the BWC can help to address them? Do other countries generally subscribe to the U.S. approach?

Kennedy: I think the issues that you've identified indeed are ones that were identified by my boss, Undersecretary [of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen] Tauscher, who came out to Geneva for the annual meeting [of states-parties] in [December] 2009 when she unveiled the U.S. national strategy. She made just those points, that you need to work on this complex of issues.

First of all, we believe that you need to increase confidence that countries are complying with their obligations and effectively implementing the convention. As you know, the U.S. government does not think that a verification protocol would achieve that objective. That, however, doesn't mean we think that the objective is not important or that there's nothing to be done. Very much to the contrary.

Second, the threat of bioterrorism- we think it's real. …

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