Select Committee on European Union Fortieth Report


SIXTH REVIEW CONFERENCE OF BIOLOGICAL AND TOXIN WEAPONS CONVENTION (BTWC) 2006

Letter from the Chairman to Rt Hon Douglas Alexander MP, Minister for Europe, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

  Thank you for the Explanatory Memorandum dated 8 February 2006 which Sub-Committee C considered at its meeting on 16 February. The Sub-Committee agreed to clear the document from scrutiny.

  In our Report on the EU Strategy against the proliferation of WMD (European Union Committee, 13th Report of Session 2004-2005, HL Paper 96) we recommended that the EU "should vigorously study and support ways of strengthening the BTWC, whether by verification arrangements, security assurances, improved standards of material safeguarding, or otherwise." (paragraph 51).

  We commend the EU for proposing to agree a Common Position on the Sixth Review Conference, but believe that further concrete proposals to be taken forward at the Conference should be adopted, in particular on verification mechanisms. Will the EU adopt any such proposals prior to the Conference?

  Further to this, we would like you to set out the Government's objectives for the Conference in terms of verification mechanisms, and state how you propose to gain the agreement of EU Member States and other States Parties to the Convention, especially the United States, to such mechanisms.

16 February 2006

Letter from Rt Hon Douglas Alexander MP to the Chairman

  Thank you for your letter of 16 February concerning the Explanatory Memorandum dated 8 February 2006 on the Common Position adopted by partners on the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC). I am pleased that Sub-Committee C cleared the document on 16 February 2006.

  I am aware of the recommendations in relation to the adoption of a verification mechanism for the BTWC made in the Select Committee's report on the EU Strategy against the proliferation of WMD. I would like to assure you that both the UK and EU remain ready to support a verification mechanism for the BTWC. However, we have not seen any indications to date that the international climate has changed enough to permit agreement on verification, given the need for the Review Conference to operate by consensus.

  It is our belief that to be effective, any verification mechanism would have to be universally adopted. We could not support the adoption of a verification mechanism where States could opt out as we believe that this would weaken the BTWC. Furthermore, a verification mechanism that is not adopted by all States Party would be likely to put UK/EU industry at a disadvantage with no concomitant security gain.

  Our approach to the Review Conference therefore is based on the identification and formulation of specific, practical, and feasible ways to take the Convention forward, which have a good prospect of securing consensus. We believe it is vital to maintain the relevance of the Convention in the period 2006 through to 2011 (Seventh Review Conference). As befits the UK role as a Co-Depositary of the Convention, one of its leading supporters, and our commitment to international law, the UK will seek to lead other States Party to agree an outcome with practical effect. In doing so, we will of course consult closely with the EU, the United States and other key States Party.

7 March 2006

Letter from the Chairman to Rt Hon Douglas Alexander MP

  Thank you for your letter dated 7 March 2006 which Sub-Committee C considered at its meeting on 16 March.

  In your letter you state that "It is our belief that to be effective, any verification mechanism would have to be universally adopted. We could not support the adoption of a verification mechanism where States could opt out as we believe that this would weaken the BTWC." We do not agree with this statement. As demonstrated by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, there is value to be found in verification mechanisms even though significant states are not parties to that Treaty. Furthermore, the UK and EU ought to be pressing more strongly for a verification regime in order to demonstrate a commitment to the process, and to encourage those states which do not agree to reconsider their position.

20 March 2006

Letter from Rt Hon Douglas Alexander MP to the Chairman

  Thank you for your letter of 20 March concerning my letter dated 7 March on the Common Position adopted by partners on the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC).

  HMG's views on a verification regime for the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention are well known. While we continue to attach importance to a verification mechanism in the long term, we believe that it is better to concentrate at this year's Review Conference on measures that are achievable and will allow States Party to strengthen national implementation of the Convention.

  Review Conferences of the BTWC operate on a consensus basis. There are no signs that the positions of States Party have changed enough to permit consensus to be reached on pursuing a verification protocol at the forthcoming Review Conference. Although the intersessional programme between 2003 and 2005 was adopted as a fallback, it is our belief that the programme has been a success, due in part to significant engagement by a large number of States Party.

  The Sixth Review Conference in 2006 will consider the work of the intersessional meetings and decide upon any further action to strengthen the Convention. This is why our approach to the Review Conference this year is based upon the identification and formulation of specific, practical and feasible ways to take the Convention forward which have a good prospect of securing consensus. We believe that building on the intersessional work programme will provide the best opportunity for a positive outcome at the Review Conference.

6 April 2006



 
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