by Gustavo Capdevila
United States has thrown another wrench into multilateral disarmament talks by blocking one more international treaty, the verification protocol for the biological weapons convention (BWC).
The conclusions of an interagency panel in Washington recommending that the United States not support the protocol, which was drafted after six years of negotiations, were made public last weekend.
Although U.S. opposition will not stand in the way of future efforts to reach agreement on the protocol, such efforts will likely fall short, according to Chemical and Engineering News, a specialized publication that reported on U.S. attempts to block the treaty a month ago.
The announcement of the panel's recommendation was delayed "to avoid public exposure of another treaty rejection by the United States," according to C&Enews.
Jeni Rissanen, with the London-based Acronym Institute, a disarmament watchdog, said recent "negative developments" in the United States, such as announcements on the development of an antiballistic missile shield and the rejection of the Kyoto protocol on global warming, had "definitely cast a shadow."
The executive director of Acronym, Rebecca Johnson, underlined that the United States had not "completely pulled out of the possibility of working on strengthening the treaty in other ways."
However, "this is a very stark reminder of where the collective process inevitably has got to compromise, which means it does not please everybody," she added.
Patricia Lewis, director of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), pointed out that "there are a number of other states who were also not very keen on this protocol, which were waiting to see what the United States" would do.
Rissanen, who followed the latest round of talks on the protocol, which ran three weeks to May 11 in Geneva, mentioned China, Iran, Pakistan, Libya and Cuba as some of the countries that also preferred to postpone the negotiations.
Johnson, meanwhile, pointed to a contradiction in the U.S. position.
On one hand, she said, Washington was "arguing for weaker verification mechanisms in some respects, because of the concerns of its pharmaceutical industry," which was anxious to guard its biotechnology secrets.
But now "it turns around and says that the protocol is going to be too weak to meet U.S. needs," she added.
Thanks to the interagency panel recommendation that the United States refrain from supporting the protocol, the talks on biological weapons will be bogged down, just like the negotiations of the Disarmament Conference, which have dragged on for three years.
The Disarmament Conference finds itself hung up on discrepancies over three main issues: the arms race in outer space, the ban on fissile material, and nuclear disarmament talks.
Nor has much progress been made in another key area of disarmament, the Non-Proliferation Treaty, said Tariq Rauf, the director of the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterrey Institute for International Affairs.
The latest advances seen in that terrain were "the successful conclusion of the Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference a year ago in New York," Rauf said.
May 28, 2001 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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