BWC ISU NEWSLETTER – APRIL 2021

Issue: April 2021

Introduction

Welcome to the latest edition of our quarterly BWC Newsletter. I would like to thank all of you who provided us with positive feedback on the first issue of our relaunched Newsletter earlier this year. Your kind words were much appreciated. 

Just last week, we all celebrated the 46th anniversary of the entry into force of the BWC which offered an opportunity for reflection on the evolution of the Convention. While much is currently made of the challenging environment for disarmament nowadays, it is worth recalling that the BWC was successfully negotiated during the Cold War, a similarly challenging period for disarmament. Indeed, many subsequent initiatives to strengthen the Convention were agreed at times which on the surface were not conducive. In the years since, the BWC has grown now to be almost universal with 183 States Parties.  

These lessons from history hopefully provide some optimism as thoughts turn to the resumption of BWC meetings here in Geneva. Last year was the first year since 1990 in which BWC States Parties did not meet formally. We in the Implementation Support Unit hope that we can welcome you to Geneva again later this year, depending on the global and local public health situation at the time. Thoughts are necessarily turning towards the Ninth Review Conference which will be a significant milestone in the evolution of the Convention and therefore needs adequate preparation. 

Although no formal meetings have taken place, we have been much encouraged by the number of national and regional activities that are currently underway, despite the difficult circumstances. Some of these activities are described below in this Newsletter. Our implementation support activities have continued in a virtual format, organizing eight workshops in the first 12 weeks of 2021. Progress has been made in the different areas of our mandate, especially under European Union Council Decision 2019/97 in support of the BWC. We are working to further expand our activities in relation to Article X of the Convention, legislative assistance, universalization and support for the preparation and submission of CBMs. Further information on these projects will be available in future issues of this Newsletter. We are keen to see the energy and dynamism from these national and regional activities being injected into the Meetings of Experts and the Meeting of States Parties later this year. We have been especially pleased to see a really strong interest in the Convention from youth and specifically from young scientists, which we also see reflected in the dedication of our interns. 

These two factors should bode well for the upcoming Review Conference and discussions on the future of the Convention.

Daniel Feakes, Chief, BWC Implementation Support Unit 

Latest News

46th anniversary of the BWC 

26 March 2021 marked the 46th anniversary of the entry into force of the Biological Weapons Convention.Revised schedule for BWC meetings in 2021  

BWC States Parties have agreed to new dates for the meetings which have been postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The revised schedule was announced in a letter from the Chairperson of the Meeting of States Parties, Ambassador Cleopa K Mailu of Kenya. The Meetings of Experts are planned to take place from 30 August to 8 September 2021 and the Meeting of States Parties is planned to take place from 22 to 25 November 2021. All meetings will take place in Geneva. 

Status of contributions  

The Financial Resources Management Service of the United Nations Office at Geneva has provided a summary of the financial contributions to the four disarmament conventions, as of 28 February 2021. 

The summary table below shows the cash available to each convention and the total unpaid contributions. Information related to the BWC is available in the first column of the table.

The table below shows the status of the BWC Working Capital Fund as of 28 February 2021, established in accordance with the decision of the 2018 Meeting of States Parties BWC/MSP/2018/6, and in compliance with the Fund’s terms of reference. 

Activities from January to March 2021

               Young scientists from the Global South joined a workshop to promote biosecurity

On 22 January 2021, the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) launched the second edition of the Biosecurity Diplomacy Workshop for Young Scientists from the Global South – also known as the “Youth for Biosecurity” initiative. Following the successful completion of the first edition of the Workshop in August 2019, twenty-nine young scientists from 17 countries in the Global South, among them sixteen women, joined the two-month interactive programme, which included role plays and exchanges with over 25 practitioners and experts about the Biological Weapons Convention(BWC) and related topics. This initiative was organized under the auspices of European Union Council Decision 2019/97 in support of the BWC.

Watch the workshop video here

Regional workshop on achieving the universalization of the BWC in Africa

On 4 March 2021, the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) convened a virtual regional workshop for African States not party to the Convention, in cooperation with the BWC Implementation Support Unit (ISU) and the Permanent Mission of Kenya in Geneva. Combining expert presentations and testimonies from key officials, the workshop was tailored to build understanding about the Convention’s provisions and spotlighted how the treaty would have a concrete impact in the African context. Marjolijn van Deelen, EU Special Envoy for Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, and Ambassador Cleopa K. Mailu of Kenya, Chairperson of the BWC Meeting of States Parties, addressed the audience during the opening session. Senior officials of the three BWC depositary governments, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America, encouraged the participating States to join the Convention through video messages. Following introductory remarks by Professor Wilmot Godfrey James on the importance of BWC and biosecurity in Africa, experts from key entities in the continent  (NEPAD-ABNE, Africa CDC and GET Africa) as well as VERTIC, outlined areas where their respective organisations could work together with African States not party to the Convention to support their efforts to join the Convention. The workshop was organized in the framework of European Union Council Decision 2019/97 in support of the BWC. 

