Trust but Verify? Not this time: For Biological Security, Transparency is Best Policy

An opportunity to amend the Biological Weapons Convention was missed last December because of a general reluctance to support a protocol that requires that signatories’ declarations are verified, according to Dr Lynn C. Klotz and Edward J. Sylvester. Klotz and Sylvester write that the protocol would increase the levels of confidence between Parties that obligations are being met. They argue that the long-sought after protocol is the best start to increasing transparency but keeps being rejected because of a myth surrounding it. The myth states that the protocol demands too much; that it is impossible to fully verify agreements on biological weapons.

This myth underpins the Obama administration’s rejection of the protocol, which was justified by Under Secretary of State Ellen Tauscher in these terms: it “is extraordinarily difficult to verify compliance” because of “the ease with which a biological weapons program could be disguised within legitimate activities….” Tauscher also urged participants in the Convention to “demonstrate your good faith and commitment to the BWC by joining us in increasing transparency.” Klotz and Sylvester argue that “[i]f great can be the enemy of good, this is a case in which perfection – or the lack of it – is being made the enemy of a terrific beginning in giving nations confidence – not certainty – that the terms of the BWC are being followed.”

-William Eichler, London

Source: Dr. Lynn C. Klotz and Edward J. Sylvester, ‘Trust But Verify? Not This Time: For Biological Security, Transparency Is Best Policy‘, Huffington Post, 19 April 2010.