A Tough Call

Author data: 
John Steinbruner, Nancy Gallagher, and Stacy Okutani
Publication Date: 
May 2001
Description: 
Arms Control Today
Project: 
The Controlling Dangerous Pathogens Project
File Name: 
Document Type: 
Articles and Op-Eds

The draft protocol presented by the chairman's text is, of course, a suggested compromise. It attempts to balance the primary purpose of reinforcing compliance with the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) among the states-parties genuinely committed to that objective against the threat of violation by those who are not so committed. It attempts to resolve political differences about the relative importance of those considerations.

The suggested provisions would enhance the state of compliance among the willing, and that would be a meaningful accomplishment. The declarations and inspection arrangements envisaged would set standards of acceptable practice and would provide a positively documented record of compliance. Those effects would strengthen the central norm of the convention and diminish the scope for misperceived or inadvertent violation. The provisions of the draft protocol would not provide robust protection against deliberate violation, however, and might induce suspicion among states that are themselves committed to compliance but are inclined to distrust the intentions of others.

Because of that latter effect, it is admittedly an uncomfortably close question whether implementation of the chairman's text would do more good than harm. Ceding the benefit of doubt, we judge that the suggested protocol would be a positive accomplishment, provided that the initial transparency provisions are strengthened on a reasonably brisk schedule. The chairman has suggested a judicious start but certainly not a final destination or even an interim station.

John Steinbruner is director of the Center for International Security Studies at Maryland. 

Nancy Gallagher is the Associate Director for Research at the center.