Statement to the Biological Weapons Convention Review Conference from the Council on Strategic Risks

Geneva, 29 November 2022

Mr. President, Distinguished Delegates, and Colleagues,

The Council on Strategic Risks appreciates this opportunity to provide input to the Ninth Review Conference of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention

At the Council on Strategic Risks, our mission is to anticipate, analyze, and address systemic risks to security. Our work focuses on some of the hardest challenges to international security, including nuclear risks and the climate crisis. Among all of the issues we work on, the urgency of addressing biological threats was one of the primary reasons that our organization was founded in 2017. In particular, we wanted to help expand the presence of NGOs working to address the continuing threat of biological weapons and other potentially catastrophic-scale biological risks. 

We know that everyone in this forum all feels the same sense of urgency. This Review Conference may be the most pivotal one in the convention’s history to keep this work on track. 

We also know the hurdles are high. The threat and risks of biological weapons remain present in the world. Advances in the life sciences have challenged how nations consider potential options for the convention’s implementation and compliance. Transparency and trust among nations have been falling. 

This Review Conference alone will not solve these issues. Yet what happens here will mark a historic point of departure where the community can choose to go down one of two paths. The first path leads towards a future where nations pursue mutual security through international cooperation and put in the hard work necessary to reduce biological threats together. The second path leads toward a future of even greater mistrust and further fracturing of international norms and practices. 

For the Council on Strategic Risks, it is our firm belief that the first path, where nations pursue mutual security through international collaboration, is the only pathway towards true security for all. 

There is much that can be done on this front. We strongly urge all States Parties to come to agreement to advance some of the excellent concepts on the table for this Review Conference. 

Additionally, there are numerous fruitful areas of work that nations and nongovernmental organizations can pursue together in the future to strengthen the BWC. I will list three:

First, building bridges with the private sector to address biological weapons risks will be essential to both identify existing and emerging threats in the life sciences and to develop potential solutions and partnerships with this ever-growing community: a growth that will continue due factors such as the increased use of synthetic biology and as more nations bolster their economies by developing plans to participate in the emergent bioeconomy. 

Second, an important area of future work will involve high safety-level laboratories. With many countries pledging to build more BSL-3 and BSL-4 labs in the coming years, sharing standards and improving transparency will be crucial. 

Third, the COVID-19 pandemic showed how we must also think of ways to ensure that early warning and rapid response capacities improve for addressing biological threats from all sources. In this, we can apply relevant portions of approaches used in implementing the Chemical Weapons Convention and Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty – both of which must also account for the vast peaceful uses of technology in their respective areas while preventing malign uses. 

The Council on Strategic Risks, along with others in the NGO community, stand ready to offer whatever advice and assistance we can to continue toward the goal of working towards a world that is safer and more secure from biological weapons. 

Thank you, Mr. President, for the opportunity to provide this input to the Ninth Review Conference of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention. We wish you a very productive meeting.


Categories & Related