TUESDAY 22 OCTOBER 2002
Donald Anderson, in the Chair
MR TIM DOWSE, Head, and MR PATRICK LAMB, Deputy Head, Non-Proliferation Department, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, examined.
(Mr Dowse) It is a good question and it is certainly true that for those of us dealing with non-proliferation across the whole spectrum of weapons of mass destruction the problems posed by biological weapons proliferation are probably the most difficult all all this area, really because, as no doubt you will have heard from your discussions last week in the US, the equipment, the procurement, the materials, the expertise, are all dual use. It is a point that we have made in the Green Paper that what we are dealing with here is scientific technological development that can be used for very great good but equally can be turned to ill. Does that mean that we should not pursue verification measures, international multilateral action, to try and raise the barriers? Our conclusion has been not. It is certainly correct and we would not argue that treaties, even underpinned by compliance measures, whether one calls it inspections or visits or declarations, are not the whole answer. We would not be so naive as to put our faith solely in those instruments as a guarantee. But if we take those measures combined with the other instruments at our disposal, things like export controls, things like - and a lot of this work is heavily based on intelligence which is a crucial element in all this - action with other countries or nationally to intercept shipments of concern, to warn other like-minded countries if we receive information that a proliferator is seeking to acquire materials. When one combines the treaty element and the verification, the compliance mechanisms, with these other more direct instruments, the Government feels (and successive governments have felt since the work to establish compliance measures for the Biological Weapons Convention began in 1994) that it would add something.
(Mr Dowse) It is not the sole answer. I think I would question whether one would say it has very limited effect. You mentioned the UNSCOM example. That is an example of what I am saying in a way. The UNSCOM inspectors, correctly, did not uncover the Iraqi biological weapons programme but when they received intelligence they were able very rapidly to unravel large parts of that programme, not all of it, and indeed the concern that we have got is that Iraq continues to pursue biological weapons, but they did make very significant progress in the mid 1990s once they had got the intelligence information. We nationally and other countries devote a lot of resources in our intelligence agencies to addressing this problem of proliferation, not just biological but other weapons of mass destruction. We focus a lot of attention on trying to gather information in this area. What we have found in relation to some of the other conventions, and the Chemical Weapons Convention is a good example, is that when we are able to combine this national source of information with the sorts of exchanges, questions, dialogue that we can have with other parties to those conventions, we are able to look at their declarations, we can question them on their declarations, we can put all these sources of information together and we can increase our knowledge, we an increase the picture of what is going on.
(Mr Dowse) It is easier. I still would not say it was easy. Again, there is much that is dual use. It is true that when one is talking about quantities there is a distinction. Biological weapons, I agree, are the most difficult. I say again that we have never suggested that the Biological Weapons Convention, even underpinned by compliance measures of the sort that have been discussed in recent years, would be the sole answer to the problem. It is another tool in the toolbox. We have felt always that we need to look at these tools across the board. We need where we can to strengthen them. It would be foolish simply to discard any one of these tools as useless.
(Mr Dowse) It is 146 signatories. There has recently been another one. In addition to those 146 signatories which have also ratified there are a further 17 that have signed but not ratified. Of those that have not joined the Convention, in our own démarches which we tend to conduct with our European partners there have been a number of EU démarches globally. We do not distinguish between non-signatories. Clearly we would like to see much greater take-up in the Middle East. This is an area where in general we have concerns that there are countries pursuing weapons of mass destruction. One tends to find that where there is one programme it can trigger another. It would be, we feel, a confidence building measure if there were universal signing.
(Mr Dowse) We would like to see Egypt ratify. We would like to see Israel ratify. They have signed but not ratified.
(Mr Lamb) No, they have not signed. They have signed the Chemical Weapons Convention but have failed to accede to it.
(Mr Dowse) As I say, there have been EU démarches,. There was one about six months ago.
(Mr Lamb) There was one six months ago. There was also a UK démarche that took place prior to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting that took in largely Commonwealth countries that had failed to accede either to the Chemical or the Biological Weapons Conventions as a follow-up.
(Mr Dowse) We can provide that. Specifically in the case of Israel we have a regular non-proliferation dialogue with the Israelis and we take that opportunity every time to raise the issue.
(Mr Dowse) Egypt has not signed.
Chairman: We have a list of 31 countries which have not signed and these obviously include some which are perhaps not relevant and do not have the capacity, such as Andorra, the Cook Islands and others. Others which are more relevant include Israel, Kazakhstan, and there is the Sudan, but Egypt is not mentioned. Does that mean that Egypt has signed and not ratified?
(Mr Lamb) Egypt has signed but not ratified.
(Mr Lamb) I do not have a comprehensive list of those countries. The depository of the 1925 Protocol is France and a number of the reservations were laid down immediately after signature of the 1925 Protocol. Our own reservations historically were signed I believe in 1931 but they have since been lifted. I do not have a comprehensive list of those countries which maintain reservations. To a large extent the 1972 Convention supersedes the 1925 Protocol and it is a matter of fact that some countries have failed thus far to lift those reservations that they have. That matter is being pursued actively by France and we obviously strongly support that.
(Mr Lamb) They can logically provide no argument. I think it is in fact largely down to inertia.
