Do no harm: A 3000-year old medical students’ oath

[Cross-posted from The Trench]

While doing background research on the history of the conception of disease and its propagation, I came across a translation from Sanskrit of a pledge an Indian medical student had to take more than 2000 years ago.

The oath can be found in the Charaka Samhita, one of India’s most ancient texts on medicine. It is believed to have been written around 300–200 BCE, but may have been a redacted version of an earlier, but lost work Ayurveda (Life Knowledge) compiled by Agnivesa about 1000 BCE. The written version handed down through the ages is therefore younger than the Hippocratic Oath (about 400 BCE), but just like the Manu Smrti—the Laws of Manu (about 200 BCE), a collection of Ancient Indian prescriptions that includes the oldest known record of an interdiction against the use of poison in combat—it draws on much older teachings.

The oath of initiation

  1. The teacher then should instruct the disciple in the presence of the sacred fire, Brahmanas [Brahmins] and physicians.
  2. [saying] ‘Thou shalt lead the life of a celebate, grow thy hair and beard, speak only the truth, eat no meat, eat only pure articles of food, be free from envy and carry no arms.
  3. There shall be nothing that thou should not do at my behest except hating the king, causing another’s death, or committing an act of great unrighteousness or acts leading to calamity.
  4. Thou shalt dedicate thyself to me and regard me as thy chief. Thou shalt be subject to me and conduct thyself for ever for my welfare and pleasure. Thou shalt serve and dwell with me like a son or a slave or a supplicant. Thou shalt behave and act without arrogance, with care and attention and with undistracted mind, humility, constant reflection and ungrudging obedience. Acting either at my behest or otherwise, thou shalt conduct thyself for the achievement of thy teacher’s purposes alone, to the best of thy abilities.
  5. If thou desirest success, wealth and fame as a physician and heaven after death, thou shalt pray for the welfare of all creatures beginning with the cows and Brahmanas.
  6. Day and night, however thou mayest be engaged, thou shalt endeavour for the relief of patients with all thy heart and soul. Thou shalt not desert or injure thy patient for the sake of thy life or thy living. Thou shalt not commit adultery even in thought. Even so, thou shalt not covet others’ possessions. Thou shalt be modest in thy attire and appearance. Thou shouldst not be a drunkard or a sinful man nor shouldst thou associate with the abettors of crimes. Thou shouldst speak words that are gentle, pure and righteous, pleasing, worthy, true, wholesome, and moderate. Thy behaviour must be in consideration of time and place and heedful of past experience. Thou shalt act always with a view to the acquisition of knowledge and fullness of equipment.
  7. No persons, who are hated by the king or who are haters of the king or who are hated by the public or who are haters of the public, shall receive treatment. Similarly, those who are extremely abnormal, wicked, and of miserable character and conduct, those who have not vindicated their honour, those who are on the point of death, and similarly women who are unattended by their husbands or guardians shall not receive treatment.
  8. No offering of presents by a woman without the behest of her husband or guardian shall be accepted by thee. While entering the patient’s house, thou shalt be accompanied by a man who is known to the patient and who has his permission to enter; and thou shalt be well-clad, bent of head, self-possessed, and conduct thyself only after repeated consideration. Thou shalt thus properly make thy entry. Having entered, thy speech, mind, intellect and senses shall be entirely devoted to no other thought than that of being helpful to the patient and of things concerning only him. The peculiar customs of the patient’s household shall not be made public. Even knowing that the patient’s span of life has come to its close, it shall not be mentioned by thee there, where if so done, it would cause shock to the patient or to others. Though possessed of knowledge one should not boast very much of one’s knowledge. Most people are offended by the boastfulness of even those who are otherwise good and authoritative.
  9. There is no limit at all to the Science of Life, Medicine. So thou shouldst apply thyself to it with diligence. This is how thou shouldst act. Also thou shouldst learn the skill of practice from another without carping. The entire world is the teacher to the intelligent and the foe to the unintelligent. Hence, knowing this well, thou shouldst listen and act according to the words of instruction of even an unfriendly person, when his words are worthy and of a kind as to bring to you fame, long life, strength and prosperity.’
  10. Thereafter the teacher should say this—’Thou shouldst conduct thyself properly with the gods, sacred fire, Brahmanas, the guru, the aged, the scholars and the preceptors. If thou hast conducted thyself well with them, the precious stones, the grains and the gods become well disposed towards thee. If thou shouldst conduct thyself otherwise, they become unfavourable to thee’. To the teacher that has spoken thus, the disciple should say, ‘Amen.’

According to an accompanying commentary by I. A. Menon and H. F. Haberman, it is not inconceivable that the Hippocratic Oath was influenced by Ancient Indian teachings and practices via the Pythagorean school, whose doctrine is believed to be highly influenced by Eastern thought.


And for further background to the documents:

Non-proliferation assistance: A proliferation of national focal points?

[Cross-posted from The Trench]

On 9 December I attended a one-day seminar entitled Assistance and capacity-building in the context of UN Security Council Resolution 1540, Disarmament and Non-Proliferation in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It took place in one of the committee rooms in the old building of the African Union Commission. It had none of the trappings of many modern high-tech venues, but offered all amenities one can wish for during a day-long meeting: an electricity plug under the desk (a civilisational advance that has yet to reach the main room for meetings of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, or BTWC, at the United Nations in Geneva), internet access, soothing brown background colours of wood-panelled walls, and—most unusual nowadays—daylight. Two pyramidal domes in the ceiling let in glorious sunshine and skimming light entering through the rows of windows running the entire length of the back wall softened the sharp contrasts thrown by the sunrays from above. Even in the late afternoon when a diffuse darkness was gradually filling the committee room, the rays of a setting sun lit up the roofs of nearby buildings in a colourful backdrop to participants exchanging final impressions of the day’s discussions.

