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EMBL/EMBO Joint Conference 2002

John Walker, Arms Control and Disarmament Research Unit, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London, UK

Biography

Dr. Walker has worked in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Arms Control and Disarmament Research Unit (ACDRU) since March 1985. He currently focuses on Chemical Weapons Convention, Biological Weapons Convention issues and arms control verification more generally, including representing the UK at the CTBT Working Group B Symposia on the On-site Inspection Manual. Dr. Walker has been closely involved in the UK's practice CWC and BWC challenge and other inspection programmes since their inception in 1988. He has taken part in almost fifty practice inspections at a wide range of defence and commercial facilities at home and abroad. His current role in the annual programme is Co-Exercise Director. Dr Walker was a member of the UK Delegation to the BWC Ad Hoc Group, where he latterly served as one of the Chairman's two Editorial Facilitators. He was a member of the UK delegation to the Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth BWC Review Conferences. Dr Walker is an ex-officio member of the UK CWC National Authority Advisory Committee. He has also been involved in the design and teaching of OPCW inspector and National Authority personnel training courses. Dr. Walker took his undergraduate and post-graduate degrees at the University of Edinburgh.

Abstract

The role of the 'Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention' in combating infectious disease

  1. Public health in reverse: this is a term applied to the deliberate use of microorganisms to cause and spread disease. One might think that the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention had eliminated the threat posed to international security by the deliberate cause of disease by biological and toxin weapons. Sadly, the proliferation threat is undiminished, and underscores the need to find more effective ways of combating and deterring acquisition, possession and use of BW.
  2. So in what ways can the BTWC help combat infectious disease and is it a proper mechanism for such efforts? This presentation will explain why the Convention has a role. The Convention's relevance to infectious disease comes down to its own objective: a determination to ensure that microorganisms and toxins are not used to cause disease, death or other harm – something which would be repugnant to the conscience of mankind in the word's of the Convention's Preamble. The paper reviews existing efforts for combating infectious disease in humans, animals and plants; discusses the role that might have been played by the BTWC Protocol in dealing with this problem and then reviews the relationship between investigations into suspicious outbreaks of infectious disease and surveillance and diagnosis. Notwithstanding the Protocol's failure the international community must look at alternative ways of furthering the original objectives of the Protocol in a different context. Such measures need to be both national and international: greater international efforts to combat infectious disease are required to build on existing work and institutions. Efforts to strengthen the BTWC can act as an impetus for such work and a spur for greater interdisciplinary efforts, not just at the international level but also at the national one as well.
  3. The BTWC on its own and any measure that may be agreed to strengthen it, such as those outlined in this paper, are not enough on their own. The BTWC can only provide a framework and focus for greater co-ordination and prioritised efforts on the gaps in existing measures. It is not a substitute.