The threat of bio-terrorism will top the agenda of a sixth review conference of the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention. The two-week conference, which begins Monday in Geneva will review the ban on biological weapons and aim to strengthen the existing treaty.
The previous review conference was held in 2001. It collapsed after the United States rejected a draft protocol aimed at strengthening the Biological Weapons Convention. Washington said the proposed verification measures would interfere with legitimate commercial activity and defense.
Since then, terrorists attacked the United States on September 11, 2001 and the war on terrorism was launched.
The President-designate of the Conference, Pakistani Ambassador Masood Khan,
says many of the divisions of the past have been buried and prospects for an agreement to strengthen the treaty this time are better.
"The atmosphere in general, I would describe as positive and forward looking. I am therefore going into the conference in a very optimistic frame of mind," he said. "There will certainly be challenges, some hurdles and glitches. But, I am confident that we will be able to secure an outcome that reduces the risks posed by biological weapons and helps ensure that the great strides being made in biological science and technology are used only for the benefit of people around the world."
Khan says bio-terrorism poses a threat to national and international security because of what he calls the mind-boggling advances that have been made in the life sciences and biotechnology. He says these developments are moving ahead at great speed.
"Unlike nuclear weapons or even chemical weapons, you do not need big laboratories and elaborate command and control systems or huge facilities to produce weapons," he added. "Here in a remote laboratory an experiment which is being done to develop a benign use for biology, that can be turned into a weapon. So, there you have to be very watchful and vigilant."
Khan says concerns also are growing about how bio-terrorists could manipulate naturally occurring diseases such as SARS and avian influenza for their purposes.