(Mr Dowse) Certainly it would be our view that for any country that has now signed and ratified the 1972 Convention, any reservations that it might have had to the 1925 Protocol are superseded. One of the proposals that we put forward in the Green Paper was that those countries that still maintain reservations to the 1925 Protocol should now lift them, but we would regard that as a tidying up measure rather than something that is necessary for legal purposes.
Sir Patrick Cormack
(Mr Lamb) The Biological Convention or the Geneva Protocol?
(Mr Lamb) Correct. Iraq acceded to the BTWC in 1991 immediately following the Gulf War. It was one of the conditions of the cease-fire.
(Mr Dowse) The evidence is clear that Iraq may have acceded but it has not adhered to it.
(Mr Dowse) We do of course have concerns that a number of other countries are not observing their obligations under the various international conventions. You will understand that in this area, and again perhaps above within the area of biological weapons conventions, the reporting that are our concerns are based on is frequently intelligence reporting, so it is difficult for me in a session like this to get into detail. There are concerns that we have about other countries. We pursue those concerns actively.
(Mr Lamb) We have had a total of 15 responses from academics, trade associations, professional associations, some three responses I believe from United States academics, so a good spread of responses and a number of comments from other States Parties, entirely positive with respect to the effort that we made with that particular paper.
(Mr Dowse) When I say "responses", those are formal written responses but we have had quite a lot of informal responses, particularly in discussions in Geneva between delegations at the Conference on Disarmament where these issues are now being debated.
(Mr Dowse) The responses have been across the spectrum. I would be happy, if the Committee would like it, to provide you with a written synopsis of the responses we have had.
(Mr Dowse) They vary. Our ideas received general support. Questions have been raised by some as to whether they go far enough. Questions have been raised by others as to whether some of our ideas, for example, for investigation mechanisms which strengthen the Secretary-General's UN investigation mechanism, might go too far in terms of imposing burdens on industry, for example. This is one of the issues that has really been thrashed out over some time in the work on the now abandoned protocol, that what we have been looking at throughout has been a question of balancing benefit against burden. This rather goes back, Mr Anderson, to your first question: is the benefit that can be gained from additional mechanisms to investigate compliance with the Convention sufficient to justify the admitted burden that would be created, an administrative burden, a financial burden, a burden on industry which would have to open its sites, its plants, to international visits, a burden perhaps on bio-defence programmes? This has been the issue that all countries have had to weigh up as we have pursued this approach. The UK, in balancing this benefit and burden question, came to the conclusion that the benefits were sufficient to justify the burden. We felt that the burden was an acceptable one. Other countries, like the US, for example, came to a different conclusion or they have different factors to weigh. The United States have a much larger pharmaceutical industry. They have a much larger defence programme. The political circumstances were somewhat different.
Sir Patrick Cormack
(Mr Dowse) Before September 11 our approach was very energetically to promote a strengthening of the Biological Weapons Convention, and particularly to look for ways in which we could encourage compliance, deal with this constant problem of non-compliance. In one sense our policy has not changed since September 11. What we have seen since September 11 has been that the question of weapons of mass destruction and the added consciousness that these things could fall into the hands of terrorists have raised this issue even further up the agenda than before.
(Mr Dowse) If you are looking across the board, not specifically at biological weapons, my Department is devoting additional time to it. We are acquiring additional staff to deal in particular with it.
(Mr Dowse) We are acquiring additional staff.
(Mr Dowse) We are in the process of acquiring them at the moment.
(Mr Dowse) At the moment we are bidding for two additional staff.
(Mr Lamb) Currently four have joined and two are on the way.
(Mr Lamb) We have some 35 members of the Department already.
(Mr Dowse) Not all dealing with weapons of mass destruction. We also deal with conventional arms exports, but about half deal with WMD issues. That is including the export control mechanisms. Just to complete the answer to your question, things like the anthrax attacks in the United States were one of the factors that certainly led us, and I am sure he would not mind my saying led the Foreign Secretary personally, to very strongly take the view, when the first session of the Review Conference last November/December came to an end without a conclusion, that the UK should try and take the initiative to keep this issue in the public mind, to keep it on the international agenda, and indeed that was why we published the Green Paper. We were trying to ensure that in the inevitable sense of gloom and despondency that followed the immediate break-up of the Review Conference at the beginning of last December there was not a conclusion that this issue should be simply put in the "too difficult" box.
(Mr Dowse) The present assessment, and this is of course based partly on evidence that was discovered in Afghanistan which has also been fairly well exposed in the newspapers, is that there are certainly terrorist groups that are interested in acquiring chemical and biological weapons. There are terrorist groups, and al-Qaeda was one, that have taken active steps to acquire such weapons. We have no evidence as of this moment that any have succeeded.
(Mr Dowse) We do have a scheme that is run in conjunction with institutions of higher education, and it is known as the Voluntary Vetting Scheme, under which we have briefed these institutions on countries where we have certain concerns about proliferation and we also brief them on courses of study that would give us concern, that could be of benefit to a proliferator. This is again not just biological weapons; this is also chemical, nuclear and ballistic missiles. We encourage the participating institutions to let us know if they receive an application from a student from a country of concern to study a course of concern. This is essentially postgraduate work. We are not interested in trying to limit people's access to what is available in any textbook. We are then able to advise if the individual concerned is someone who would give us difficulty and where we feel that they should not be allowed to study this course. We have quite a good take-up of this scheme. It is voluntary. It is not something where we have wished to legislate, and there are issues, obviously, of academic freedom. We have had an increasing take-up of this scheme since September 11. We think it is effective in dealing with this.
