(Washington, D.C.): President Bush’s most recent profile in courage came with the announcement last week that the United States would not sign onto a protocol that was supposed to make the wholly unverifiable and unenforceable Biological Weapons Convention somewhat more verifiable and enforceable. He took this step in spite of the enormous pressure he is under to accede to international accords — irrespective of their incompatibility with the Nation’s security, economic well-being and/or sovereignty — lest he be denounced for acting unilaterally or, worse yet, as an “isolationist.”
The Wall Street Journal did a signal service last Friday by publishing its own lead editorial together with an excellent op.ed. article by a member of the Center for Security Policy’s National Security Advisory Council, Dr. Fred Ikl. These essays explain the compelling reasons why Mr. Bush acted as he did. As they make clear, the American people — and, indeed, all those whose security and prosperity depends far more on this country’s military and economic strength rooted in its constitutionally mandated representational government than on any number of international accords — owe him a debt of gratitude for rejecting mindless multilateralism and providing the leadership we all need.
Wall Street Journal, 27 July 2001
George W. Bush is the peace-through-treaties club crazy. First he refuses to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, then he nixes Kyoto, and lately he’s refused to genuflect before the ABM Treaty. This week, it’s germ warfare. Beyond the wailing and gnashing, the germ-warfare treaty, like the others, has a story behind it that serious people should know.
The U.S. has not opted out of the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, which obligates its 143 signatories to repudiate biological weapons of mass destruction. The original convention included no verification clause. For now, nobody knows, nor has any means of finding out, who’s cheating.
Trouble is, we still won’t know who’s cheating even if we adopt the whole 210-page U.N. protocol intended to give the convention teeth, and that’s what the Bush Administration just rejected. The straight-shooting Mr. Bush is begging off the protocol for one good reason: It won’t work. As Fred Ikle writes nearby, bio-weapons are notoriously difficult to detect. Lest we forget, germs are small. They are naturally occurring, and their cultivation is largely indistinguishable from business-as-usual at an ordinary pharmaceutical plant.
To test the verification measures that the U.N. protocol commends, in the 1990s the U.S. conducted a series of painstakingly realistic mock inspections of American vaccine production facilities, university labs and bio-defense sites. The inspectors were pros — industrial microbiologists, bio-defense experts, toxicology and virology scientists.
The results were shambolic. Merely careless record-keeping errors seemed to disguise unspeakable wickedness. Above-board vaccine manufacture looked to eminently qualified inspectors like nefarious microbe production. Setting off such false alarms in real life, inspections designed as “confidence-building” would only aggravate mistrust.
In a similar exercise organized by the Stimson Center, a pro-arms-control D.C. think tank, two prominent infectious-disease experts with extensive experience in Iraq and Russia examined a laboratory in New York State. The lab had been deliberately contaminated with artificial anthrax cultures. Dubious records were planted, and the chief technician was even instructed to “act nervous.” The examiners completely missed the anthrax. But they did raise the alarm over numerous irregularities that were perfectly innocent. And this lab was rigged to be discovered. North Koreans might not be so obliging.
Because the West, especially the U.S., maintains the vast majority of high-tech bio-labs, most inspections would take place in the very countries — let’s get real here — least likely to cook up toil and trouble in their basements. Meantime, the protocol would summon snowstorms of paperwork to report on all the premises and equipment that could conceivably be used for sinister purposes. Again, declaration requirements would fall disproportionately on Western nations, with the larger defense programs.
Worse, these declarations would be voluntary. Yet only states with nothing to hide would have any motivation to report honestly. What government is likely to file, “Hey, we just whipped up a big batch of cholera, come on over”?
Moreover, countries subject to random inspections would get a two-week warning, could limit what visitors see and could ban biological sampling. Even a state accused of a breach would get 108 hours to tidy up for guests, and could also limit access and prohibit sampling. Breweries and antibiotics factories would be exempt from inspection, yet both provide the requisite kit to breed nasty bugs.
The regime on the table is significantly less rigorous than the no-notice inspections to which UNSCOM subjected Iraq, the most intrusive and protracted arms-control effort ever attempted. Yet every UNSCOM inspector has bemoaned the fact that they failed to discover the extent of Iraqi bio-weapons programs, which in their heyday manufactured 8,000 liters of anthrax — enough spores to eradicate the entire human race.
Are ineffectual inspections better than none? Clearly not. Readily eluded verification procedures only induce a false sense of security and turn arms control into farce. States that successfully flout the convention could hide behind the U.N.’s Good Housekeeping seal, allowing Iraq, for example, to justify the lifting of sanctions, even with its bio-weapons back in production.
Germ warfare is centuries old. In the 1300s, the Tartars catapulted dead bodies over fortified city walls in the Ukraine to introduce bubonic plague to their enemies. Renowned as “the poor man’s nuclear arsenal,” microbes and toxins are cheap, easy to make and easier to hide. One-billionth of a grain of anthrax can kill a man; a quantity the size of a five-pound bag of sugar could wipe out New York City. We simply do not have the technology to detect that sack of anthrax, and there’s no use pretending we do.
