Ambivalent Multilateralism: The United States and the Biological Weapons Convention
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The Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), established in 1972, was the first multilateral disarmament treaty banning the production of an entire category of weapons. Using pathogens — viruses, bacteria, and other disease-causing biological agents — or toxins, biological weapons are designed to cause death and suffering on a large scale. Despite the fact that 165 countries are now States-Parties to the BWC, gross violations of the convention have occurred. Notable examples are the biological weapons program of signatory state Iraq, which was discovered by the UN Special Commission on Iraq after the 1990 invasion of Kuwait; or the extensive offensive biological weapons program maintained by the Soviet-Union after it became a State-Party. The reason that these violations could – and can still – occur is that the BWC lacks formal compliance measures. Contrary to the Chemical Weapons Convention, which is administered by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), verifying adherence to the convention, the BWC lacks such an organization. Several BWC review conferences have been held since 1980 in order to strengthen the convention, but the United States has proven reluctant to supplement the BWC with legally binding compliance measures. From 1997, with the support of the United States, an ad hoc group started to negotiate a draft protocol that would allow the BWC some investigation procedures. However, on July 25, 2001, the United States, under the new administration of President George W. Bush, rejected the draft protocol. The research guiding this thesis revolves around the question of whether the US rejection of the BWC verification protocol should be attributed primarily to the “unilateral turn” of the Bush Administration or if this decision should be interpreted as a continuation of a longer-term tradition of American ambivalence towards multilateral instruments. By approaching the complex case of the BWC Protocol not only from a technical and political, but also from a cultural and historical perspective this thesis hopes to add a new dimension to the current academic discussion. By placing the actions and attitudes of the Bush Administration towards the BWC in context with the American foreign policy tradition since World War II this thesis aims to shed light on the way deep-rooted cultural notions continuously shape the position of the United States in multilateral forums.