24 September 1998

Informal Ministerial Meeting Held To Strengthen The Biological Weapons Convention

I warmly welcome the outcome of the Informal Ministerial Meeting held in New York on 23 September designed to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). The meeting was part of Australia's initiative to address the scourge of biological weapons and enhance Australian and international security.

I convened the meeting but was unable to attend because of the Federal elections: the meeting was chaired in my place by the New Zealand Foreign Minister, Mr Don McKinnon.

The meeting was attended by representatives from over 50 countries - including 25 ministers - from all regions of the world and produced a declaration co-sponsored by 57 countries.

The declaration calls for the conclusion as soon as possible of the negotiations on a protocol to strengthen and enhance the BWC. Strengthening the BWC through the conclusion of a verification protocol is of fundamental importance for international security.

As it currently stands, the BWC is an imperfect instrument because compliance with the Convention cannot be verified. The key message from the Informal Ministerial Meeting is that this shortcoming must be resolved as soon as possible.

Australia has been at the forefront of efforts to ensure that the strengthening of the BWC gets the urgent attention it requires. The Government's Biological Weapons initiative, announced by Prime Minister Howard in March 1998, included in particular a call for a high-level meeting to give political impetus to the negotiations to strengthen the Convention.

I am particularly pleased therefore that the declaration endorsed Australia's proposal for a high-level meeting to be held in 1999 to lend further political support to the protocol negotiations.

The meeting saw a cross-regional group of countries come together for the first time at Ministerial level to give political support to the objective of strengthening the BWC. The number and range of countries in attendance, and the strength of the Declaration issued, is testament to the determination of the international community to do all it can to reduce the potential threat to global security posed by biological weapons.

Of all the weapons of mass destruction that potentially threaten regional and global security, biological weapons are the cheapest to obtain and the easiest to conceal. Establishing a means to ensure that the world-wide ban on biological weapons is as effective as possible is thus of vital importance for international security.

The Informal Ministerial Meeting and its declaration have significantly enhanced prospects for strengthening the Convention in the near future. Australia welcomes this, and will continue to play an active role in working towards this goal.

For further information: 

Kirk Coningham on (02) 6261 1555

Local Date: Tuesday, 07-Jan-2014 10:37:10 EST

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