EU statement at the Sixth Review Conference of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention

Sixth Review Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction (BTWC)
Geneva, 20 November - 8 December 2006

Statement by H.E. Markus Lyra, Under-Secretary of State, Finland, on behalf of the European Union
Geneva, 20 November 2006

(Check against delivery)

Mr Chairman,

1. I have the honour to take the floor on behalf of the European Union. The Acceding Countries Bulgaria and Romania, the Candidate Countries Turkey, Croatia* and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia*, the Countries of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidates Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, as well as Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova align themselves with this declaration. I am particularly happy to be speaking under your able chairmanship. Without your thorough knowledge and diplomatic skills many of us would feel much less confident today.

Mr Chairman,

2. One does not need to be trained in biology to be convinced of the importance of biological sciences and biotechnology in today's world. It sometimes feels that not a day goes by without a new discovery and, perhaps more importantly, new practical applications in this field that contribute to global economic and social development. The potential for progress is enormous and we should harness it to the maximum, but no State Party should lose sight of the principal obligations under this Convention: disarmament and non-proliferation of biological and toxin weapons.

3. Our common commitment to disarmament and non-proliferation of biological and toxin weapons is the necessary foundation from which we can exploit the potential of biosciences for peaceful purposes. That requires us to manage the risks associated with the inherent dual use nature of biological agents and toxins, materials, equipment, and knowledge under this Convention. The management of those risks in the complex world of today requires a multifaceted approach. The strengthening of the multilateral regime must be linked with other kinds of governmental and non-governmental, national and international measures.

4. In this context the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention remains the internationally recognised normative and legal cornerstone of biological disarmament and non-proliferation. Its Review Conferences are the forum for taking decisions to strengthen this "cornerstone", both the Convention itself and its implementation. We should use this opportunity to reaffirm the norm that biological weapons are totally prohibited and to strengthen the effectiveness of the Convention.

5. This is the opportunity that we have in our hands today, and we should seize it. Significant efforts have already been invested in preparing for this Review Conference, both internationally and regionally and nationally, by Governments and a wide range of non-governmental actors. Now we need to build on this work and synthesise its results into a Final Declaration that reflects our common understandings.

Mr Chairman,

6. Strengthening the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention is one of the priorities of the EU strategy on Weapons of Mass Destruction. The European Union is one of the groups of countries that have undertaken substantial preparations for this Review Conference. The EU ministers agreed, back in March, on a Common Position which establishes our main priorities and objectives for the Review Conference. We agreed on this Common Position early on so that we would have the time to present it to other States Party and to search for common ground. I am pleased to report that these contacts have shown a wide degree of agreement between our goals and those of many other States Party. Based on the Common Position, the EU has also prepared concrete proposals for the Conference in a form of EU papers which reflect the opinion of the Member States and aligned countries.

7. As stated in the Common Position, the main objective of the European Union is to strengthen further the Biological Weapons Convention. We remain committed to the development of measures to verify compliance with the Convention in the long term. The EU wants to promote a practical and feasible outcome of this Review Conference.

Mr Chairman,

8. A full review of the operation of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention is necessary. It is needed to consolidate the ban on biological weapons and to ensure that the Convention reflects the challenges of the outside world. This review figures prominently on our agenda.

9. The intersessional work program of 2003-05 was the first of its kind in the BTWC regime. I believe we are all convinced of the benefits it has delivered. We should not satisfy ourselves with only endorsing its results. Instead, the intersessional conclusions should be followed up by concrete action both at the national level and through BTWC meetings.

10. The EU Common Position and the EU Working Papers define a number of key issues that the EU will promote at this Review Conference. These include the universalisation of the Convention, where a common strategy is needed to optimise the efforts of all States Party towards this common goal. The EU has already undertaken demarches and organised seminars to convince States non-Party of the merits of becoming party to the Convention. We are pleased that many of these States take part in this Conference as observers but remind them that they also should speed up their efforts to accede to the Convention as full members.

