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Nicholas Sims on ‘Chemical and Biological Disarmament: the Treaties Under Review’


Nicholas Sims began by recalling his earlier CCADD talk (February 12, 1998) on this subject.  He made clear that the treaties had two distinct purposes: a) to get rid of existing chemical and biological stocks, and b) to keep the world free of such weapons for the future. 


The Biological Weapons Convention.  This was opened for signature in 1972, and entered into force in 1975.  But 1991-2001 was a ‘lost’ decade, without success in the introduction either of verification or of compliance measures.  The protocol for strengthening the treaty had foundered, largely because the USA had demanded an end to the activities of the ad hoc group of states-parties working for a strengthening protocol.  It would take a long time to get back on track and resume building on the foundations laid by the review conferences of 1980, 1986 and 1991 to consolidate, reinforce and ‘steer’ the treaty in a positive direction.


Nicholas Sims regarded as ‘high points’ Jack Straw’s Green Paper of 29th April 2002 and even more the ‘Madrid Commitment’ by European and Caribbean states-parties on the importance of a strengthening protocol.  The ‘low point’ was marked by the US insistence in September 2002 that there should be no meetings of any sort between the 5th Review conference (which ended in 2002) and the 6th in 2006.  However, a partial ‘rescue’ operation succeeded in reducing the impact of this demand: during 2003, 4,and 5 some meetings would be allowed, but on a severely restricted agenda, with no binding outcomes or negotiated texts, and above all not touching the sensitive issues of verification or compliance.  The United Kingdom hoped to chair the 2005 meeting, and perhaps expand the proposed agenda at that time.  There had been a ‘loss of nerve’ following the Madrid declaration, resulting in the failure to produce any final declaration at the fifth Review Conference in 2001-2.  At the Review of 2006 a common understanding and consensus had to be achieved, using the many ideas produced in the interim.  It was to be hoped that the USA would be ‘back on board’ by then.  In any case, there had been many developments in the scientific and technological fields to be taken into account.


In short, the speaker thought the BWC still very fragile.  Only 75% of the possible states-parties were inside the treaty: 45 states were still outside it, including Israel, Syria and Egypt.  The compliance protocol had to be brought into being.  The ICRC, NGO’s, the pharmaceutical industries, those involved in the Bio-Weapons Prevention Project, the medical profession – all could help get the BWC back on track.    





The Chemical Weapons Convention


This treaty was opened for signature in 1993 and entered into force in 1997.  It had its first Review conference from 28 April-9 May 2003 at The Hague.


Stocks of chemical weapons were supposed by the treaty to have been destroyed within 10 years of the entry into force.  But so far Russia had destroyed only 1% of its 40,000 tonne stockpile, and meanwhile had succeeded in getting its time-limit ‘stretched’ by another 5 years.  The USA was further along, but still wouldn’t complete destruction within ten years, partly because of widespread objections in America to the incineration process.  India and South Korea were also involved in destroying their CW, and now Albania had been discovered to hold stocks of lewisite and mustard gas.  Other countries were also affected by the demands of the treaty on former CW possessors.  Too much labour-intensive verification was still being applied to storage, destruction and past production facilities for CW. 


By now the treaty should have reached its second phase: namely, that of keeping the world free of chemical weapons.  Nevertheless the first Review Conference did agree on a political declaration with suggestions for more efficient use of resources, more use of instrumentation for verifying destruction, etc.  But progress had been slow in redirecting the main thrust of inspections into the chemical industry. There were also delays in destroying chemical weapons abandoned by states in the territory of other states (for example, 700,000 Japanese weapons abandoned in very remote parts of northern China).  Only 55% of states parties had notified the authorities of national legislation giving effect to the treaty, and even fewer (26%) had passed laws which were adequate for doing so.  The USA had rightly protested about these failures.  An early deadline for status reports on legislation was set at the end of the Review Conference.  The New Zealand delegation had made the best speech of the whole conference.  The final declaration said some good things.  At the same time the conference had ducked overdue decisions and failed to give the treaty sufficient ‘steer’.


Questions and Discussion


John Edmonds: The speaker was to be congratulated for avoiding confusing talk of ‘weapons of mass destruction’: but how could we get back to the situation when the USA was a leading advocate of disarmament?  At this point Arthur Hockaday suggested that the trouble now was that as the sole superpower, America was able simply to push for its own hegemony.  Nicholas Sims nevertheless pointed out that there were still people of the ‘old school’ at work within the US administration, such as Bob Mikulak, who had provided continuity in arms control expertise since 1971 and was always open to new ideas for constructive diplomacy.


David Summerhayes: Talk of ‘WMD’ had swamped the media, resulting in lack of public awareness of the existence of the treaties.  How could the public be educated to appreciate their existence and value?  Nicholas Sims said we must not be thrown off course, and praised the work of Julian Perry Robinson and others on the BW Prevention Project.  The loss of the BWC protocol was a serious factor here because it also entailed the loss of the proposed Organisation for the Prohibition of Biological Weapons, which could have promoted much greater public awareness.


Matt Gorman (a guest visitor from MoD) pointed out that Iraq is not a party to the CW Convention, and that the UK (especially Porton Down) had provided far more input than most other participants to the First Review Conference.  Only 5-10 states-parties were really interested; the others took a back-seat.  Nicholas Sims accepted this analysis, but thought that the UK delegation must nevertheless be disappointed at the result of the First Review, especially on the issue of verification.  The conference had not fully reflected the UK input in its final document.  Revd. Mike Elliott suggested that recent media coverage about ‘dirty bombs’ etc., and the need for troops to be protected against BW/CW, must have raised the profile recently.


David Hills: What about the Missile Technology Control Regime today?  It used to be an important part of the disarmament process.  Is the British government still interested in it?  Matt Gorman confirmed that it was still a live issue at the MoD.  Roland Smith pointed out that the old question of missile ‘throw weight’, so important in the case of nuclear weapons, was less significant with BW because the weight of the weapon itself is almost negligible.


Brenda Bailey: Are there are any NGO’s in America who might be able to make the                            administration listen?  Nicholas Sims mentioned the Arms Control Association and the Federation of American Scientists.  For the wider perspective, international bodies like Pugwash, and the BW Prevention Project in which Julian Perry Robinson is involved, are also very important.


The meeting finished around 14.30 with many congratulations to the speaker for a very valuable and enjoyable meeting.


(NOTE: for those members able to see it, the following issues of Disarmament Diplomacy contain relevant material on the CWC and BWC: No. 62 (January-February 2002); No. 65 (July-August 2002); No. 67 (October-November 2002); No.68 (December 2002 - January 2003), and No. 70 (April-May 2003).  The latter issue contains Nicholas Sims’s own assessment of the BWC Fifth Review Conference under the title: ‘Biological Disarmament Diplomacy in the Doldrums’.  The Disarmament Diplomacy website is:  The editor’s email address is: