International Reaction to Secret U.S. Bio-Weapons Research Muted

By Brugger, Seth | Arms Control Today, October 2001 | Go to article overview

International Reaction to Secret U.S. Bio-Weapons Research Muted


Brugger, Seth, Arms Control Today


NEWS AND NEGOTIATIONS

RECENT REVELATIONS REGARDING secret U.S. biological weapons research have met with little international reaction despite concerns over whether the programs violate U.S. commitments under the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC).

The disclosures, which were first reported in the September 4 New York Times, detailed U.S. development of a biological-- agent production facility and a model biological bomb, as well as plans to produce a new strain of anthrax. The BWC outlaws development and possession of biological agents and weapons for offensive purposes but permits defensive activity.

The reports came just weeks after the United States rejected an internationally negotiated enforcement protocol intended to strengthen the BWC, instead saying that it would present alternative proposals for increasing compliance with the treaty. (See ACT, September 2001.)

European states, which have staunchly supported the protocol, have remained silent about the reports. According to a European official, the European Union has not yet officially discussed the recent disclosures.

But another European official said that many Europeans are concerned about the revelations, which the official said are "going to make it much easier for others to claim that work they are doing is legitimate biodefense work."

The official added, "If the U.S. administration had seen such work underway in other countries, then it would be the first to point the finger that this is questionable. And what this does is makes the gray areas grayer still between offense and defense, and that doesn't help." The official said that Western governments would bring up this point privately despite assurances from Washington that its programs are "legitimate and permitted under the convention."

The official also said that the disclosures could make it difficult for the United States to sell its promised proposals on how to move beyond the protocol process at an upcoming BWC review conference, scheduled to begin in November. However, the September terrorist attacks on New York and Washington could decrease criticism of U.S. proposals, the official said.

According to The New York Times report, the United States embarked on an effort to develop a modified anthrax strain after it learned of a reported Russian effort to develop the anthrax but failed to subsequently obtain the strain from Moscow. At a September 4 briefing, Defense Department spokesperson Victoria Clarke said that the U.S. request for the anthrax is still pending a decision by Russia's Export Control Commission.

Clarke also said the Defense Department plans to use the anthrax strain to test it against U. …

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