Listening to the various assistance providers

A diverse African landscape of assistance and capacity-building programmes

The seminar organised by the African Union and the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies (ISS) aimed to map out the many initiatives underway to assist the African continent with meeting its obligations under various UN Security Council Resolutions and multilateral global and regional treaties limiting the acquisition, possession and use of non-conventional weapons. As good as the entire day was structured around a new publication by the ISS entitled CBRN [Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear] Assistance and Capacity-Building Programmes for African States. Written by Annie DuPre and Nicolas Kasprzyk, the 95-page directory gives a detailed overview of worldwide providers of assistance, be they states, international organisations or civil society entities. The seminar also built on a major conference convened by the African Union on 6–7 April 2016 to review the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1540 in Africa.

Some 40 people attended, just under half of whom were representatives from local embassies of African states. Other participants came from global and regional organisations and specialised agencies involved in assistance and capacity-building in support of disarmament, non-proliferation and counter-terrorism, or had long-term expertise in relevant fields.

Ms Einas Mohammed presenting an overview of the African Union programmes in support of UNSC Resolution 1540 and weapon control treaties

While I had been aware of several initiatives, the range of organisations running such programmes took me by surprise. Besides entities such as the African Union, the UN Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Africa (UNREC), the UN Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) in collaboration with the EU CBRN Centres of Excellence, many other international bodies are also deeply involved. Among those presenting overviews of their activities were the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), an eight-nation cooperative arrangement in East Africa whose role in non-conventional weapon control is rather unexpected, but explicable in view of the security situation in founding member Somalia; the African Biosafety Network of Expertise (ABNE)—a specialised branch of the African Union’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD); and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) that also works on the prevention of terrorism.

My former colleague, Alex Lampalzer of the BTWC Implementation Support Unit, and I reflected on the outcomes of the BTWC Review Conference last month. Another colleague of mine at the Paris-based Fondation pour la recherche stratégique, Emmanuelle Maitre, spoke on progress in the universalisation of the Hague Code of Conduct (HCoC) against the proliferation of ballistic missiles.

A proliferation of focal points in support of non-proliferation

UNSC Resolution 1540 was definitely the organising principle, not just of the seminar, but of many of the initiatives undertaken across Africa. After its adoption in 2004, authorities in several African countries were sceptical of the new obligations: having been handed down by the Security Council they viewed them as undue interference in domestic affairs by the UN body. In addition, so they argued, the resolution placed additional strain on already limited human and financial resources. Attitudes gradually changed, not in the least because of the generous investments by the international community in programmes to help UN members meeting these obligations. Moreover, Resolution 1540 began linking up with related initiatives (e.g., ones advancing biosecurity and-safety or global health security) and efforts undertaken in support of international treaties, such as the implementation of BTWC Article X. Governments in Africa began to discern tangible benefits from the programmes that also enhance national capacities to address or mitigate emerging threats.

The flush of money, however, also meant that quite a few international and non-governmental organisations developed an interest in the topic and set up specific programmes. Listening to the various presentations, this insight arose gradually: the speakers representing different international bodies described rather same and occasionally overlapping activities covering the various non-conventional weapon categories. They also reported similar issues, the most notable one being their call for national focal points in each of the target countries of their activities.

In and of itself, this call is unsurprising. The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) requires states parties to establish a National Authority, which besides some specific responsibilities concerning treaty implementation, also acts as the state party’s focal point for interaction with other states parties and the Technical Secretariat of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Today, out of 192 parties, four still need to set one up. However, it took many years of intensive efforts to reach that high number. The BTWC has no international organisation and the treaty text does not foresee in a similar national structure. The 6th Review Conference (2006) decided that each state party should designate a national contact point to coordinate national implementation and communicate with other states parties and relevant international organisations; prepare the submission of confidence-building measures (CBMs); and facilitate information exchanges regarding efforts in support of treaty universalisation. However, by mid-December 2016 only 110 out of the total of 178 parties have notified the ISU of such a national contact point. As I have been able to experience firsthand when preparing the four regional workshops in preparation of the 8th Review Conference on behalf of the ISU, the absence of such a contact point seriously complicated speedy communications as all questions had to go through the mission in Geneva until a local official had been identified.

However, what emerged from the seminar were not just problems to persuade a state to fully meet its national obligations under international legally-binding instruments. UNSC Resolution 1540 and the various clusters of activities described by the speakers address all four CBRN weapon categories, most often from a counter-terrorism angle. This raised the following questions:

  • Do the national focal points as mentioned in the presentations serve all initiatives, or does each assistance programme or organisation have its own?
  • What workload do the initiatives undertaken by different international organisations place on the national focal point or national administration?
  • How do the initiatives match up with the demands from formal treaties (including the BTWC and CWC)?
  • What degree of specialisation is required by the national focal point or international organisation to implement the many projects and programmes?

Not problematic?

Speakers seemed to have mixed views on whether the multitude of national focal points is problematic or not. They tended to differentiate between functions of the international organisation delivering the assistance, on the one hand, and the organisation of such assistance in recipient state, on the other hand.

From the perspective of the international organisations, it was argued that the programmes—particularly those in support of UNSC Resolution 1540—target different arms categories and therefore have to interact with different interlocutors inside the recipient countries. Furthermore, each international organisation or agency has a specific mandate. They may also function on different levels of local administration. Both elements also lead to the need for different local contact points.

