119. Telegram From the Mission in Geneva to the Department of State1

4939. Department please repeat to other interested posts. Subject: BWRC: Biological Weapons Convention Review Conference—Wrap up.

1. (Confidential—Entire text).

2. Summary. This message provides a summary and analysis of the BW Review Conference held in Geneva, March 3–21, 1980. Detailed treatment of issues such as verification, complaint procedures, chemical weapons, and peaceful biological research contained in paras 9–12. The impact of the revelations regarding the Sverdlovsk incident on the Revcon is also considered. End summary.

3. The Biological Weapons (BW) Convention Review Conference, which met in Geneva March 3–21, 1980, adopted by consensus a final declaration2 reaffirming the “strong support (of the 53 states parties in attendance) for the Convention, their continued dedication to its principles and objectives and their commitment to implement effectively its provisions.” This successful conclusion was not achieved without considerable effort by a small group of delegations, especially the UK with low-key U.S. support, to bridge gaps between the various positions on [Page 259]issues such as adequacy of verification and complaint procedures and the flow of information and assistance in the area of peaceful research in biological agents and toxins. These issues as well as treatment of Article IX of the Convention calling for efforts toward a chemical weapons ban are treated in more detail below.

4. The impact of the Sverdlovsk incident on the outcome of the Revcon seemed to be relatively slight with most delegations (including some allies) bemused by the curious timing of our approach to the Soviets and the subsequent press play. However, these same participants also recognized the seriousness of the inquiry and the importance of our obtaining a satisfactory response from the Soviets. In general they appreciated our low-key handling of the issue within the Revcon. Sverdlovsk did have the effect of making it more difficult for U.S. Del to take a direct role in negotiating the final declaration, which involved finding a median position between the Soviet line that all was well with the Treaty and Swedish pressure to amend the Convention to provide for a permanent consultative committee which the U.S. and most Western delegations opposed as being unworkable in view of Soviet opposition and as setting a bad precedent for the NPT.

5. Sverdlovsk, coupled with recent events in Southwest Asia, of course minimized substantially co-depositary cooperation which had characterized earlier Treaty Review Conferences. Until the Soviet Del was informed of the incident they were expressing dismay over our conspicuous failure to support them on such issues as compliance and on the adequacy of verification and complaint procedures. Our bilateral difficulties with the Soviets provided an opportunity for the UK Del, as representatives of the third depositary power, to play an extremely active role in developing a final declaration through their proposal, with our encouragement, to establish an informal “non-group” with representatives from various political and geographic groups. Their role in negotiating language in Article V was particularly noteworthy and is detailed in para 9 below.

6. Cooperation within the Western group, whose informal meetings were chaired by the U.S., was generally close and harmonious. A number of our allies, most notably Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, were vocal in their early support of the Swedish proposal to amend Article V (see para 9); however, they soon became skeptical of chances for its success and began working closely with UK on compromise formulations. It should be noted that these delegations were quite supportive of U.S. positions on issues such as CW and increasing cooperation to developing countries in the area of peaceful biological research.

7. Oscar Vaerno, the Revcon’s President, put in a solid, if not spectacular, performance, and was largely responsible for the generally [Page 260]businesslike pace of the deliberations. Amb. Voutov of Bulgaria, the chairman of the committee of the whole, more than once seemed uncomfortable under the watchful eyes of the Soviets as he attempted to reconcile differing points of view during the article by article debate. Amb. Maina of Kenya, the drafting committee chairman, was effective in his role, and clearly appreciative of the spade work done by the “non-group” in developing draft elements of a final declaration.

