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Ministry for Foreign Affairs

Icelandic UN Permanent representative chairs a session on weapons of mass destruction

The Permanent Representative of Iceland to the United Nations, Dr. Gunnar Palsson, chairs a session at a seminar on Weapons of Mass Destruction, held by the International Peace Institute in Rye Brook, New York:



April 1, 2009


Weapons of Mass Destruction:

Can the UN Build Momentum for Disarmament and Nonproliferation?


Session 2: Recent developments in biological and chemical technologies, associated proliferation risks, and international response


Introduction by the Chair

Dr. Gunnar Pálsson

Permanent Representative of Iceland to the United Nations


In addressing biological and chemical weapons we move on to two key areas of the WMD arms control and non-proliferation agenda. The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTCW) of 1972 and the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) of 1993 are unique to the extent that both proscribe an entire class of weapons, weapons that have customarily been thought of as particularly abhorrent throughout human history. 


In comparison with the BTCW, it is probably fair to say that the CWC has been regarded as the more successful of the two. The CWC has 186 states parties,  25 more than the BTCW (161).  It has its own Secretriat, an intergovernmental body (OPCW) for critical oversight, as well as a stong verification component, another very important difference when compared to the BTCW.  Therefore, it is perhaps no surprise if the CWC is nowadays being upheld as an example of effective multilateralism in arms control.


When measured by the exacting standards of the CWC, the BTCW-process might seem to have been something of a disappointment. But that should not detract from the fact that the BTCW has also been a success in its own right. It has undoubtedly reinforced the norm against state use of biological weapons. Its provisions have not been openly violated by any state and no state party has threatened to withdraw from it.  Besides, many are now hopeful that the Sixth Review Conference in 2006 has put us back on track towards strengthening the convention.


Even so, it would be a mistake to think that the international community can now rest on its laurels.  Many challenges still remain before we can rest assured that we have rid the world of biological and chemical weapons. Universal adherance is still some way off for both conventions (9 states parties missing in the one instance and 25 in the other). At the same time, breakthroughs we have witnessed in science and technology over the past few years are presenting unprecedented challenges for both regimes. Advances in genomics (genetic engineering), in bioinformatics and nanotechnology all hold a promise to mankind for great medical and other benefits. But the downside is that they can equally be applied to chemical and bioweapon developments, creating multiple risks of proliferation and misuse, not to speak of daunting problems of verification and detection. On top of this, there is now a growing overlap between chemistry and biology and a good question whether we have the machinery in place to deal with the risks of proliferation arising from that.


This brief shopping list leaves out the numerous challenges that are particular to each of the two conventions. 


We are fortunate to have with us today two experts, Mr. Nikita Smidovich and Dr. Amy Smithson, to shed light on and discuss these kinds of issues with you and what the international response should be.  It gives me pleasure to now give the floor to them.


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