From the perspective of the recipient country some representatives from international organisations accepted that the many different local focal points do not necessarily make for an ideal situation. However, they also did not view the situation as particularly problematic, because each one of those local interlocutors may be dealing with different aspects of the subject matter. One speaker even indicated that depending on the issue at hand he may have to contact different ministries or agencies.

One seminar participant raised an important practical problem in connection with the selection of a national focal point: at what level within the administration should such a person be placed? If this person is too high up, then he or she will be difficult to interact with; if too low, then he or she will only have limited impact on national action.

Reflection on the latter comment in relation to the other meeting discussions while writing has just now made me realise that I may have witnessed a confusion of tongues: some people seem to equate ‘focal point’ with (personal) ‘contact’. To them ‘national’ in the context of focal point means ‘inside the target country’, not ‘representing the target country’ in relation to international organisations or other assistance providers.

This is definitely not the meaning of National Authority under the CWC or national contact point in the context of the BTWC. (And given my disarmament reference framework, I may have misinterpreted the meaning and purpose of ‘national focal point’ too, who knows?)

Towards a consolidation of initiatives in Africa?

Lack of resources is a recurrent complaint from African countries one hears at BTWC and CWC meetings when lagging treaty implementation is raised. Yet the continent is bustling with activities. The OPCW has now for many years run a programme to strengthen cooperation with Africa. Donor states, foundations and international organisations fund capacity-building programmes or supply specific technologies that augment regional and local security and safety, enhance capacities for monitoring and detecting incidents and disease outbreaks or dealing with their consequences. Border controls, sea- and airport security, protection of critical infrastructure, and tracking of internal and international technology transfers all feature high among the priorities. The African Union has become increasingly instrumental in pressuring its members to fulfill their national responsibilities under global and regional disarmament and non-proliferation, as well as counter-terrorism instruments.  As I have mentioned in my previous blog post, Africa has been catching up over the past decade. But there are still gaps.

Coordination by the African Union

A key question that the seminar in Addis Ababa did not address—it would have required a different type of agenda for that—is how national administrations structure themselves to avoid duplication, preserve institutional memory, and sustain enhanced capacity levels should current levels of international support drop as a result of the success of the assistance programmes or other events? Another important question is whether and how the national administrations transfer the insights and experiences to society at large. Are scientific and professional communities coopted to prevent the misuse of science and technology? Are institutions, companies and factories if not compelled, then encouraged to meet higher security and safety standards in line with the demands of the international agreements? Who develops, oversees or enforces those higher standards? What are the consequences of failing them?

The seminar did not discuss whether such internal changes are taking place. Chances are that they are, but it is quite possible that progress is uneven whether across issue areas or countries. The seeming proliferation of national focal points suggests internal fragmentation of efforts. By running their separate programmes international assistance providers may unconsciously encourage such fragmentation. From the African Union–ISS seminar I take away that there is ample scope to enhance and consolidate interaction among national departments and agencies to facilitate receipt of international assistance, multiply their effects and share experiences and resources across national sectors, and enhance cooperation with other African states. Providers may also see the impact of their assistance rise if they were to insist on an integrated national focal point involving all relevant departments and agencies for all disarmament and non-proliferation policies.

Indeed, such an integrated focal point is much more likely to reach out successfully to the relevant stakeholders in society to uphold the norms against CBRN in daily life.

[Pictures by Jacqui Cochrane. Institute for Security Studies, Pretoria]

Beneath the Crust …

… the lava continues to flow unseen by the casual observer standing above

On 3 November I was invited to speak at an international conference in Brussels organised by the European Union (EU) Non-Proliferation Consortium. The session was called: The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) – Maintaining Relevance. I found the title intriguing. Is the BTWC losing its relevance one way or another? Is this treaty in jeopardy?

Brasil’s BW preparedness: demonstration during the Brasilia workshop (23 August 2016)

A widely shared opinion has it that the BTWC is a weak treaty. Yet always unspoken  remain the criteria by which people assess the treaty’s weakness. They often point to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) as a strong agreement because it has an international organisation, a verification regime and mechanisms to enforce compliance. Notwithstanding, in its almost twenty years of existence, war and terrorism in the Middle East accounts for about 2,000 fatalities as a direct consequence of chemical warfare and terrorism with chemical weapons. The BTWC, in contrast, lacks an international organisation or verification mechanism, yet in its 41 years since entry into force, deliberate use of disease or toxins has killed fewer than 100 persons. What does that say about the strength of a treaty?

Moreover, the BTWC is actually a very active treaty. Since 1991—the 3rd Review Conference—states parties have come together in Geneva at least twice a year, sometimes even more, particularly while negotiating a legally-binding protocol between 1997 and 2001. Of course there is a lot of frustration with the formal process and its lack of tangible progress in upgrading the treaty, its institutional support and procedures. In contrast a lot moves on the local and regional levels.

The BTWC World Tour 2016

To that conclusion I arrived after having organised four regional and sub-regional seminars between March and the end of September 2016 on behalf of the BTWC Implementation Support Unit (ISU). Those meetings took place in the framework of the EU Council Decision 2016/51 of 18 January 2016 supporting the BTWC and are part of a much broader package of activities envisaged between 2016 and 2019.

This Council Decision is the fourth in a series over the past decade. The first one covered the period 2006–08; the second one 2009–11 and the third one 2012–15. In total the EU has now invested some 6.3 million Euros in the strengthening of the BTWC, including 2.3 million for the current programme.

