U.S. officials went out of their way yesterday to assure European allies and other major powers that Washington’s rejection of a germ-warfare protocol doesn’t mean it is walking away from biological arms control.
The officials, speaking in both Washington and Europe, also strongly disagreed with the notion that the Bush administration is allergic to international treaties, as many critics have suggested since President Bush abandoned the 1997 Kyoto protocol on climate change and denounced the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty as archaic.
“It’s not a case where the administration came in and said, ‘Ah, another multilateral agreement that we can trash,’” a senior State Department official told reporters.
Another official called the charges of unilateralism, which have accompanied many of Mr. Bush’s policies, totally unfounded.
“I reject that completely because we work bilaterally with individual countries and very much multilaterally through the United Nations,” said Phillip Reeker, the State Department’s deputy spokesman.
At a meeting in Geneva yesterday, the United States dismissed the proposed draft of the protocol, which attempts to toughen the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), as unworkable and dangerous to U.S. security.
“We think this text is unfixable and our preference would be to close this chapter and move on to the alternatives,” said the senior official, who asked not to be named.
The decision frustrated other participants in the 56-nation talks, who were virtually unanimous in their support for the draft, the result of almost seven years of negotiations.
“We regret that the United States has decided to reject this protocol. The concern is that germ weapons talks could just sink into the doldrums,” said one European diplomat quoted by Reuters news agency in Geneva.
The document, which called for inspections and other means of verifying compliance with the germ-warfare ban, was reviewed by several U.S. government agencies, all of which reached the same conclusion.
“The unanimous interagency view was that this protocol added nothing to our verification capabilities nothing,” the official said. He added that the accord would pose “significant risks to U.S. national interests,” because it would open U.S. biological warfare defense preparations to enemies and the country’s advanced pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries to espionage.
But Canadian Foreign Minister John Manley, speaking at a conference in Hanoi, said, “We have a pharmaceutical chemical industry as well and so do the Europeans. We think the protocol has met the requirements of commercial confidentiality and this should not be an impediment.”
Donald H. Mahley, the U.S. representative on the so-called ad hoc group that worked on the draft, announced the U.S. position to the other parties to the BWC in Geneva.
“More drafting and modification of this text would, in our view, still not yield a result we could accept,” he said of the 210-page document, which Washington’s decision effectively kills.
Other nations could, theoretically, adopt the protocol, as they did with the global climate accord in Bonn on Monday, but, since the United States is the world’s leader in biotechnology, no agreement would work without U.S. backing, the official said.
He also noted that the European countries, which support the draft, should not be surprised by Washington’s position, because U.S. negotiators have long expressed serious doubts about its effectiveness.
“The traditional arms control approach of adding an enforcement verification mechanism is not going to work,” a White House official said. “The biological threat 50 years from now will be very different from what it is today, so we are actively thinking differently.”
Although it hasn’t identified specific alternatives to the proposed measures, the administration cited “international legal instruments” and “codes of conduct” as potentially viable options. Inspections won’t work, it said, because “you can get rid of evidence in five minutes.”