Jeffrey LewisBob Joseph Just Doesn't Get It

Robert Joseph, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, gave the luncheon address here at the Carnegie Nonproliferation Conference.

He actually described the US decision to sink the BWC draft protocol as “an act of leadership more than unilateralism.”

The draft protocol would have provided a mechanism to verify the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention through three provisions:

  • Declarations by state parties concerning facilities and activities,
  • Visits and clarification procedures to verify declarations, and
  • Investigations, including field investigations to confirm suspected use of biological agents and facility investigations to verify that prohibited activities are not being conducted.

At the time, Arms Control Today published an article-by-article analysis and a paper by John Steinbruner, Stacy Okutani and Nancy Gallagher.

The Bush Administration claimed that the protocol would reveal sensitive information about US biodefense efforts, compromise export controls and endanger proprietary information. At the core of the Bush Administration’s position was a fear that certain states might take advantage of cooperation to improve offensive BW programs.

Washington sent John Bolton to deliver one of his more bombastic performances, calling the protocol “dead in our view. Dead, and it is not going to be resurrected. It has proven to be a blind alley.”

Joseph—Bolton’s successor as the top US arms control diplomat—resumed that line of argument today, in service of defending the Bush Administration’s record on arms control. Joseph warned the verification protocol would have led to “a false sense of security.”

Joseph’s talk, however, was so 1972. He acted like he was still freaked out the mineshaft gap.

I, on the other hand, have a totally different BW fear.

China announced plans to kill 6 million birds within 3 km of a site in Liaoning province where the H5N1 virus recently appeared. Avian flu could result in a human influenza pandemic that could kill tens, perhaps hundreds, of millions of people.

This past September, China’s National Center for Biotechnology Development organized a conference on Bioeconomy that included a parallel session on biosafety organized in part by China’s biodefense program, including representatives from China’s biodefense facility at the Academy of Military Medical Sciences (AMMS) Institute of Microbiology and Epidemiology.

This was a huge step in terms of transparency for the Chinese, which I think demonstrates just how scared they are about H5N1. They need, and want, help.

The Bush Administration should take notice of that little fact, stop obssessing about phantom BW programs and focus on the real killer at our door.

Bob Joseph just doesn’t “get it”. And that means millions of people might “get” something worse.

Over on the Carnegie website, I’ve got a post about Richard Rhodes’ discussion of the War Scare of the 1983 and I’ll be writing something about the panel that I am currently attending entitled, The Taboos, Secrets, and Hidden History of Nuclear Weapons.


  1. plw

    As the conference blog does not allow comments — are there any recommendable books on the ‘83 war scare and surrounding events?