En route to Brasilia: The island of Madeira as seen from BioForce One (17 August 2016)

As Director of the international non-governmental organisation BioWeapons Prevention Project, I had the privilege of being entrusted with the implementation of the first Joint Action (as actionable Council Decisions were then known), part of which was designed to prepare the 6th Review Conference at the end of 2006. At this point the ISU, which was to carry out the next EU support plans, had not yet been established .The Joint action consisted mainly of BTWC universalisation and national implementation assistance activities. The former comprised five regional seminars: Southern and East Africa (Nairobi, Kenya on 21–22 June 2006; Asia and the Pacific Islands (Bangkok, Thailand on 8–9 November 2006; Latin America and the Caribbean (San José, Costa Rica on 18–19 January 2007); West and Central Africa (Dakar, Senegal on 17–18 April 2007); and the Middle East (Rome, Italy on 16–17 April 2008).

Ed Force One landing in the East Midlands, UK (June 2016)

The current Council Decision envisages four regional workshops in preparation of the 8th Review Conference to be held between 7 and 25 November 2016. Because of the short intervals between the events, the series became jokingly known as the BTWC World Tour 2016 and the organisers flew on BioForce One, a wink to Iron Maiden’s Ed Force One carrying the rock band’s members and crew to concert venues across the planet.

The four events targeted Eastern Europe and Central Asia (Astana, Kazakhstan on 15–16 June); South and Central America (Brasilia, Brazil on 22–23 August); South and South-East Asia (New Delhi, India on 29–30 August) and Africa (African Union Commission, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 13–14 September).

My remarks at the EU Non-Proliferation Consortium conference drew on insights from the four regional workshops this year and earlier experiences with the first EU Joint Action.

Evolution of a treaty regime and trends in state practice

Anyone participating in meetings on science and technology review, developments in industrial capacities, new production processes and technologies hears a lot of anxiety and a lot of talk of threats to the convention or possible weakening of the norm. However, such developments never take place in a vacuum, even if substantive progress in the Geneva negotiations remains elusive. Looking at several states that participated in this year’s regional meetings, I can only observe how much things have evolved.

India is a prime example. I recall a seminar the BWPP organised at the United Nations in Geneva in 2004 or 2005. We had an Indian scientist present  and she described how her country was on the verge of becoming a net exporter of biotechnology, whereas before it had been a net importer. She predicted that India would soon assume new types of responsibilities to govern the new science and technologies. Last August I was in New Delhi for the third regional seminar. At one point a discussion between Iran and India over the latter country’s export control legislation started up. It was interesting to note the evolution in India’s position on export controls. It had adopted principles that only 5–10 years ago were extremely controversial internationally. China has undergone a similar evolution with respect to national technology transfer policies and its adoption of a certain rationale behind them. These developments testify to a convergence of ideas, a convergence of approaches among states in different parts of the world. In turn they lead to circumstances that enable and promote cross-continental, cross-regional cooperation in a number of issue areas. In preparation of the 8th Review Conference the ISU website contains several working papers written jointly by European and Asian states, European and South American states, or the United States with partners in different regions. They illustrate emerging possibilities for the future of the BTWC. They do not yet translate into formal agreements or new understandings, but they testify to evolving practice that keeps the convention alive despite frequent setbacks in multilateral negotiations.

A second aspect of the BTWC’s vitality that emerged from the four regional seminars concern the different facets of international assistance and cooperation for peaceful purposes under Article X. Exchanges between especially some members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and the Western Group in Geneva are usually politically highly charged. Similar confrontations one can also observe in meetings of the decision-making bodies of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) with respect to the comparable Article XI of the CWC. Yet, over the past decade parties to the BTWC have managed to advance matching expectations with obligations on both the global and regional levels.

After the Astana workshop: Amb. György Molnár, then President-Designate 8th RevCon; Daniel Feakes, Chief ISU; Jean Pascal Zanders, then UNODA; and Emil Kazakov, European External Action Service (16 June 2016)

First, the intersessional process has tended to focus on actionable programme items. In Geneva states parties often discuss Article X in broad, abstract principles. As already mentioned, they also tend to pit the NAM against the Western Group. Several vocal NAM members view national export controls as a violation of the convention and consequently place the prohibition on transferring biological weapons (BW) and relevant technologies to any recipient whatsoever in Article III in direct opposition to Article X. The intersessional process, in contrast, encourages states parties to look at the quality of their national implementation of obligations and responsibilities. This has led them to articulate concrete needs and requests, including under Article X, which in turn made it easier for potential donor countries to formulate offers for assistance and cooperation. Matching happens bilaterally or interregionally with the BTWC ISU often acting as a facilitator. To most developing countries the feckless ritual standoff with its sweeping statements in Geneva runs counter to specific national needs.

Second, certain developing countries have taken a regional lead in technology, science development, and so on. Some even work at the leading edge globally. Over the past few years they have initiated processes whereby they transfer relevant knowledge, expertise and practices to neighbouring states. In other words, regional patterns of cooperation, training and education explicitly undertaken under Article X have emerged. Argentina plays such a role in South America. Similar initiatives have arisen in the context of ASEAN, particularly in the area of biorisk management. Such concrete regional assistance also includes help with national implementation legislation, the submission of the Confidence Building Measures (CBMs), and so forth.

Re-emerging regionalism to BTWC negotiations?