Read more about the workshop here

National workshop on the Preparation and Submission of Confidence Building Measures under the BWC 

On 1 April 2021, the BWC Implementation Support Unit co-organised an online workshop with Kenya on the Preparation and Submission of Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) under the BWC. The workshop was designed to share best practices on the preparation of CBMs and combined presentations from the ISU, Kenya, South Africa and Switzerland together with an interactive Q&A session.

Ambassador Cleopa K. Mailu of Kenya, Chairperson of the BWC Meeting of States Parties, emphasized the importance and relevance of the BWC during his opening remarks and highlighted the strong commitment of Kenya in the implementation of the Convention. In remarks issued for the event, Ambassador Simon Nabukwesi, Principal Secretary of Kenya´s State Department for University Education and Research also highlighted the key role of the BWC in the global landscape, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the importance of global partnerships for collaboration. ‘This activity is part of our ongoing outreach, sensitization and training efforts among national stakeholders on matters related to the BWC, biosafety and biosecurity’, he said.

The webinar drew a large audience, with over 100 representatives from various ministries, agencies, universities and laboratories in Kenya participating. The event will be followed by another national CBM workshop to be held later this year.

H.E. Dr. Cleopa Kilonzo Mailu, EBS, EGH
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Permanent Representative of the Republic of Kenya to the United Nations Office in Geneva and other International Organizations in Switzerland

BWC awareness-raising activities 

The Implementation Support Unit has continued its efforts to raise awareness about the BWC and has accordingly participated in a number of online events, including the following: a course on chemical and biological weapons organized by the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, the Emerging Leaders in Biosecurity Initiative convened by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, a workshop on “Modalities of a Scientific Advisory Process” hosted by the Federation of American Scientists, a briefing to the InterAcademy Partnership’s biosecurity working group, a consultative meeting on a “Global Framework Guidance to Harness the Responsible Use of the Life Sciences” organized by the World Health Organization, the “Second Informal Workshop on Good Practices and Lessons Learnt with respect to the Existing Nuclear-Weapons Free Zones” and the 2021 Global Biosecurity Dialogue convened by the Nuclear Threat Initiative. 

Upcoming BWC activities from April to June 2021

Second series of informal webinars for informal discussions and exchanges of views 

While the Meetings of Experts (MXs) have been postponed until August/September 2021, MSP Chairperson, Ambassador Mailu, has encouraged States Parties to hold informal discussions, including additional informal webinars, to support preparations for the MXs. 

A second series of five informal webinars is therefore being planned to take place in the coming months. These events will serve as an opportunity for BWC States Parties to further discuss topics related to the MXs. The dates will be communicated in due time. All the webinars will be recorded and made available online. 

Launch of Fiji’s National Preparedness Programme under European Union Council Decision 2019/97

Online Training on the Preparation and Submission of Confidence Building Measures under the BWC. Dates will be communicated later.

Series of online events to advance discussions on the Article VII Database proposal submitted by France and India

Dates will be communicated later.  

Staff News

The BWC ISU is delighted to introduce new colleagues now working with the BWC team:

Fanny Cossette Tonos Paniagua
Fanny has been working with ODA since January 2021 as a project consultant engaged in providing legislative assistance to African countries interested in developing BWC implementing legislation. Her prior professional experience includes positions at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), where she was the coordinator of IAEA’s legislative assistance programme for Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean; the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), where she provided legal support on national implementation measures; and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Dominican Republic, with diplomatic postings in Switzerland and Austria. Fanny has a first degree in law from UNPHU University in Santo Domingo, as well as postgraduate degrees in various areas of international law from Manchester University in the UK and from Paris II Panthéon-Assas University and Montpellier University in France

Akash K P
Akash joined UNODA as an IT Intern in January 2021. Before joining UNODA, Akash worked as an IT Innovation Intern at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Austria from July to December 2020. He was a part of the UN Innovation Network and worked with projects to drive impact using technology to cause changes that create value in innovative ways. He has participated in Reimagine the UN Together Challenge with a project titled as ‘UNicoins’ and was selected into the Top Five. He is also working on some cross-UN collaborative projects with Young UN. He graduated from Manipal University in India with a Bachelor of Technology in Computer Science & Engineering and enjoys travel, photography and visual art. He is looking forward to contributing towards the UN’s mission and the SDGs to make the world a better place!

Mochament El Saer 
Mochament joined UNODA in January 2021. He holds a Master of Art in War Studies from King’s College London with expertise in the science and security of Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Weapons (NCBW). In 2019, Mochament was awarded the prestigious “Chevening Award”by the UK Government and the British Foreign Office. Mochament has participated in the pioneering intelligence project “Hacking for Defence” sponsored by the UK Ministry of Defence. Before his Master’s, Mochament studied political science and interned at the Hellenic Ministry of Foreign Affairs for one year. He has served as the Director of the Transatlantic Association United Kingdom. Mochament’s research involves WMD proliferation, emerging strategic technologies, strategic stability and deterrence. He has presented his research at international conferences and has published several articles on defence and security outlets. His last article was featured at the Foreign Affairs (The Hellenic Edition).

Liza Rais
Liza joined UNODA in Geneva in January 2021 as a Political Affairs Intern. Prior to joining, she graduated with an MSc in International Relations at the University of Edinburgh, and later with a second master in European Public Policies and Communication in Belgium. Her previous work experience includes position in research on European defence strategies, and an internship at Frontex in Poland.  In her spare time, she likes to read and travel.

Ege Zeytun
Ege Zeytun graduated from Bogazici University with a double degree in International Relations and History, and obtained her Master’s degree in Political Science from George Washington University. Before joining UNODA as a Political Affairs intern, she interned at the Atlantic Council, the Wilson Center, and the Women’s Museum Istanbul. Ege is a former SUSI Student Leader and a Fulbright Scholar.

Rishabh Joshi
Rishabh is an IT and Communications Intern at UNODA. Before joining, he worked as a Senior Analyst for over two years at HCL Technologies. Along with his fulltime job, he worked as the Program Manager for an NGO named Make A Difference and worked towards ensuring equitable outcomes for underprivileged children living in shelter homes across India. During his engineering years, Rishabh interned at the National Informatics Centre-Ministry of Transportation. Apart from his work, he is an aficionado of soccer and has played for several local clubs. Furthermore, Rishabh has an interest in public speaking and is an active member of Toastmasters International.

Lara Natascha Bühler
Lara joined UNODA in Geneva in March 2021 as a Political Affairs Intern. Prior to joining, she pursued a Master’s degree in Security Studies at Sciences Po’s Paris School of International Affairs and in International Relations at Andrássy University in Budapest. She holds a BA in Economics and Sinology, studying at Shanghai Jiaotong University and working for the German Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai. An internship at the German parliament allowed her to further develop her practical experience. She is a Research Fellow at the Vanguard Think Tank for Transpacific Relations and contributes to the Young Initiative on Foreign Affairs and International Relations. In her spare time, you find her either riding her bike or her horse.

Sam Whitefield
Sam joined UNODA as a Political Affairs intern in March 2021. He graduated from Tufts University with a degree in International Relations, and received a Master’s in Nonproliferation from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey in December. At MIIS he focused on nonproliferation issues related to biological weapons, such as biodefense lessons to be drawn from natural disease outbreaks. He has previously worked in financial consulting, traded cryptocurrencies, and interned in compliance at Bank of the West. In his spare time, he enjoys reading and trying new food.

The BWC ISU would like to warmly thank the colleagues below, who contributed to the BWC team’s activities until March 2021: 

Darius Meissner 
Darius joined UNODA in September 2020 for six months as a Political Affairs Intern. Before that, he obtained an undergraduate degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from the University of Oxford. Darius is particularly interested in nuclear and biological warfare as well as the security implications of emerging technologies such as AI. 

Nassim Ait Idir 
Nassim joined UNODA as a Political Affairs Intern in September 2020. He holds a bachelor’s degree in political sciences and international relations from the University of Boumerdes, Algeria. and holder of a master’s degree in ‘Foreign policies’ and currently he is a Fifth year PhD. candidate in ‘Comparative politics’ in the same university. Nassim is also a holder of another master’s degree in Strategic and Arms Control at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia. His master studies mainly focused on military doctrines and strategies, conflict resolution, war studies, disarmament, and non-proliferation. He is an advocate of arms control conflict prevention. He is also a member of the CTBTO Youth Group that works to promote the total ban of nuclear tests, for both civilian and military purposes. Nassim has also been writing as a part-time correspondent on defence and security issues (focus on Russia and Middle East) for the Singapore based publishing firm ‘Global Business Press’. 

Social media 

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Links to various publications

None of the publications below reflect the views of the BWC ISU or UNODA. The ISU is not responsible for the content of third-party websites.

Critical Steps in Preventing Future Pandemics Early Lessons from the Covid-19 Crisis for Addressing Natural and Deliberate Biological Threats, report by the Council on Strategic Risks and Sandia National Laboratories 

“This report summarizes a virtual workshop on early lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic as they pertain to proactively addressing future biological threats. It begins with brief notes from the discussion regarding the pandemic and response, then focuses on lessons that we can take from the COVID-19 pandemic for both preventing future pandemics at this scale as well as for meeting the vision of deterring and rendering ineffective any potential future deliberate biological attacks.” 