8. Detailed discussion of major issues follows.

9. Complaint mechanism. Clearly the most controversial and contentious debate during the conference centered on Sweden’s proposed amendment to Article V to provide for a permanent consultative mechanism to investigate complaints of possible violations of the Convention. The Swedish objective was to ensure that this “fact finding” stage was clearly distinguished (and thus immune from a possible veto for a permanent UN security council member) from the subsequent “Political Decision” phase, i.e., whether to take a complaint to the security council for appropriate action. Predictably, the GOS proposal caught on with the Non-Aligned and the objective, if not the means, attracted some sympathy from Western Dels who shared Swedish concerns over the adequacy of existing verification measures in the Convention. However, increasingly strident Eastern opposition and latent Western skepticism about the wisdom of formally amending a convention which had been so carefully negotiated and whose amendment could create two sets of parties each adhering to a different text enabled the UK Del to step in as honest broker with a proposal, based on earlier USUK discussions, to attempt to meet Swedish concerns through some other means, such as an interpretative statement in the final declaration. The UK’s efforts were aided to a considerable degree by: a) our own low-key but strong expressions of support; and b) more importantly, by the realization that many Non-Aligned Dels were more interested in removing alleged “discriminatory” language in the Convention than with the real substance of the GOS amendment. It then became a matter of getting the Soviets, who were obviously aware of their isolated stance, to agree to some compromise formulation which would be at least minimally acceptable to the Swedes, but would reflect the view that no amendment was necessary. The Soviets undoubtedly also feared that, if a consultative committee were established, interest of others in the Sverdlovsk incident could create a test case. These “negotiations” to a certain extent were prolonged needlessly by Swedish (read Amb. Lidgard’s) insistence that any interpretative language include a commitment to revise Article V formally at some future date. Swedes finally settled on a formulation calling for “further consideration” of this issue at “an appropriate time.”

10. While, as noted in U.S. Rep’s closing statement, the agreed language on the right of any party to call for the convening of a consulta[Page 261]tive committee of experts lacks precision in some areas (e.g., it does not designate the authority who would convene the consultative committee), we believe the Convention is now an improved instrument. We must continue to bear in mind, however, that the Swedes and others will continue to press their case for formal revision of Article V at the second BW Revcon, whether or not this agreed interpretation of the current consultative provisions is ever invoked.

11. Chemical Weapons. Suprisingly little controversy was engendered by the review of Article IX, dealing with negotiations on a chemical weapons convention, a subject that had been the focus of non-aligned concerns at the PrepCom last July. The imminent establishment by the Committee on Disarmament (CD) of a working group on CW undoubtedly helped defuse the situation. Therefore, most delegations, particularly the Non-Aligned, seemed content to make the customary criticism of the alleged lack of progress in our bilateral talks with the USSR and to call on the CD to begin immediate multilateral negotiations. However, they stopped short of seeking any far-ranging discussion on a CW prohibition. A number of delegations did take the opportunity of citing the indispensability of effective verification measures to any CW convention—a point we trust was not lost on our bilateral CW negotiating partner.

12. Peaceful biological research. On the other hand, Article X on cooperation in peaceful biological research was singled out for substantial comment by the Non-Aligned, evoking memories of recent lengthy debates in the UN and elsewhere on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Taking their cue from the background paper on scientific/technological developments in the field of biology (Bacteriology) as well as the UN SSOD’s endorsement of the “close relationship” between disarmament and development, several delegations, led by Romania, Yugoslavia, and Brazil, pressed for commitments from developed countries to make info on such scientific/technological developments available on a more regular and systematic basis to all parties. They also sought (and obtained) a call in the final declaration for developed states to provide increased technical assistance, such as the training of personnel and transfer of equipment and technology in relevant areas of biological research. The reaction from eastern and western delegations was extremely cautious, with the USSR citing the extensive amount of assistance already taking place and the western Europeans expressed privately their concerns over the potential effect on commercial proprietary interests of any subsequent efforts to “institutionalize” transfers of technology in this field.

13. The negotiations with the Soviets on compromise language for the section on the final declaration on Article V ultimately led to agreement on the question of future Review Conferences. While the BW con[Page 262]vention does not provide for subsequent Review Conferences, it was the clear desire of an overwhelming majority of the participants that a second Review Conference should be held. Soviet reluctance to fix a date for this future meeting forced the Swedes to accept language which made the holding of the conference contingent upon the request of the majority of the parties, and no earlier than 1985, in exchange for Soviet acquiescence on the Article V issue. In practice, however, we believe there will be no difficulty in mustering the majority required to convene the next Revcon in 1985.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800155–0842. Confidential; Priority. Sent for information to London, Moscow, USNATO, and USUN.
  2. See “Final Declaration of the Review Conference of the Parties to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction,” Documents on Disarmament, 1980, pp. 152–156.