Kim Won-soo, UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, addressing the New Delhi workshop (29 August 2016)

Related to the latter development, but not specifically linked to Article X, I noticed egress of a certain degree of regional consciousness, if not identity across the seminars for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, South and South-East Asia and Latin America. Several participants wished to develop and articulate a clearer regional dimension in the Geneva forums, be it in the 8th Review Conference or at intersessional meetings. Politically some reluctance persisted regarding certain issue areas, but the desire definitely came to the fore. At the 6th Review Conference (2006) such a trend had been quite prominent. For instance, the Latin American countries then made several collective proposals. EU members submitted almost all working papers as joint documents, thereby emerging as a distinct entity in the Western Group. The JACKSNNZ comprised another Western Group collective but minus the EU and the USA:  Japan, Australia, Canada, South Korea, Switzerland, Norway and New Zealand. Most interestingly, working papers by the traditional antagonists in Geneva tended to become outlying propositions, whereas those presented by either the JACKSNNZ or Latin America came to represent a centre upon which consensus could be crafted. (The EU was less successful in this respect, because the working papers had gone through a lengthy and delicate internal negotiation process. As a consequence, it became all but impossible to demonstrate timely flexibility as negotiations at the Review Conference gathered pace or to abandon one position in favour of potential success in another issue area.) Informal regionalism contributed to the successful outcome of the 2006 Review Conference, but petered out during the subsequent series of intersessional meetings. Based on exchanges during the regional seminars and in view of the tendency towards regional cooperation in implementing the BTWC, (informal) regionalism may resurface over the next years.

Avoiding communication breakdown

The meetings organised under the 2016 EU Council Decision targeted primarily officials responsible for BTWC matters in capitals. Consequently, a third element that came to the fore is the disconnect between the desk officers in capitals and the Geneva delegations. The people on both sides of the communication use different frameworks. When diplomats in Geneva seek instructions from capital, the latter frequently does not understand the question. Absence of concrete guidance makes the BTWC deliberations boring. Without any cue of how to contribute to solutions or advocate national interests, their sense of futility only increases. Many seminar participants (who mostly came from capital) found the discussions in Geneva abstract and the information they are receiving appeared to have limited bearing on their daily work. This need how to express oneself in Geneva or to understand the issues under discussion in the BTWC forums in capital warrants further investigation and elaboration so as to devise specific types of assistance activities.

A continent in search of greater involvement

A fourth element pertains specifically to Africa. With the exception of communication difficulties between delegations and capital, the trends described above were noticeably absent from the exchanges at the regional meeting in Addis Ababa.

Several countries on the African continent are leaders in terms of biology, the life sciences and biotechnology. They include Kenya, Morocco and South Africa. However, contrary to Latin America or South-East Asia, no radiation from these three countries to neighbouring states or within the region can be observed. During the final discussion session of the workshop for Africa one of the participants asked me to compare the regions. When I mentioned the lack of spontaneous mutual cooperation people were surprised, but upon reflection acknowledged this was the case. Therefore, stimulating the more advanced countries to engage regionally or subregionally would benefit Africa’s commitment to the BTWC.

Opening session of the Addis Ababa workshop co-organised with African Union (13 September 2016)

Africa is also the continent with the largest number of non-states parties. A lot of work in support of universalisation remains. From different interventions it was apparent that the African Union is taking up the BTWC as a priority issue. For other states parties it therefore makes sense to interact more with this regional organisation because it wants to set up programmes to stimulate universality, including what I call ‘qualitative universality’—the quality of national implementation of obligations.

Another observation of mine may not be entirely politically correct: a big difference in attitude towards the treaty exists between the Anglophone and Francophone countries. Generally, representatives from Anglophone countries appear well aware of issues; those from Francophone countries less so. After the workshop I spoke with officials from both linguistic communities. Both sides acknowledged the discrepancy. (African participants in the EU Non-Proliferation Consortium conference in Brussels did so too.) However, it was not immediately clear why it existed. At the Brussels conference I reflected on how easy it is to speak in English, to organise events in English. However, equivalent activities for Francophone communities are rare, which might explain lower levels of general awareness and knowledge. Relevant literature in French to bridge such gaps is also less prevalent. To design assistance programmes or set up outreach activities for Francophone countries may require some preliminary investigation into the causes of that particular discrepancy.

Unlike in the other regional meetings unawareness of the BTWC or the norm against BW existed even among a few persons sent by their government to attend the Addis Ababa meeting. In one particular egregious instance the question even came up why biological weapons should not be used. Admittedly, a representative from a non-state party suffering badly from internal war asked it. Nevertheless, such absence of an overall sense of normative frameworks that govern international relations or international security demonstrated how easily a globally accepted interdiction might be breached once societies break down.

These observations do not imply that Africa has not progressed over the past decade. Quite on the contrary. To give but one example: when I was organising the regional seminars in Nairobi and Dakar under the first EU Joint Action, the respective target countries were contacted through the Foreign Ministry, typically via the Political Director. However, the actual desk officer responsible for the BTWC often functioned as if in a stovepipe. He or she had no colleagues on the same level. All communication was vertical via the immediate superior and director-general. That person had no lateral contacts, even with equivalent functions in other ministries. Today, people are aware of the need to involve different departments or agencies and have established lateral contacts with them. At the workshop in Addis Ababa some African countries—not necessarily the most advanced or richest ones—were represented by 2–3 officials from different ministries despite the limitation of the EU sponsorship to a single country representative. Moreover, people are aware of their counterparts in other countries, a situation that can only further improve as more states parties set up national focal points for the BTWC.

By way of conclusion

My fifth and final point concerned the ways in which assistance and cooperation can be best organised in view of the apparent region-specific dynamics in support of the norm embedded in the BTWC. How can the international community stimulate these trends further without becoming too intrusive into what I would call ‘natural’ regional processes?