Technology and Innovation Report 2021: Catching Technological Waves Innovation with Equity, report by UNCTAD 

“The UNCTAD Technology and Innovation Report 2021 examines the likelihood of frontier technologies widening existing inequalities and creating new ones. It also addresses the national and international policies, instruments and institutional reforms that are needed to create a more equal world of opportunity for all, leaving no one behind. The Report urges all developing nations to prepare for a period of deep and rapid technological change that will profoundly affect markets and societies. A key takeaway from the report is that technologies are not deterministic.” 

Could the Bioweapons Treaty Be Another Tool for Addressing Pandemics?, article by Daniel Gerstein 

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) has played a central role in updating the public, investigating the origin of the novel coronavirus, and encouraging public health measures around the globe. It’s perhaps easy to forget that outside of the spotlight shining on the WHO, there is a separate international agreement that is similar in some ways to the regulations that guide the health body—a treaty that has the potential to play a critical role in preventing or addressing deliberate biological attacks—which themselves could spark a pandemic: the Biological Weapons Convention. However, in light of COVID-19, perhaps now is the right time to revisit the 46-year-old treaty and make it a better tool against future biological threats, including both deliberate biological attacks and pandemics. The article suggests that “at the review conference, bioweapons treaty members should examine how the threat of biological weapons may have evolved as a result of these uneven responses to COVID-19.” 

Pathogens Have the World’s Attention, article by Nathan Levine and Chris Li 

This article argues that “coronavirus has demonstrated just how devastating a transmissible pathogen can be—and just how difficult to contain. There can be little doubt as to the destructive capacity of bioweapons. Indeed, the release of one, whether intentional or unintentional, could have an effect wholly comparable to that of a nuclear weapon. And a weaponized pathogen is nowhere near as difficult to produce as even the crudest nuclear device: the World Health Organization concluded in 2015 that the virus responsible for smallpox could be re-created in three months through synthetic biology, using publicly available genomes, in a process most lab technicians or undergraduate students could manage.” 

80 Questions for UK Biological Security, research paper by Kemp L, Aldridge DC, Booy O, Bower H, Browne D, et al. 

“New technologies present novel opportunities and challenges, and globalisation has created new pathways and increased the speed, volume and routes by which organisms can spread.” The authors argue that “given the breadth of potential research, a targeted agenda identifying the questions most critical to effective and coordinated progress in different disciplines of biological security is required.” 

Biotechnology and Security Threats: National Responses and Prospects for International Cooperation | Centre for International Governance Innovation (cigionline.org)  CIGI Paper No. 249 , by Hanzhi Yu and Yang Xue  

CIGI (Center of International Governance Innovation) Papers present in-depth analysis and discussion on governance-related subjects. This paper discussed cutting-edge biotechnology, mainly consisting of gene editing, gene drives and gene synthesis, its development and rapid changes. The paper describes how it acts as a double-edged sword, bringing benefits to human development in many fields, such as medical treatment and agriculture, while also posing serious threats to biological security, human existence and development. 

The Apollo Program for Biodefense. Winning the Race Against Biological Threats, report by the Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense 

“The risks of future pandemics are increasing as technological progress eases barriers to modifying pathogens, raising the specter of novel biological agents causing diseases much worse than humanity has ever faced.” The report argues that “the Apollo Program for Biodefense would provide the United States the opportunity to mobilize the nation and lead the world to meet these challenges: a world where we detect and continually trace any new pathogen from the source; where we can distribute rapid point-of-person tests to every household in the country within days of that detection; where effective treatments are already in-hand; where vaccine development and rollout occur in weeks rather than years; and where pandemics will never again threaten the lives and livelihoods of Americans and people around the world.” 

Post-COVID-19 Development and Global Governance: The Emerging Role of Science and Technology, by Sachin Chaturvedi 

“The current COVID-19 crisis has triggered important discussions highlighting the role of science, technology and innovation (STI).” In this context, the article looks “more closely at the specific issue of biological threats post-COVID-19, as well as related challenges in terms of governance.” The article suggests that “to deal with the biological aspects of the pandemic, the need to have a global biosecurity framework in place is urgent.” 

Common Misconceptions About Biological Weapons, by Chris Bakerlee, Steph Guerra, by Christine Parthemore, Damien Soghoian, and Jacob Swett 

“The COVID-19 pandemic serves as a loud wake-up call to the systemic and strategic effects of biological threats. This discourse is bringing to light several unfortunate misconceptions about biological weapons. These include misperceptions that biological weapons programs would be irrational, that they would not serve as attractive weapons given the risks involved, and that the world has institutions and processes strong enough to effectively deter, uncover, and eliminate biological weapons programs.” The article suggests “it is more critical than ever that we identify and dispel each of these dangerous misconceptions about bioweapons, which will otherwise hold back progress in building stronger frameworks to fully make them weapons of the past.” 

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