11. Scientific and technological developments will continue to be relevant to the BTWC. We will need to remain cognizant of advances and their potential for misuse across a wide range of disciplines. Not least, given the rapid pace of progress, the EU would like to see more frequent reassessments of the implications of scientific and technological developments. In this context, efforts must also be made to include other stakeholders in addition to the States Party, such as the scientific and business communities.

12. The EU strongly supports a further intersessional work programme, leading to the 7th Review Conference in 2011. The new work programme should not merely repeat the 2003-05 discussions but build on them, extend them where this makes sense while drawing on the lessons we have learned. The EU supports a focus on practical and feasible measures which will strengthen the Convention by enhancing the effectiveness of its implementation. We have put forward a list of topics for discussion and are ready to work with others to develop the next programme of work.

13. National implementation is another priority for the EU, and we believe the BTWC community, as a whole, should keep progress in this area under close scrutiny. However, we do recognise that many States Party face significant constraints which slow down the process of implementation. This is why the EU provides assistance to countries that need help with implementing their obligations, and is happy that many other States Party do the same. The EU encourages those countries that need assistance to make their needs known.

14. The EU also recalls that reinforcing its Cooperative Threat Reduction programmes is part of its Strategy against the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction. The most significant expression of CTR is the G8 Global Partnership, in which the EU and several of its Member States are involved. The Global Partnership has also a biological-weapons dimension, in particular with regard to the employment of scientists previously involved in military programmes.

15. In this context, I wish to recall that national implementation of the BTWC contributes to compliance with the Security Council Resolution 1540. The legislative database of the UNSCR 1540 Committee clearly demonstrates that abundant information is available from measures that have already been nationally implemented and approved. The European Union considers that in order to improve national awareness about biosafety/biosecurity issues, as well as assisting States Parties to enact and implement appropriate legislative and other measures to control and secure domestically sensitive biological materials, it could be a worthwhile activity to develop and keep up to date a systematic catalogue of biosafety/biosecurity measures.

16. As a sign of the EU's commitment to the Convention, all EU Member States have fulfilled their obligation under the BTWC to file a CBM return in 2006. Confidence Building Measures (CBM) are a valuable tool to enhance transparency of disarmament regimes but, regrettably, the CBM mechanism of the BTWC remains under-utilised. The EU believes that this problem should be tackled in a comprehensive manner, expanding the country coverage of the CBM mechanism, enhancing its efficiency through technical amendments and exploring the relevance of any possible enhancement of its scope. The EU encourages States Party to take advantage of the Review Conference to discuss and agree on possible improvements to the CBM mechanism and has made concrete proposals to that end. If these changes cannot be achieved during the Review Conference, an intersessional meeting could be mandated to work on CBMs.

17. The above-listed measures to strengthen the BTWC regime are mostly to be taken by States Party themselves. In some cases, however, pooling States Party resources would bring significant added value without creating extra bureaucracy or unjustified costs. This is why the EU believes that the implementation of Review Conference decisions should be facilitated through arrangements for implementation support within the DDA. The EU considers the lack of adequate implementation support to be an impediment to our enhanced and concerted efforts to improve compliance with and effective implementation of the treaty. The EU suggests that the Review Conference consider in depth how to make better use of already existing structures in the BTWC context and how to improve these to meet the standard of effectiveness.

Mr Chairman,

18. In the EU working papers we have elaborated more on many of the priorities set in our Common Position and we will continue to do so during this Conference. We look forward to learning more on the positions of other groups and individual States Party, and are ready to work together for common conclusions. Hard work and flexibility will be required from all participants but I am confident that, under your able chairmanship, this Conference has good chances of success.

19. The proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction is recognised as one of the major threats facing the world community. The call for action to counter this threat is widely heard. However, despite this understanding, international efforts in the field of disarmament and arms control have too often ended up in deadlock. I do not want to dwell on the failures but only underline the need to break this pattern. A successful Review Conference of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention leading to a programme of concrete national, regional and international actions will demonstrate that the international disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control community is able to effectively respond to the challenges of today's world.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

* Croatia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.