(Mr Dowse) I would have to refer back to you on that.
(Mr Dowse) Sure.
(Mr Dowse) We can give you figures. This is a voluntary scheme. I do not want to discourage -----
(Mr Dowse) It is not universal. I would say that we feel we get good coverage of the main institutes.
Andrew Mackinlay: I still have to say to you that it is woefully inadequate. It is not your fault; it is the legislators' fault. We have not put it in the statute book. The fact is that you could have a postgraduate person here employed on a contract to carry on some research, and 95 per cent of his or her time here he or she might be doing that. You and I have no idea and there is no way of finding out what he or she is doing the other five per cent of the time or what is in the back of the fridge, have we?
Sir Patrick Cormack: Or whether he is taking flying lessons as well.
(Mr Lamb) As you recognise, it is a wider problem that goes to the heart of academic freedom. As Mr Dowse said, the reason that this is a voluntary scheme is that we obviously liaise with the universities. The universities at an earlier stage, I have to say, although it is not necessarily the case now, were very intent and keen on maintaining that academic freedom, and of course the whole basis on which research goes forward is freedom of information. Those academic institutions, both in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, are wrestling with the problems of how to control both those who have access to that type of work and indeed the freedom subsequently of their research being published more widely. We ourselves met with a group from the National Academy of Sciences in Washington in July, who came to the United Kingdom to ask a range of institutions here, both in Government and outside Government, exactly how we were facing up to dealing with that particular problem.
(Mr Lamb) We said, "We recognise that this is a major problem". On that occasion it was the Foreign Office and we specifically directed them to the Office of Science and Technology and the academic institutions because this is a developing issue.
(Mr Dowse) There is more than one string to our bow in this area. We do have on the statute book legislation which makes it a criminal offence to assist the development of a weapon of mass destruction, and indeed the transmission of intangible technology where WMD is concerned is also covered by our legislation. Some of this was introduced in the Anti-Terrorist Act last year, some of it was previously on the statute book. Others are covered by the new Export Control Act, so there are offences that can be targeted.
(Mr Dowse) It is a point we are aware of. To date the way we have tried to tackle this is, as I say, through working together with institutes of higher education and dealing with the sorts of courses that would cause us concern.
Andrew Mackinlay: Tell Mr Straw I will return to this next week when we see him. It is a political thing but it does seem to me that this is something we need to address.
Sir John Stanley
(Mr Dowse) With regard to issues relating to physical protection accounting for sensitive materials of this sort, we would agree with you on that. There are regulations in place today that address the issue of safe storage of dangerous pathogens and things like that. These regulations have been drawn up essentially with health and safety in mind rather than the terrorist issue in mind. It does seem a gap in the international network of agreements that there are no international standards in this area. I think chemicals is another area that needs to be looked at. It is one of the proposals of course that we put forward in the Green Paper, that there should be a new convention on the physical protection of dangerous pathogens, and that would very much have that in mind. It is something that we have put there as a proposal that we want to discuss with the biotechnology industry and of course it affects the Health Service as well.
(Mr Lamb) It is not particularly our area but there is already in place a very careful means of scrutiny, largely by the Health and Safety Executive, which would wish to assess any research project that was being proposed that in any way dealt with a dangerous pathogen. It does not answer your problem in so far as whether this is centrally known to government, which probably is not the case at present. However, in one sense, and genuinely to reassure you, these are subject to very careful scrutiny by the academic institutions that are sponsoring them, by the Health and Safety Executive ultimately, and indeed by the commercial companies that are undertaking them. One of the proposals that is being discussed in the context of physical protection, to answer Mr Mackinlay's point somewhat belatedly perhaps, is the actual vetting of those individuals who would have access to these dangerous pathogens, something that has not been the case up until now. Much of this work is in any case done in government laboratories, such as Porton Down, where it has been done previously, but perhaps we need to consider actual vetting to make sure that these individuals are not likely to misuse the information that they have acquired.
(Mr Dowse) What we can say is that there are some regulations in place. We are actively looking at others. It is not primarily a matter for the Foreign Office. It is more a matter for home departments but, to give one example, you will recall the development in the United States of the synthetic polio virus and the concern that that raised, that this work had gone on apparently with very little supervision. That is something which led us to ask the question, could that have happened here, and the answer is no. That sort of work would not happen free of regulation in the UK.
(Mr Lamb) I believe the quantities would be a difficult matter because these are in any case very small. Certainly there are no quantities of smallpox because all the smallpox stocks are now gathered in CDC Atlanta and at Vector in Russia. That is under a WHO decision and the smallpox stocks we previously had in this country are there. With respect to the other agents you mentioned, if there is any storage of such agents it would most likely be at CBW Porton Down and therefore in that sense would be under government control and known to government.
(Mr Lamb) It is an assumption I am making, yes, indeed.
(Mr Dowse) We are speaking as the Foreign Office. We would need to consult our colleagues at the Department of Health before giving you a definitive answer to this point.
Sir Patrick Cormack
(Mr Dowse) We do not have a central authority at the moment although the Department of Health would be the lead department in this area. Were there such a central authority it would not be an authority under the Foreign Office.
Sir Patrick Cormack: Do you think there should be?
(Mr Lamb) I can see a value for such an authority, yes indeed, and I believe a great deal of work has been going on since September 11, sparked off by September 11, specifically in the United Kingdom but elsewhere, certainly in the United States, looking very specifically at the issue of the handling of dangerous pathogens.
Sir Patrick Cormack
(Mr Dowse) We will take that message away. I say again that I think this is an issue that is not primarily for the Foreign Office to answer but we certainly hear your message loud and clear.
(Mr Lamb) And as well as the Department of Health we would also be looking at Agriculture because we are talking about potential plant and animal pathogens.
(Mr Lamb) It is much wider than the Department of Health. We have been consulting. All my colleagues I know have been consulting with the relevant officials, looking at the handling of pathogens in that particular area as part of the overall study that has gone forward since September 11.
(Mr Dowse) It is precisely because of that case which first led us to introduce the issue of the institution of the Voluntary Vetting Scheme.
(Mr Dowse) We are as confident as we can be, absent a compulsory scheme, which I think would raise issues of academic freedom, that that could not happen here.
(Mr Dowse) I would say again though that we have been pleased with the level of take-up of the scheme among the institutes of higher education and that take-up has increased significantly since September 11.
Sir Patrick Cormack
(Mr Dowse) I would have to look that up.
Sir Patrick Cormack: But is it nearer 80 per cent or nearer 40 per cent?
(Mr Dowse) No. It requires the institution when receiving an application from an overseas student to consult the Government as to the advisability of this person coming to study a preferred course of study.
(Mr Dowse) No. We encourage them to refer all those in the categories that we have advised on.
Sir Patrick Cormack
(Mr Lamb) We are dealing with all the institutions on a voluntary basis. I would moreover cite the case of that particular individual as being one of the turning points in changing the attitudes of the British universities in particular because clearly, when that university comes to be associated with that individual and knows that she was trained at that university, there is a blow-back on the university and our task has been made easier in terms of approaching universities and getting greater co-operation since that particular event.
(Mr Dowse) We will give you a note on that.
(Mr Dowse) We will.
(Mr Lamb) In terms of the first part of your question with respect to the dangers from specific agents, when we were negotiating the Protocol there was a specific section of that Protocol that was devoted to a list of agents and that required some considerable and very difficult negotiations because countries had different perceptions as to the dangers from different agents. Some of those countries were clearly aware and had the background of earlier research that had been done in defensive BW programmes and thus were aware of the more dangerous agents. One of the other difficulties was that countries placed a greater emphasis in some instances on plant and animal agents that could be used in that particular context, and also a further dimension was the geographic spread. For certain countries some of these viruses are endemic in that particular country and they place greater emphasis, understandably, upon those particular agents. That is a broad answer but a list was established of those most dangerous agents and those most likely to be used in any BW proliferation campaign.
(Mr Lamb) I think it is a mistake to automatically assume that we are talking about lethality because one of the effects you might wish to achieve is indeed not lethality but simply to create lethargy, to cause temporary sickness that would oblige an armed force in the field to deal with those casualties, evacuate them, wasting and taking up valuable resources that could be deployed for more effective and direct military use, so to an extent the biological weapons should not necessarily be seen as instruments for killing large numbers of people. They also have, and it is sometimes forgotten, a very dangerous potential with respect to crops and livestock.
(Mr Lamb) In terms of the Protocol and what we were trying to achieve, it was not a specific issue. I believe you are quite right: it is more stable in powdered form than in liquid form if we are talking about anthrax now. Anthrax occurs naturally, of course. One of the things that you would wish to do in a biological weapons programme would be to mill the spores of anthrax to the point where they were so small that they could be ingested into the lungs, which is what would make it particularly dangerous and indeed lethal.
(Mr Dowse) If I can just add to that, one of the other instruments that we have other than treaty regimes and inspections in looking at this and trying to counter this problem of biological weapons is the availability of export controls and the multilateral export controls. There is a multilateral group called the Australia Group that co-ordinates and sets certain standards for export controls related to chemical and biological materials and related equipment. One of the things that that group has been doing since September 11, as some of the other export control regimes have been doing, is looking to see whether its controls are properly adapted to the terrorist threat. In the past they have tended to be designed to counter state acquisition of biological weapons for military purposes and quantities and sizes of equipment, for example, have been such that the control has been drawn up with that in mind. In the case of terrorism one could be looking at much smaller quantities. One could be looking at smaller sizes, for example, of fomenters for producing viruses, and the Australia Group is now very actively looking at how to revise its control list to address that issue. It is something that is very much, I would say, on the international agenda between those like-minded countries that participate in these regimes.
