Clinton Boosts Global Ban on Biological Weapons US Will Propose an Inspection System to Strengthen 1972 Treaty, Ending Internal Feud

By Jonathan S. Landay, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, January 29, 1998 | Go to article overview

Clinton Boosts Global Ban on Biological Weapons US Will Propose an Inspection System to Strengthen 1972 Treaty, Ending Internal Feud


Jonathan S. Landay, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Even as the United States has been girding for war to compel Iraq to cooperate with international monitors searching for biological weapons, it has been grappling with how its own biotechnology industry might do the same thing.

Not that there are any suspicions that American drug companies are making germ bombs. But the government has been gripped by a three-year feud over the issue of allowing the inspection of US facilities.

The impasse has left the world's leading power on the sidelines of international talks aimed at putting teeth into a global biological-weapons ban that has been in effect for 23 years but never enforced. The infighting ended this week with President Clinton's State of the Union announcement that the US will propose an international inspection system to strengthen the 1972 Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention (BWC). US officials and independent analysts say Mr. Clinton's decision should give a vital boost to the talks among 40 states underway in Geneva to devise BWC enforcement mechanisms. US allies and arms-control experts complain that the absence of US leadership has slowed the negotiations since they began in 1995. "This is a breakthrough in a sense that now the US has finally put a position on the table," says Jonathan Tucker, an arm-control expert at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, in Monterey, Calif. A timely announcement Clinton's announcement surprised those following the issue as there was no prior hint of an end to the interagency wrangling. But the crisis with Iraq finally forced the secretaries of Defense, State and Commerce - William Cohen, Madeleine Albright and William Daley - to step in. As the US was preparing to go to war to rid Iraq of germ weapons, it faced the fact that it had done little to bolster the international treaty designed to halt their proliferation. "The continuing problems in Iraq certainly have raised this to the attention of senior-level US decisionmakers," says a senior US official. "There has been a disconnect {in US policy}," he admits. "We view it {biological weapons proliferation} as a serious issue and we want to make sure we get it as right as we can. …

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