The signatories to the Biological Warfare Convention meeting this month in Geneva heard Undersecretary of State Bolton explain why the United States – even after the anthrax terrorist attacks of last month – still refuses to sign on to the protocol that was supposed to strengthen the BWC.

In July, the U.S. State Department issued a statement, which said, “The protocol, which was proposed, adds nothing new to our verification capabilities. And it was the unanimous view in the United States government that there were significant risks to U.S. national interests.”

Bolton began by saying “… the most important reason we gather here is to assess compliance with the BWC provisions outlawing the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling or retention of biological weapons and their delivery systems. While the vast majority of the BWC’s parties have conscientiously met their commitments, the United States is extremely concerned that some states are engaged in biological weapons activities that violate the Convention. We also are concerned about potential use of biological weapons by terrorist groups, and states that support them. So I plan to name names.”

In 1989, the CIA told Congress that “at least 10 countries” were developing biological weapons. But that, because of the way the BWC is written, doesn’t necessarily mean that those 10 countries were actually violating the BWC.

You see, the BWC prohibition on developing, producing, stockpiling or acquiring biological agents and toxins is not absolute. It applies only to activities that have no justification for “prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes.” So, production or even acquisition of small quantities of biological agents and toxins is allowed, and they may be used in lab experiments and field tests. “Prophylactic” includes such medical activities as diagnosis, therapy and immunization. “Protective” includes the development of protective masks and clothing, air- and water-filtration systems, detection and warning devices, and decontamination equipment.

In other words, it is permissible for a BWC signatory to bio-engineer anthrax – to make a more virulent strain – if done for the purpose of improving detection, diagnosis or therapy capabilities. And if a vaccine is needed to protect against a more virulent strain of anthrax – that perhaps might be used as a weapon – then it is permissible to develop the more virulent strain.

In fact, one of the reasons we rejected the BWC protocol was that it would have “caused problems” for our own biological weapons defense programs.

Bolton told the convention “The United States has a dedicated bio-defense program to ensure that Americans and our friends and allies are protected against bio-weapons attacks. In light of the recent anthrax attacks, our efforts will increase. Robust bio-defense efforts are necessary to combat known threats, and to ensure that we have the means to defeat those specific threats. U.S. bio-defense programs are a means to an end, to protect Americans and our friends and allies.”

So violating the BWC all comes down to intent – why are you doing what you’re doing?

In 1995, the CIA told Congress that 17 countries – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, North Korea, Taiwan, Israel, Egypt, Vietnam, Laos, Cuba, Bulgaria, India, South Korea, South Africa, China and Russia – were “suspected” of deliberately violating the BWC.

Of course, Iraq had been caught red-handed after the Gulf War armistice with anthrax loaded into artillery shells and missile warheads, ready to go.

Bolton charged that we suspected North Korea and Iran of “being capable” of doing the same thing “at a moment’s notice.” Bolton also suspects Sudan and Syria – neither of which are BWC signatories – of having bio-weapon research and development programs that are clearly offensive in nature.

So what is the U.S. counterproposal to the BWC protocol? Well, the key words in the BWC prohibit production and use of bio-agents or toxins “for hostile purposes or in armed conflict.” “Armed conflict” covers wars between nation-states. “Hostile purposes” cover terrorist activity by non-governmental groups.

So, among other things, we want every nation-state to (a) make it a criminal offense for any person to engage in activities prohibited by the BWC and (b) to enact national criminal legislation to enhance bilateral extradition agreements with respect to BWC offenses.

In other words, if someone in Iran makes anthrax that gets released in the United States, or if he releases anthrax here and flees to Iran, we demand that the Iranians arrest and hold him till we can come get him. And if President Bush has his way, that will mean trial, here, by a military tribunal. After all, we have declared war on terrorists.

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