Switzerland proposes Geneva as home for new biological weapons agency

The Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, has proposed that Geneva be the home of a new agency dedicated to defusing the threat of biological weapons. His suggestion comes amid growing concern about the potential use of these deadly weapons.

This content was published on January 31, 2000 - 16:09

The Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, has proposed that Geneva be the home of a new agency dedicated to defusing the threat of biological weapons. His suggestion comes amid growing concern about the potential use of these deadly weapons.

Deiss warned the special negotiating group on the Biological Weapons Convention that despite the diminished threat posed by weapons of mass destruction, there was still a danger that someone could "turn life sciences against life".

"The challenges that remain in the field of public health, especially in the struggle against infectious disease, as well as the benefits of genetic engineering and biotechnology... are too important to allow the waste of a resources and know-how for belligerent purposes," he added.

For five years, negotiators in Geneva have been struggling to come up with verification measures needed to enforce the 1972 Biological Weapons convention, which forbids the development, stockpiling, and production of such weapons.

Although the convention has been signed by 138 countries, it is largely toothless because it does not provide for independent inspections or verification to make sure countries are complying.

Scientists point out that biological weapons can be relatively simple to produce. And they can be easily hidden in facilities, which have alternative, legitimate purposes, from cheese production to pharmaceutical or medical research.

Now that new measures are close to being finalised, Deiss has reiterated an offer to host the agency that would carry out inspections and surveillance.

He recommended that the agency be based in Geneva, saying the western Swiss city offered a number of advantages, including the presence of 19 international organisations and a wide range of international specialists in health, disarmament and intellectual property. Switzerland is also offering to train biological weapons inspectors.

But Geneva's bid faces stiff competition from The Netherlands. The Hague has been the home of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons since 1998.

By Peter Capella

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