A Renewed Emphasis on Bioweapons in Geneva

A Renewed Emphasis on Bioweapons in Geneva

More than 180 countries want to negotiate more concrete monitoring of biological weapons in Geneva. The corona pandemic’s consequences had shaken governments, explained the conference‘s president.

The Biological Weapons Convention contracting states want to start new negotiations on monitoring. The corona pandemic has shown how a pathogen can partially paralyse the world. This shook governments and made them realise that something had to be done to make the convention more concrete, said Italian conference president Leonardo Bencini in Geneva. Twenty years ago, discussions about a monitoring mechanism came to nothing.

Bencini opened the three-week meeting of the 184 contracting states. “Breaking the standstill would be a success,” he said. It is about the “Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) Weapons and Toxin Weapons and on the Destruction of Such Weapons”.

The convention was adopted by the United Nations in 1971 and came into force in 1975. Only Israel and eight other small countries in Africa and Asia are not States Parties. It is the first convention to ban an entire class of weapons. The contracting states usually meet every five years for a review conference.

Unlike chemical or nuclear weapons, testing biological agents is difficult, Bencini said, because it’s not about extensive facilities or clearly defined substances. In laboratories, research is often carried out for peaceful purposes. Among other things, a code of conduct for scientists is conceivable, said Bencini. New technological developments would have changed the situation considerably in 20 years. “This opens up new opportunities and new risks,” said Bencini.

Bencini did not want to anticipate what a monitoring mechanism might look like. Based on other international agreements, conditions for regular reporting by the contracting states on their research programs or laboratory visits would be conceivable. Bencini expects negotiations to last several years.

Image by United States Mission Geneva (Flickr)/ Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

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