(Mr Dowse) They certainly cannot be dismissed. Each one of those issues was something that also concerned us and which we tried to address in the course of nearly six years of negotiations. As I said earlier, ultimately every country participating in these negotiations, trying to decide its position, had to make a cost-benefit assessment and the issues that you quote John Bolton as raising were part of that cost-benefit assessment. The Protocol as it stood in August last year (and it was not finalised) we looked at from this point of view of the perceived benefit against the burden and the considered view of the British Government, across government to other departments who were involved this, was that the balance came down on the side of benefit. It was certainly not everything that we would like to have seen. We would like to have seen a rather more intrusive inspection regime, for example. That had not been possible to achieve in the negotiations. We nevertheless concluded that the benefit outweighed the burden. The United States came to a different conclusion. I think I touched on some of the reasons why that might have been so. Their industry was fairly consistently critical of the Protocol. It is a much larger pharmaceutical industry than ours, or indeed those of our European partners. They have something like 40 per cent of the global pharmaceutical industry. Our industry did not oppose the Protocol in the way that the US did. We consulted our industry at intervals throughout these negotiations. At one stage we ran a practice inspection as a way of trying to expose both to ourselves and to industry what the problems might be and this was fairly successful. That was one issue where the balance was different here than in the United States. Similarly, in terms of biodefence programmes, we were comfortable I think with the proposals that were on the table in the Protocol that dealt with managed access to biodefence facilities. We were confident that we could comply with this, that it would be valuable both in providing confidence to us with access to other countries' programmes, and at the same time the burden that it imposed, which was the risk that it might pose to our own limited biodefence programme, was acceptable and the United States again came to a different conclusion. They have a much larger biodefence programme, considerably larger than ours by many factors. On the question of the Australia Group I have to say that our conclusion was that the Protocol helped to strengthen the concept of export control and the need for multilateral export controls in this area. The Protocol as it was drafted in August did not seem to us to undermine the export controls of the Australia Group. We felt that it legitimised them in a way in that these multilateral export control regimes are often criticised by countries that believe they are discriminatory, that feel themselves on the receiving end of the export controls. We felt that the Protocol as drafted in fact helped to strengthen the case for export controls, so that I think is a point where our interpretation did differ from that of the Americans.
Sir John Stanley
(Mr Dowse) It is not for me to answer for the United States Government.
(Mr Dowse) We have of course ourselves discussed quite intensively with the US Government how to move forward following the end of the Protocol negotiations and indeed the suspension of the last year's Review Conference. We would say that there is absolutely no doubt that the United States Government shares our view that it is important to strengthen BWC. What we have been working on with both the US and with other like-minded governments, and some of our European partners as well, is a package of measures that we can take when the Review Conference resumes in November and that we would hope all the members of that Review Conference can unite around which will then form the basis of a work programme to take forward multilaterally, internationally, a package of measures that will serve to strengthen the Convention. The contents of that package are still under negotiation. You will not be surprised to hear that the elements are not dissimilar to many of the ideas that are in our Green Paper, which of course also overlap with President Bush's suggestions, and indeed an effective UN procedure for investigating suspicious outbreaks of disease or allegations of use of biological weapons is clearly from our point of view an important part of our package.
(Mr Dowse) Through international discussions. As I say, this is something that will be on the agenda when the Review Conference resumes. To establish a UN procedure you need international agreement to take that sort of thing forward. The UN is the servant of the Member States so there needs to be an agreed proposal that is put forward. You are right that the broad heading to establish an effective UN procedure is simply a broad heading. We in our Green Paper tried to give a little more substance to that by putting forward some ideas as to what form this procedure might take. These are the subject of the discussions that we have been having with US officials, with other interested like-minded countries since then. We are at a fairly delicate stage of negotiations now, I would say. It is not so long before the Review Conference reconvenes next month. What we are aiming for is to achieve a package that is a credible package involving a variety of measures which would then be taken forward internationally in work approved by the Review Conference but would, we would hope, lead to international agreement.
(Mr Dowse) They have not fleshed out that proposal.
(Mr Dowse) Not in discussions to us.
(Mr Dowse) That is not my understanding of the position of the US Government.
(Mr Dowse) In the most recent discussions we have had with the US, which have been at the end of September and earlier this month, that position that you describe is not consistent with what we have heard from the US.
Sir John Stanley
(Mr Dowse) My understanding, and this is based on the discussions we have had with the US over this year, is that as of today they do not believe an inspections regime would constitute an effective procedure. That is essentially one of the judgments they came to at the time of the Protocol. They are not in favour of an inspections regime.
(Mr Dowse) This in a way comes back to where we started this discussion. We have never believed that inspections, compliance visits, however you describe them, are a panacea. They are not the answer. A determined proliferator could continue to conceal, particularly in the area of biological weapons. However, we have always taken the view that the sort of compliance measures that were discussed at the time of the Protocol nevertheless do have a value when added to other instruments in making life more difficult for a proliferator. A lot of the time what we are doing in this whole area of counter proliferation is trying to tilt the playing field against the proliferator. That is not to say that you can get a 100 per cent guarantee that you can stop the operation. In the area of biological weapons I think that is probably true more than in any other. You can, however, tilt the playing field. You can raise the cost to the proliferator who knows he has to conduct a parallel programme, he has to conceal his facilities in mountain sides or other places. That raises the cost for him. And there is always the chance, the thought in the back of the mind, that perhaps one day an inspector might walk through the door and he would be caught. You raise a political pressure. As I say, it is certainly not a panacea. We are not starry-eyed about international treaties as being the answer to our problems. They have to be combined with export controls. They have to be combined with strong political measures against proliferators. They have when necessary, as we have seen in the case of Iraq perhaps, to be combined with more direct means, but as part of the toolbox we have always felt that the treaty regimes underpinned by compliance measures do have a value. We would be foolish to discard them and where we can strengthen them we should do so.