Minister Maria Luisia Escorel de Moraes closes the Brasilia workshop (23 August 2016)

Regional or local assistance programmes might wish to engender interest in the convention by not departing from the BTWC. Indeed, regional or local perspectives on the relevancy of an international disarmament convention may differ considerably from those in North America and Europe, both of which have a very strong law-based attitude to international relations. Not all cultures entertain a similar formalistic, legal point of departure. Some issues such as terrorism may not be that salient to people in other parts of the world; local concerns may be focussed more on things such as biological diversity or the environmental or economic impact of genetically modified organisms, and so forth. Perhaps strategies need to be developed so that these local concerns become the starting point for shifting or expanding the knowledge about the BTWC, and translating the many topics under discussion in Geneva with reference to issues as local people experience them. This reflection arguably pertains more to building a national consensus about the value of the norm that permeates all aspects of scientific and technological activities than to a nation’s legal obligations under the BTWC.


Since my presentation at the conference by the EU Non-Proliferation Consortium on 3 November, the 8th BTWC Review Conference ended in great disappointment. The outcome underscores the need to continue the types of activites described above. Two further blog postings on the BTWC are being prepared, an account of a second workshop on Africa’s implementation of weapon control treaties I attended in Addis Ababa on 9 December and an analysis of the outcome of the Review Conference.

This contribution also features in the Winter 2016 issue of CBW Magazine: Journal on Chemical and Biological Weapons, published by the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi, India.

(Picture of Ed Force One by Michael Hallam, posted at UK Airshow Review Message Board; all other photos by Jean Pascal Zanders.)

[Cross-posted from The Trench]

Education & outreach in chemical weapon disarmament

Exactly one year ago today, the Conference of the States Parties in its 20th session decided on the establishment of the Advisory Board on Education and Outreach (ABEO) as a subsidiary body to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

In 2016 the 15-member board met twice and formulated its first sets of recommendations. On 1 December I reported on the ABEO’s work to the 21st session of the Conference of the States Parties. Due to a 7-minute time restriction I could deliver only a summary of the most important points. Below is the full text of the statement as circulated to the states party to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

[Cross-posted from The Trench]

Statement by Dr Jean Pascal Zanders
Chairperson of the OPCW Advisory Board on Education and Outreach, to the 21st Conference of the States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention
The Hague, 1 December 2016
Mr Chairperson,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

At last year’s Conference of the States Parties you decided to establish the Advisory Board on Education and Outreach (ABEO) as one of the subsidiary bodies of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The ABEO received as mandate to advise the Director-General or States Parties on matters of education, outreach and awareness-raising, and public diplomacy concerning the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and its international and domestic implementation in relation to States Parties and key stakeholder communities. Put differently, it seeks strategies to assist the OPCW with deepening the involvement of the stakeholder communities in preventing the re-emergence of chemical weapons.

The Director-General appointed 15 members to the Board, whose mandate started on 1 January of this year. Based on the principle of equitable regional distribution, they comprise:

  • 3 persons from Africa: Kenya, Morocco and South Africa;
  • 4 persons from Asia: China, India, Iraq and Japan;
  • 2 persons from Eastern Europe: Poland and the Russian Federation;
  • 2 persons from Latin America and the Carribean: Argentina and Mexico; and
  • 4 persons from Western Europe and Other States: Belgium, Germany, the United kingdom and the United States.

Two members—Prof WANG Wencai (China) and Dr Austin ALUOCH (Kenya)—are Alumni of the Associate Programme. One member, Prof. Alastair Hay (UK), is a recipient of the 2015 OPCW–The Hague Award. While the ABEO resulted from groundwork laid by the OPCW Scientific Advisory Board (SAB), ABEO membership includes not just chemists and other scientists, but also experts with backgrounds in the political sciences, history, diplomacy, as well as persons well versed with issues in chemical weapon disarmament, education and outreach strategies, or the functioning of National Authorities.

In addition, and as a first for Advisory Boards, the ABEO can also benefit from the expertise of select observers. Observers are non-permanent and they are invited in function of the meeting agenda. However, the Rules of Procedure stipulate that a representative of the International Union for Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) is to participate in the ABEO’s work as a permanent observer. At their second meeting in October 2016, the Board Members decided to accord a similar status to a representative from the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA).

In its first year of activity the ABEO has met twice, in April and October 2016. With the help from the Technical Secretariat an electronic discussion platform has been set up, so that Members can continue to discuss and develop recommendations in the so-called ‘intersessional period’. This electronic platform allows the setting up of sub-groups in which ABEO Members, as well as observers, can develop ideas and discuss working papers on topics decided at the preceding meeting. The goal is to have well-conceived proposals for final consideration and adoption by the full Board.

Towards common understandings

Mr Chairperson, the first meeting (28–29 April 2016) focussed mainly on team building. Each member and observer presented an overview of their education and outreach activities, thereby highlighting objectives and describing their respective methodologies. The Board furthermore heard detailed briefings by Technical Secretariat staff members. Substantive work developed along two tracks, namely specific requests submitted to the Board by the Director-General requiring short-term replies, and identification of strategic-level, i.e., longer-term aspects of developing education and outreach methodologies.

Strategic-level thinking implies a need for common understandings for key concepts and terms as well as identification of key stakeholder communities. It also implies the identification, elaboration and prioritisation of issue areas, the development of multi- and cross-disciplinary approaches to education and outreach, and the permanent evaluation of tasks and activities in function of changing circumstances under which the OPCW must continue to function.