A less ambitious protocol might accomplish more. Thorough disease reporting internationally would enable epidemiologists to identify anomalous outbreaks that might have resulted from military experiments, for example.
President Bush could have endorsed a superficially virtuous treaty and smiled for the cameras. Bill Clinton was often given to cosmetic gestures, like his all-talk tour of Africa, that appeared caring, but produced little tangible benefit. Valuing results over rhetoric, Mr. Bush seems to appreciate that it’s a whole lot harder to do good than to look good.
by Fred C. Ikle
Wall Street Journal, 27 July 2001
For more than six years, during many pleasant sessions at Lake Geneva, some 50 nations — including such stalwart arms control violators as North Korea and Iraq — have been drafting a treaty that would allegedly make an existing ban on biological weapons verifiable and enforceable. The Bush administration has reviewed this 200-page draft and concluded that it is incurably flawed. Not surprisingly, the diplomats who fear for their handiwork are complaining.
This scuttled treaty is known as the BWC Protocol, since it purports to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention of 1972 that bans the use, stockpiling and production of bacteriological weapons. Anyone who has studied the protocol has to wonder whether it has ever been analyzed properly by those arms control experts who now criticize the U.S. rejection.
Have any of the foreign ministers who are now complaining found out what this draft treaty actually says? If so, they would have discovered that the Geneva negotiations kept coasting in a fantasy land where the realities of pharmacological production processes and advances in biotechnology do not exist, and where the many dismal failures of other, much less difficult international inspection efforts have never occurred.
In particular, a conscientious foreign minister would make the following shocking discoveries.
First, the development of biological weapons is one of the most difficult things to detect since the lethal agents can easily be hidden, and the manufacturing facilities are essentially undistinguishable from legitimate pharmaceutical or research installationsTo manage this impossible job, the protocol would set up a large international organization that would have people on its staff from such nations as North Korea, Iran, Iraq, and Cuba. These nations would use their representatives in the decision-making councils of the organization to obstruct and oppose any finding that declared one of their nations guilty of a violation. And they would order their technical staff members of this organization to advise the germ-warriors back home how best to fool the inspectors. (This is what the Iraqis who worked for the international agency that enforces the nuclear non-proliferation treaty did.)
So how does this protocol propose to handle the verification problem? It demands that the parties to the treaty declare all their plants, factories, and laboratories where legitimate work goes on, if these facilities could theoretically be used to make bio-weapons. Hence, the U.S., European nations, and Japan will have to declare hundreds of pharmaceutical plants, vaccine laboratories, and medical research centers which would then be pointlessly inspected, wasting our tax dollars and creating rich opportunities for industrial espionage.
We have seen how Saddam Hussein can shield his bio-weapons plants from international inspectors. He surely would not “declare” them. He would not even admit the “challenge inspection” the protocol envisages for undeclared sites. When the United Nations presence in Iraq still had some muscle — far more muscle indeed than this protocol would ever provide — Saddam simply told the inspectors that his palaces and other sites were off limits. He suffered no penalty.
The proponents of the protocol praise it as a “legally binding” treaty. “Legally binding” has different meanings. In case of North Korea’s recent violations of nuclear agreements, “legally binding” apparently meant that North Korea had to be rewarded, not penalized; while we were the ones who became legally bound to pay hundreds of millions of dollars annually so that these violations would temporarily cease.
Anyhow, law-abiding nations do not violate treaties they ratified. Hence, to abide by the Biological Weapons Convention they do not need this protocol that is merely supposed to strengthen the convention. Conversely, nations that are willing to violate the 1972 convention by preparing for germ warfare will surely be willing to violate the protocol as well. So what on earth do the defenders of this protocol mean when they praise it as being “legally binding?”
President Clinton told Congress this protocol would “enforce” the ban on bio-weapons. Perhaps his thought was that if the international organization actually certified a violation (instead of whitewashing it), such a verdict would lead to proper punishment. On this point, too, recent history has been forgotten. A treaty has been in force since 1925 prohibiting the use of poison gas (as well as bio-weapons). Undeterred by that treaty, Saddam used poison gas against Iranians during the Iran-Iraq war. After a U.N. inspection team had verified this attack and brought back horrific videotapes of the injured Iranians, arms control specialists were miffed that their benign assumptions had been so crudely disproved by Saddam. But they quickly regained their faith in treaties and organized a huge international conference in Paris in January 1989 — to “strengthen” the 1925 treaty.
This conference turned into the most revolting appeasement in the entire history of arms control. In deference to Saddam, the assembled delegates never mentioned the clear-cut, uncontestable U.N. verification that proved Iraq had used poison gas. Not one of the assembled diplomats dared to hold up photographs of the hideously injured Iranians so that at least the media could report the truth. Not one of the delegates had the courage to call for sanctions against Iraq. This is the kind of “enforcement” that the new protocol would provide. Indeed, the 200-page draft does not include a single meaningful enforcement provision.
Any foreign minister who goes to the trouble of actually studying the treaty should, if he has any integrity, pick up the phone and call Secretary of State Colin Powell. And this is what he should say: “You have my full support, Colin, we must ditch this treaty, it is a malignant, fraudulent draft.”