(Mr Dowse) I would say again what I said before. You are right: there is no silver bullet in this area, to use an American expression. What there is is a toolbox and we need to look at that toolbox and deploy that toolbox across the board. Inspections and compliance measures are part of that toolbox. They are not the whole answer.
(Mr Lamb) In terms of the Protocol and the issues that we are talking about one makes a distinction between inspections, which are essentially routine and would be the bread and butter activity of any organisation just as they are of the organisation in relation to chemical weapons, and what are variously referred to under the Chemical Weapons Convention as challenge inspections or under the Biological Weapons Convention Protocol as investigations.
(Mr Dowse) Challenge inspections, where they can be agreed, and that is a large caveat, are undoubtedly a valuable tool. Again, they are not the whole answer. Challenge inspections are only as good as the intelligence that they are based on, so there is another factor there, but we have been strongly in favour of making use of inspections, including challenge inspections.
(Mr Dowse) The mechanism which is available to the UN Secretary-General dates from the 1980s I think. It was deployed for example when there were allegations of use of chemical weapons in Cambodia. It has not been that much used but essentially what it means is that where there is an allegation made of the use of chemical or biological weapons which is brought to the Security Council, the UN Secretary-General has the authority to mount an investigation of that allegation. I believe it is a requirement of the Security Council to put that to the Secretary-General.
(Mr Lamb) Correct. It has been used in one or two instances, mostly in respect to chemical weapons issues particularly in Mozambique and an allegation which took place there. It is also worth pointing out that under the Convention and as a result of the developments at a review conference in the early 1990s, there is a mechanism in place by which a country can bring a compliance matter to the attention of States Parties to the Convention, and have that matter discussed at an informal meeting leading on to a formal consultative meeting. That meeting does have the ability to agree an inspection of the country in question. So there is a mechanism already under the Biological Weapons Convention which has been used on one occasion.
(Mr Lamb) There is a time factor clearly. When we, as a depository, receive such a complaint, we have to arrange an informal meeting of all States Parties within 30 days. The formal consultative meeting must take place within 60 days. So you are already talking two months before any effective action can realistically take place. In terms of the resources, none are available, and what would happen in the event it was decided that an inspection should take place, we would have to appoint inspectors, we would have to nominate inspectors, to undertake that. Those inspectors, their appointment and so on, would obviously also take time. They would not necessarily be people who were in the practice of engaging in inspections in relation to biological weapons incidents, so one is talking about expertise which might be lacking.
(Mr Lamb) Just to be clear ----
(Mr Lamb) What it would do would be to create a mini-protocol, or a mini-organisation, for the prohibition of biological weapons. It would have some advantages. One would clearly agree a budget, one would clearly have inspectors who would be on call and available. But if one looks back at what was planned with the Protocol, the purpose of having a free-standing protocol based on four pillars - declarations, inspections, investigations (which is what we are talking about now) and the organisation which would implement it - means you would have a secretariat, fully professional inspectors, and they would have gained expertise and knowledge as a result of conducting the routine inspectors when it came to a full-blown investigation, where clearly the stakes are much higher and the issues are much more sensitive. There are practical problems and difficulties about having a free-standing organisation to deal with that. However, I would argue it would be better than nothing.
(Mr Lamb) I think it would be more difficult because in a sense it would require us to go back to the negotiations, and to some extent it is unlikely we would get agreement to such an organisation because one of the factors in the Protocol negotiations always was that the arms control and intrusive verification measures we argued for were always counterbalanced by other demands from non-aligned countries in particular that such an organisation should be used as a means of freeing-up and increasing the degree of trade, co-operation, technical exchanges and so on. That would be bound to be a second element which would have to be taken into account if we were to set up such a minimal or minimalist organisation, so we would go back to a minimal or reduced form.
(Mr Lamb) I think it would be, but it is fair to say with the ending of the negotiations on the Protocol, countries are clearly not going to be attracted towards embarking on negotiations which might after a period of some years again not reach fruition. There is a certain wariness in looking at how we should go forward with respect to the Protocol which are with BTWC, which our Green Paper is intended to address, because we are leaving aside any attempt to relaunch negotiations or any attempt to regenerate the Protocol, and looking at the practical measures which we believe can be put in place and which will do some good.
(Mr Dowse) Our view is that the Protocol is not something which will be a valuable use of our effort to try and revive. We do not see that being in the present political situation something which we are going to take forward. What we can do is look to see what are the issues which the Protocol is attempting to address, and in what ways was it trying to address them, and can we take some of those measures and pursue them in other ways. That is really with the package of eleven measures which we floated in our Green Paper what we were trying to do. When you are looking at investigations particularly of alleged use, you might not need to set up a permanent organisation at all. One of the weaknesses of the current Secretary-General's mechanism is that he has no ready-made pool of experts to call on to make these investigations if an allegation of use is brought to him, so it takes time to gather the necessary expertise to send the mission. One could establish a pool, a list of names could be held by the Secretary-General of people who could be called on at very short notice. That is one way we could strengthen this without setting up some elaborate, even if on a small scale, international organisation and bureaucracy to carry it. This is the approach we have been trying to take, how can we pursue the objectives which were pursued under the heading Protocol in other ways.