The ABEO proceeded in its second meeting (4-6 October 2016) with identifying key stakeholder communities and plotting how they and the OPCW interact with each other.

Interaction between stakeholder communities and the OPCW

Interactions between stakeholder communities and the OPCW

As the CWC effectuated a clear division of labour between the Technical Secretariat and the National Authorities it followed naturally that stakeholdership in the convention exists on both the international and national levels. From the exercise also followed the insight that certain stakeholder communities may be targets of the OPCW’s education and outreach activities, while they may be partners under different circumstances. The press is a case in point. A well-conceived public diplomacy strategy can clarify to journalists the CWC’s intricacies, the functioning of the OPCW and the tasks and responsibilities of the Technical Secretariat in its various missions. When the OPCW makes the headlines, the media will be better situated to reflect accurately the challenges and opportunities facing the community of States Parties.

For its deliberations, the ABEO accepted working definitions for concepts such as education, outreach, training and public diplomacy. Such differentiation in turn enabled identification of primary strategies to be developed under each concept in function of the type of stakeholder community to be engaged. Moreover, it will also enable the ABEO to take into consideration different regional and local cultural approaches to education and outreach. The ABEO Members are agreed that no single methodology can fit all circumstances.

First substantive recommendations

The upcoming 20th Anniversary of the CWC’s entry into force was one area that preoccupied the ABEO in its first year. During the intersessional period the subgroup dedicated to the topic already submitted to the Technical Secretariat a list with concrete programme elements and activity proposals. At the second meeting the ABEO formulated more conceptual recommendations. These include:

  • to brand the celebration as ‘20th Anniversary Year’ to emphasise that a series of activities rather than a single event will commemorate the CWC’s entry into force, as well as provide a common heading for all regional and national commemorative activities;
  • to set up a website dedicated to the 20th Anniversary Year with information about events. A celebration-specific logo could be adopted;
  • to promote besides the major event in The Hague global, regional and national celebration;
  • to ensure OPCW strategic outreach to stakeholders. The 20th anniversary celebration in The Hague should include senior representatives of the sciences and industry. For other activities, appropriate regional or international industry and scientific organisations ought to be invited;
  • to celebrate the science behind the effectiveness of the OPCW in meeting its mandate in regional or national events. These could be organised back-to-back with regional National Authority events and involve key partners, such as academe and industry;
  • to produce a film on the destruction of chemical weapons so as to preserve some filmic record of these processes for future education of scientists and engineers;
  • to provide early notification to enable organisational planning of regional and local events; provide funds to initiate and support such regional and organisation; and create outreach material on the OPCW and the CWC, specific to the 20th Anniversary Year, for broad distribution.

A global campaign condemning the use of the industrial toxic chemicals—chlorine in particular—as weapons led to many letters by chemical associations worldwide and increasingly by chemical industry associations being sent to the Director-General. The ABEO recommended that these letters be publicised on the OPCW website. It gives me great pleasure to note that this recommendation was implemented last Tuesday (29 November).

The ABEO also recommended a thorough review and overhaul of the OPCW’s public diplomacy strategy in function of permanent, systematic engagement with stakeholder communities.

Other recommendations addressed youth outreach and engagement of civil society during sessions of the Conference of the States Parties. Some elements are already being implemented, such as briefings on the workings of the Technical Secretariat to the members of the CWC Coalition attending the 21st Conference of the States Parties.

Current activities

Mr Chairperson, in preparation for its third meeting next March, an ABEO working group is considering in detail how to assist National Authorities with carrying out education and outreach activities. In particular it will seek to enhance regional coordination among National Authorities, encourage use of existing educational materials, and stimulate ideas for developing new ones. Online educational tools already developed by the Technical Secretariat will be assessed and recommendations for methodological harmonisation and other improvements submitted.

A second working group is looking into ways to engage specific stakeholder communities, in particular scientific associations, industry, professional organisations and other expert communities. Primary themes to be developed include raising barriers against erosion of norm against chemical weapons and the CWC, means and ways of keeping those stakeholder communities informed and engaged in Convention-mandated activities, and engaging them in the further development of the treaty regime in light of the changing national or international environments in which the CWC must remain relevant.

Other working groups of ABEO Members will consider recommendations on how to address immediate challenges to the CWC regime as part of a public diplomacy strategy, ways to engage with other international organisations in promoting peace and disarmament education.

Work will also continue on ‘Longer-term strategies’, ‘Outreach at the regional, national and local levels’ and ‘Youth outreach’.

Besides these activities ABEO Members have also actively participated in regional seminars for National Authorities organised by the Technical Secretariat. In my capacity as Chairperson I made presentations on opportunities for education and outreach in the Workshop on Article XI implementation and the Annual Meeting for National Authorities. Finally, the ABEO and the Scientific Advisory Board have established a working relationship and plan to collaborate and consult with each other in areas of common interest.

Mr Chairperson, by way of conclusion I wish to thank on behalf of the Board Members all States Parties that have recognised the work of the ABEO in its first year and support its goal of promoting substantive interaction between the OPCW and its many stakeholder constituencies with a view of safeguarding the world from a re-emergence of chemical weapons. We are looking forward to your continuing endorsement, including in a more tangible form when we will set up a trust fund to support our projects and activities. And as a final reminder: you the States Parties can also request the ABEO’s advice on pertinent matters.

I request that the full text of this statement be considered as an official document of the Conference and published on the OPCW public website.

I thank you.


