Biological disarmament & arms control

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Much of my research has been focused on the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) and on the diplomatic and expert networks around this multilateral disarmament and arms control treaty. I am particularly interested in questions around compliance and verification, and in the Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) which form the central political tool through which states provide transparency about their national biodefence and biopreparedness programmes.

I have worked with several ministries of foreign affairs, and below I list a few of the key projects and outputs I have been involved in over the last few years.

Peer Review

In 2016 Germany invited BWC states parties to visit its main military medical biodefence facility to evaluate its compliance with BWC obligations. I was invited as the only civil society observer to take part alongside the 20 state party representatives. A briefing paper was published by the EU Non-Proliferation Consortium in November 2016 describing my observations during the two-day exercise. A Working Paper describing my observations was also submitted by Germant to the Eighth Review Conference of the BWC in November 2016. I also briefed state party delegations on the exercise during an 8 November 2016 BWC side event hosted by Germany.

3D BIO: Declare, Document & Demonstrate

I am working on a project called ‘3D BIO’ with Chatham House to strengthen the BWC. 3D BIO is a multi-stage vision and a conceptual design for operationalizing a bottom-up approach to strengthening the BWC. It complements, reinforces and strengthens the permanent prohibition of biological weapons enshrined in the Geneva Protocol and the BWC through a process of Declaration, Documentation and Demonstration (3D). A briefing paper was published by the EU Non-Proliferation Consortium in April 2015 outlining the approach and a small workshop was convened in Geneva in August 2015 to discuss the project with select stakeholders and to map a plan to take the initiative forward.

Confidence & Compliance with the BWC

In January 2015 I completed a project funded by the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office to aid BWC member states in their preparations for the 2016 Review Conference of the treaty. The project aimed to shape the way in which the CBM discussion is framed, and to provide an indication of where points of contention and agreement can be expected to lie.

The project carried out a series of informal consultations with Geneva-based missions. Key diplomats, national experts, staff from international organisations and academics were also brought together to discuss confidence and compliance with the BWC at a one-day workshop in advance of the week-long expert meeting of the 171 states party to the BWC. Co-organised with the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP), the meeting focused on three principal issues: (1) the extent to which the BWC is verifiable; (2) whether confidence building measures actually build confidence on the ground; (3) what a legally-binding mechanism might look like today.

DSC_1408_radA report from the workshop was launched on 1 December 2014 on the opening day of the week-long December meeting of the BWC. Dr Matt Rowland, the UK Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament, gave some opening remarks, and Dr Gustav Lindstrom (GCSP) gave an overview of the workshop report. I chaired the event.

An Information Paper introducing the project and providing a summary of the workshop was submitted by the United Kingdom to the BWC Meeting of States Parties in December 2014.

One of the ways in which the CBMs build confidence and demonstrate compliance is their documentation of national oversight arrangements for dual use research of concern and of national biodefence R&D. The rapid pace of advances in the life sciences mean they must continually be evaluated and assessed to ensure appropriate oversight is in place. One area of life science research that has gained a great deal of attention recently is ‘gain-of-function’ research, which makes certain viruses more transmissible or deadly. Using gain-of-function research as an example, the launch of the workshop report also featured a seminar on gain-of-function and saw presentations from Prof Simon Wain-Hobson (Institut Pasteur) and Prof Marc Lipsitch (Harvard University). A podcast from the seminar is available. Tweets are at #BWCMX #BWCMSP14 #DURC2014

An article titled Preventing a man-made pandemic elaborating on gain-of-function, bioweapons and confidence was published in The Bulletin following the December seminar. An earlier article on the project The BWC: Compliance, Transparency & Confidence was published in Disarmament Times, the quarterly publication of the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Committee on Disarmament, Peace & Security on the work happening in and around the United Nations, its Member States, and non-governmental organizations.

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Hard to Prove: Monitoring BWC compliance

Verification and compliance monitoring remain highly contentious for Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) states, and have been kept firmly off the negotiating table for over a decade. A small group of states tried to change this in 2012. In a Working Paper, Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and Switzerland called for an initial conceptual discussion “to promote common understanding of what constitutes compliance with the BWC and effective action to enhance assurance of compliance.” Responding to that call, this project, funded by the King’s Policy Institute, aimed to support and shape the multilateral policy discussion on strengthening biological disarmament.

The project’s main objective was to frame the way in which delegations and their capitals think of BWC verification and compliance monitoring, expanding the traditional and narrow “artefact-centric” approach to regulating unconventional weapons to one that views dual use life science technologies as a knowledge-based risk that must be managed, not a material- and equipment-based threat that can be eliminated.

The project produced a substantive policy brief – Hard to Prove: Compliance with the Biological Weapons Convention – for diplomats, experts and other BWC delegation members setting out a civil society perspective on what constitutes compliance with the BWC and how states can better demonstrate their compliance with the treaty.

The policy brief was launched at a side event on the opening day of the BWC meeting of experts in Geneva. The UK Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament chaired the seminar. I introduced the policy brief, and my King’s colleagues and co-investigators on the project, Dr Susan Martin and Professor Wyn Bowen, also gave presentations.

The policy brief and side event were referred back to a number of times by national delegations in their working session on national implementation and compliance later in the week.

