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PSR calls for strengthened Biological Weapons Convention inspections and protocols to close loopholes

December 7, 2011

Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) applauds the Obama Administration’s decision to send U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the Biological Weapons Convention Review Conference underway in Geneva Switzerland.  Recognizing that recent developments in biotechnology and genetic engineering provide the potential to create novel and uniquely dangerous organisms that could be weaponized and pose an unacceptable threat to human health, PSR welcomes such high-level attention to this vital issue. 

Secretary Clinton is scheduled to arrive today. The lasting value of her visit will depend on whether the U.S. is willing to reinstate the commitment of previous administrations to strengthen this essential international treaty.  At this critical moment, empty rhetoric will not suffice.  Our nation must listen to the health professionals and scientists who have urged bold action to prevent manmade epidemics that would be resistant to all forms of standard vaccines and countermeasures, and which would likely overcome even robust medical and emergency preparedness measures.

On such a critical global health issue, the U.S. must lead by example. PSR believes that Secretary Clinton should commit to greater U.S. transparency and enhanced multilateral oversight of its own biological defense programs. In addition, the U.S. needs to provide leadership in calling for strengthened inspection and verification protocols to close loopholes in the current BWC, long recognized as vulnerabilities by many global disarmament expert.

As Amy Smithson, senior fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies said, Secretary Clinton’s appearance "is a most welcome indication of high-level political attention being paid to the bioweapons ban. But the proof will be in whether she introduces significant new proposals to strengthen the treaty's compliance provisions or continues a regrettable, multiyear trend of more rhetoric about the severity of the bioweapons problem than action to reduce that threat."

We will be watching to see what Secretary Clinton says and what our nation does in the coming weeks and months to prevent laboratory-created plagues of unimaginable consequence. We hope our nation will provide the vision and leadership to preserve and greatly strengthen this vital treaty.

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