U.S. Pressured NATO States to Vote No to the Ban Treaty – Including with Legal Argument

I saw this story originally over at the very useful ICANW website. The story links to a memo sent by the U.S. to NATO states, in which it urges them to vote no on the UNGA First Committee resolution to begin the process of negotiating a nuclear weapons ban treaty.

I found the U.S. memo interesting for lots of reasons, including its review of the provisions that the UNGA’s Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) has recommended for consideration and possible inclusion in such a ban treaty. The OEWG’s report that is referenced in the U.S. memo can be found here. Skip down to page 19 of the OEWG report to see the list of suggested provisions in Annex II.

It’s probably important to bear in mind that this seems to just be a list of possible provisions to consider when negotiating the structure of the treaty. They aren’t presented in any kind of organized, coherent fashion as they would need to be in a draft treaty text. Some of them seem pretty straightforward. Others, like a provision requiring “national legislation criminalizing support for activities proscribed under the convention,” are very problematic.

I really don’t know how much support each of these suggested provisions has among the states and civil society groups who will be influential in orchestrating proposals for structuring the treaty during the negotiations.

My understanding has been that the plan is to proceed in a two-step treaty making process, as I discussed in this post from earlier this year, reviewing a piece by Tom Sauer. So I was a little surprised to see that the OEWG included among its suggested provisions a section on “phases for elimination,” including “Obligations to eliminate nuclear arsenals within an agreed time frame and in a specific manner . . .”  I thought that the actual elimination of nuclear weapons stockpiles – through agreed schedules, methods, and verification mechanisms – was a subject that was going to be saved for the second step of treaty making, i.e. an actual nuclear weapons convention. And that the initial nuclear ban treaty that will be the subject of the negotiations beginning in March 2017, would really only include fairly general normative provisions prohibiting possession, proliferation and use.

I’m sure there are differences in thinking on these issues of structure and sequencing even among the core nuclear weapons ban movement members. But I hope they are thinking this all through with the help of legal advice.  March is just around the corner, and the U.S. memo to NATO states gives just a taste of the kinds of legal arguments that nuclear weapons states will make in an effort to undermine the effectiveness of a new nuclear ban treaty if it isn’t structured in the right way.

I’m certainly available to advise on these issues is anyone is interested.

BTWC 8th RevCon Final Document

[Cross-posted from The Trench]

The 8th Review Conference of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) ended today, 25 November, in great disappointment. While during the preparatory meetings in April and August it was already clear that the exercise would be difficult, nobody really anticipated that so much would be lost in two days. There is even less than in the previous final documents: the meetings of experts (MX) held during the summer have been stopped; the meetings of states parties (MSP) have been preserved, but without a sense of purpose. Except as a way to preserve the Implementation Support Unit (ISU).

The number of staff of the ISU was not increased. The still incomprehensible Spanish veto against the expansion of the ISU in the final two hours of the 7th Review Conference in 2011 (despite EU consensus to support such increase of staff) is having lasting consequences of ever greater impact. I guess that we can be grateful that nobody raised the flag to argue that with the elimination of the MX the ISU would have a reduced workload (not exactly true, but then politics are about perceptions, not truths).

In their final declarations many countries, especially from the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), put the blame squarely on Iran (without naming the country). This country’s obsession with returning to a negotiation format like the Ad Hoc Group to achieve the higher goal of a legally binding instrument—possibly with the sole goal of antagonising the USA—led it to exploit to the fullest to principle of consensus decision-making to torpedo any effort at compromise. Many NAM countries—often developing nations—lost out on concrete opportunities for international cooperation and assistance. They were acutely aware of what they were losing. Having participated in four review conferences, I cannot remember so much direct criticism directed against one of their own.

More was on offer, and for a moment in the late morning and early afternoon expectations rose that a meaningful outcome might still be possible. By 4pm those hopes were dashed; even the continued existence of the ISU was in doubt. Fortunately, that danger was averted.

I will write up some personal recollections and impressions over the next week or so. There were more dynamics driving the negotiations that prevented useful compromises during the endgame.

Meanwhile, I have scanned the final document and the budget assessment (BTWC 8th RevCon – Final doc (Scan)) as it was distributed to delegates. These documents contain typographical and grammatical errors. A clean version will soon be published by the ISU.


This little pearl of a blog post over at Iran Review was brought to my attention today. Its actual title is “Anti-Joyner: Debunking the Misinterpretation of the JCPOA.” In it the author, Kaveh Afrasiabi, who is a political science PhD, argues that I have a pro-U.S. bias and that I’m just parroting the arguments of the U.S. State Department.

I have to say that’s a new one! In all the criticism I’ve received in the past, I’ve never been argued to be a USG shill. In fact it’s usually exactly the opposite.  I think the U.S. government would be just as surprised and amused as I am to hear that allegation! This, to me, just means that Afrasiabi has no idea who I am and probably just assumed that anyone making the argument that the JCPOA is legally non-binding must be acting on behalf of the U.S. government.

Anyway, Afrasiabi goes on to argue at some length that I am incorrect in my determination that Security Council Resolution 2231 did not have the effect of making the JCPOA legally binding on the states parties to it.

As an aside, it never ceases to amaze me how confident non-lawyers often are – particularly in the nonproliferation area – in engaging in international legal analysis on complex legal questions. Do you think these people are just as confident in giving medical diagnoses? Maybe Afrasiabi should take a shift at his local emergency room and give the poor medical doctors a break.

I’m not going to dignify his post any further by serious substantive engagement with it here.

Incidentally, though, in my response to a question posed in the comments to my recent post over at Ejil:Talk I give a basic guide to UNSCR interpretation that Afrasiabi would do well to consult if he wants to understand the errors in his analysis.