(Mr Dowse) We have not offered them a specific critique of the Stimson Centre Report but the sort of issues which the Stimson Centre are raising are ones which were certainly aired at considerable length in the Protocol negotiations. There were some repeated and I think fairly intensive exchanges between the UK and others, and the United States, on some of these issues. This again comes back to the issue of benefit and burden. As I think I said earlier, from the UK's point of view, the Protocol as it was drafted - and we need to remember it was not the final text - in the middle of last year was not all we had wanted it to be. We would have liked to see something which was more robust in some of these specific areas which the Stimson Centre is touching on in terms of the degree of intrusiveness. That was not something which was going to be possible. We took a very hard look at the text together with our colleagues across Whitehall and our conclusion was nevertheless the balance of benefit versus the burden was in favour of the Protocol, but that is not to pretend we thought this was going to be the answer to all our problems.
(Mr Lamb) There have been numerous exchanges with various US trade associations and that view, as reported by the Stimson Centre, is consistent with what we have been hearing throughout the negotiations and we took issue with them on a number of counts. They were ironically instrumental in pressing for as short a period of inspection as possible because of course that has direct impact on the down time for any particular facility and therefore an inability to undertake its normal commercial activity. I think a point which needs to be made relates to the way in which the visits or the inspections would have worked under the Protocol, and what they were intended to do was to check the essential accuracy of the declaration which was made about that site. No one imagined that on a routine visit one would go to a facility and find BW activity. What one wanted to do was ensure that indeed the activity at that facility corresponded to what the country had indicated in its national declaration. In the event that the inspectors came back and reported there were anomalies or discrepancies or some concerns they had about the activity, at that point States Parties could have intervened and could have suggested either a further visit or indeed an investigation, a full-blown challenge inspection of that particular facility. So what was intended by the visit regime was a trip-wire system, if you like, which would set alarm bells ringing and cause further, heavier action.
(Mr Dowse) The other side of that is that as well as being a trip-wire it was also a confidence-building mechanism.
(Mr Lamb) They have been produced by trade associations. The most prominent would be PhRMA, which is an American trade association, and they have produced a number and produced a number of documents throughout the period of negotiations which were critical of the inspection regime which was being planned. The Stimson Centre is, if you like, a collection of the more recent views.
(Mr Dowse) As I said earlier, the concerns of US industry - understandable because of the size of that industry and its position at the cutting-edge of biotechnology - were in general not reflected to that degree of seriousness by pharmaceutical industries elsewhere. We did have exchanges with our own national industry who did not take the position which the US industry took against the Protocol.
(Mr Lamb) The view is that somehow an inspection would have turned up a facility which was in the process of producing BW and probably weaponising it. Nonsense, that was never the case and never likely. Our approach was altogether subtler. I think sometimes a straw man is set up in order to best knock it down. This was not what we had in mind.
(Mr Dowse) We respond to this CBM requirement. One of the problems with these CBM requirements is that they have tended to be honoured in the breach rather than in the observance. The UK, nevertheless, does put forward an annual declaration in response to this and we have been quite scrupulous in doing so. Not all other States Parties do. One of the proposals that we have put forward later in our proposals in the Green Paper is to strengthen these requirements and to try and get more consistent and more full reporting under this area. As far as our national vaccine facilities are concerned, I think that really is a matter for the Department of Health rather than for the Foreign Office. We would be quite happy to provide you with a copy of our most recent return under the confidence building measures.
(Mr Dowse) The Anti-Terrorist Act?
(Mr Dowse) I think you are right, we do need greater consistency, more international standards in this area, greater spreading of best practice. This can be done informally or formally. Some of the proposals we have put forward in the Green Paper - and in fact in these cases they overlap with some of the proposals by President Bush last year - really go to address this issue of criminalising and also issues to do with greater standards of protection for dangerous pathogens.
(Mr Dowse) We are. When we are discussing with our partners now the sort of package that we think might stand a change of providing a basis for agreement at next month's Review Conference these are very much the sort of measures we would like to promote additional work on. If that is not agreed at the Review Conference, and nothing is guaranteed, we will certainly from the British Government's point of view want to pursue them anyway with like-minded countries. You earlier drew rather a good parallel with the situation in the nuclear field where the IEA has established certain standards for nuclear materials and there is certainly a case that we need to take forward work on that sort of approach in the chemical and biological areas.
(Mr Dowse) I think I would question your suggestion about the efforts we are making as officials. Some of these are quite technical and they do not have political value. Certainly the Green Paper itself was very much the initiative of the Foreign Secretary personally, and it was him who, after the suspension of the Review Conference last year, very much took the initiative.
Chairman: I would like to make progress. Mr Hamilton?