For instance, Germany said: “A number of delegations shared their thoughts on various questions related to compliance in the BWC context, and we heard additional views during Monday’s side event organised by King’s College London. This event in our view highlighted in particular the need to take into account the diverse group of stakeholders and to also take into consideration approaches other than the traditional top-down approaches.”

Switzerland said: “We welcome the engagement of civil society on this issue. Particularly, King’s College’s policy brief on compliance contains very valuable ideas and recommendations that should be taken forward.”

Australia’s presentation included a post-script about the side event that picked up on the policy brief’s central idea of trimodal regulation. Australia’s reference to the policy brief prompted an unprecedented NGO intervention by myself in the formal session of the meeting to elaborate further on the concept.

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Utilizing CBM data in practice

In 2011, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs commissioned me to carry out a research project investigating how the Confidence Building Measures are utilized in practice by Biological Weapons Convention member states.

A  Working Paper providing quantitative data on the number of states submitting and accessing CBMs, as well as qualitative data on how states actually use the CBMs once they access them, was submitted by Norway, Switzerland and New Zealand to the Seventh Review Conference of the BWC in December 2011. The Working Paper also outlined a series of recommendations on how States Parties can best utilize completed CBM returns.

Options and proposals to revise the BWC CBMs

A small number of interested governments and civil society actors got together on the sidelines of a Biological Weapons Convention meeting in 2008 to discuss strategies for how to usefully prepare for Seventh Review Conference of the treaty in 2011 and the comprehensive review expected of the CBM mechanism. Some of the key priorities identified were to develop a dialogue on how best to revise the current forms, to obtain as many perspectives as possible on this, and to prepare a set of recommendations. It was felt that this should be a multilateral endeavour and that it would be helpful to convene a meeting of experts outside of the intersessional process specifically for this purpose. That became the basis for a series of three workshops on options and proposals to revise the CBMs in 2009-10, jointly organised by my team at the LSE, the Geneva Forum and Switzerland, Norway and Germany.

Drawing on representatives from governments, international organisations, civil society and academia, these workshops brought together a range of experts to address key questions on: (1) the objectives of the CBM mechanism and the extent to which these have been achieved in practice; (2) the CBMs in relation to other compliance assessment mechanisms; (3) the format and content of the existing CBM forms, and (4) the effectiveness of the CBM collation and submission process. Throughout these workshops, the aim was to find solutions with the potential to increase both the quantity and the quality of CBM submissions.

A report of the workshop series –  Preparing for a Comprehensive Review of the CBM Mechanism at the Seventh BWC Review Conference  – was commissioned by the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was authored by myself and R. Alexander Hamilton. The report was launched at a BWC side event on 25 August 2010 at the Palais des Nations with remarks from diplomats from the Norwegian, Swiss and German delegations and myself. We convened a further side event about the project on 6 December 2010, again with remarks from diplomats from the Norwegian, Swiss and German delegations and myself.

A Working Paper outlining a set of recommendations to update the current CBM reporting forms was submitted by Germany, Norway and Switzerland to the Seventh Review Conference of the BWC in December 2011.

This project was recognised by, amongst others, the Chilean Ambassador in his opening statement to the BWC Review Conference on 6 December 2011: “Contamos con valiosas propuestas sintetizadas en el compendio elaborado for Filippa Lentzos y Alexander Hamilton. El aporte de Alemania, Noruega y Suiza, después de dos años de un trabajo inclusivio, require nuestra atención.”

Biodefence programme data_NGO intervention B&W

In 2008, the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs commissioned me to lead a research project on the information exchange that builds confidence between BWC member states. The project developed fictitious Confidence Building Measures (CBM) returns for small, medium and large biodefence programmes drawn together on the basis of actual returns. These ‘mock’ CBMs were used as a neutral but concrete basis for moderated discussions in small groups of national experts. Three focus groups were conducted in all; two of these were with Western Group experts, the third was with NAM experts representing seven different States Parties. The groups each contained between 5-10 experts with a mix of background (arms control and non-proliferation, defence, health, security, life sciences).

A Working Paper introducing the project was submitted by Switzerland to the BWC Meeting of Experts in August 2008 and a Working Paper outlining the key findings of the project was submitted by Switzerland to the BWC Meeting of States Parties in December 2008. The project report  – Preparing the Ground for the CBM Content Debate  – was launched at a BWC side event on 2 December 2008 at the Palais des Nations with remarks by the Swiss disarmament Ambassador, the Head of the BWC Implementation Support Unit, and myself.

BWC CBM national data collection processes

In 2007, the Swiss Federal Department of Defence commissioned me to lead a research project on national CBM data collection processes in Biological Weapons Convention member states. The study sampled 10 countries that have consistently submitted returns since the CBM mechanism was agreed in 1986. The sample was selected on the basis of representation from Eastern Group, the Group of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and the Western Group.

Working Paper outlining the key findings of the project was submitted by Switzerland to the BWC Meeting of States Parties in December 2007. The report National Data Collection Processes for CBM Submissions was launched at a BWC side event sponsored by the Geneva Forum on 12 December 2007 at the Palais des Nations with remarks by the Swiss disarmament Ambassador, the Head of the BWC Implementation Support Unit, and myself.