(Mr Dowse) The answer to your first question is, there is not a great deal at the moment as regards co-ordination of international assistance to a state, it would really be ad hoc, and that is one of the issues we think it is worth trying to address. There are some proposals which are being brought forward at the moment, for example in the context of the forthcoming NATO Summit there is an initiative in the NATO context for greater co-ordination of NATO countries' collected response, their ability to respond and the procedures for responding to a chemical or biological attack. So that is one area where it is being addressed specifically in NATO. It is not surprising, NATO is a collective defence organisation, the countries there are used to this sort of co-ordination. Beyond that, there really is not very much, and that is really why we, when producing the Green Paper and putting forward our package, believed this was something which was worth taking forward.
(Mr Lamb) That proposal at Review Conference was obviously part and parcel of the original Protocol negotiations, albeit taken forward in that context. With the collapse of those negotiations, clearly we need to start again, as it were, and, as Tim has said, the extent to which there is concerted international co-operation on this is non-existent.
(Mr Dowse) Certainly we are very prepared to discuss that and I think we would need to be convinced it would serve a purpose, whether this could be handled through existing mechanisms like the UN, or perhaps NATO could make some collective offer, or whether in fact there is a requirement. But it is certainly something we would be very prepared to look at.
Sir John Stanley
(Mr Dowse) I would simply say that we are at a fairly delicate stage of discussion at the moment in preparation for the Review Conference. We are trying, quite intensively now, to develop a package which will command the widest possible support at the Review Conference. We hope that the package which we are able to develop will contain some of the key elements we have in this Green Paper. Those that are not or ultimately may not be included in such a package, we will look for ways in which we can pursue them outside the framework of the Geneva Conference.
(Mr Lamb) It is where there would have been a very real symbiosis between public health issues and biological weapons organisations. Clearly one of the proposals which was also under discussion in the Protocol was the setting up of an epidemiological surveillance network as part of the eventual organisation, which would have established a pattern of disease worldwide. That would have had immediate beneficial effects for the WHO, for example, and that information could have been shared with the WHO. It would have also served a valuable purpose for the organisation because in trying to plot or discover where there has been a biological attack, you would want to have some overall pattern of understanding of disease worldwide to spot an anomaly. It is not quite as simple as that because clearly a proliferator might well exploit the fact that a particular disease was endemic in a country and use very much that specific agent. But that is the way in which there was a very real symbiosis between something which was of genuine public health value and which would have been directly valuable to the detection of a biological weapons attack.
(Mr Dowse) We are confident following the passage of the Anti-Terrorist legislation last year, which did contain various clauses concerning weapons of mass destruction, that our legislation is now as comprehensive as it needs to be.
(Mr Dowse) I think we would need to take advice on that question. I would like to take up your invitation to refer that.
(Mr Lamb) I believe it would because it would be considered as a crime against humanity.
(Mr Lamb) As a result of the question of the 25 Protocol and indeed the 1972 Convention, it has entered into international customary law that any such use would be. We will need to take formal advice though.
(Mr Dowse) I think on that too we would like to take advice from other government departments who are more directly responsible for domestic legislation. In terms though of whether we have implemented the requirements of the BTWC in UK domestic legislation, we have a note on this which we would be very happy to provide to you, which takes each element of the BTWC and explains how that has now been translated into UK law.
(Mr Dowse) That is addressed by our proposal for revised confidence building measures, where we specifically say we should look at it. It would be something which would be required to be achieved through international agreement, to see whether there is room for improving the scope or the level of detail to ensure more useful annual returns from States Parties and indeed more consistent returns by States Parties. As I noted earlier, this is a requirement which has tended to be observed in the breach. I should say that what we have been putting forward in the Green Paper are proposals. It was a consultative document. We have received responses, as we have said, from a variety of sectors. We are going to be taking this forward. We have a round table tomorrow with academics, with industry, with other commentators, to discuss further some of the issues which have been raised and the responses to the Green Paper. We would expect, and our hope is, if we can agree a package of measures at the Review Conference next month that the practical outcome would be further multilateral working groups to try and reach specific agreement on some of these individual steps. That is the way forward. We are not going to be in a position to present something and expect the rest of the international community to sign up to our ideas on the spot. There will be working groups. And some of these ideas do need to be elaborated, which is why it was presented as a consultative document. But our aim has been to keep the issue of countering biological weapons and the spread of biological weapons high on the international agenda and to produce some constructive ways to take the work forward internationally following the collapse of the Protocol negotiations.
(Mr Lamb) That would be very wrong and indeed I suggest I would be pilloried by my colleagues who were involved with it because they were indeed government representatives and they were boffins, if you want to use that term, but they were specifically tasked with looking at how one would address the task of trying to determine whether biological weapons were used and the circumstances in which they were used, and as a result of that technical work the negotiations post-1994 on the Protocol went ahead. So they performed a very valuable task in mapping out the scientific parameters of the issue which we have to address as simple civil servants.
Andrew Mackinlay: In which case I apologise, I misread it totally.
Chairman: That reply to Mr Mackinlay was reassuring at least. There was not very much for our comfort elsewhere in the questioning. Gentlemen, there are a number of questions which arise, particularly from Sir John's final series of questions, which need to be addressed by you. Other questions were generated by the discussion. I anticipate that I may be sending further written detailed questions to you so there will be quite a lot of homework. Can I say that perhaps there is not the urgency on the international scene which we would like but we are pleased, I am sure, that the British Government has tried to keep the issue live by the publication of the Green Paper. We look forward to further dialogue. Very many thanks for your evidence.