Last week the Bush administration announced that it has no intention of cooperating with international efforts to verify compliance to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). This latest move in a series of similar policy decisions indicates a disinterest in weapons inspections and brings into question the Bush administration’s commitment to a comprehensive regime of nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

In December 2001 the Bush administration rejected a draft Protocol to the BWC and pulled out of protocol negotiations, stating that it would return in a year with creative solutions to solve the negotiation impasse.

The promised innovative solutions, however, were never proposed. Instead, the Bush administration stated last week that it had abandoned any efforts to come to an agreement over the protocol and that it would not return to discussions over the BWC until 2006, when the next review conference of the treaty is scheduled. As an alternative to the protocol the administration only offered guidelines for unilateral measures that countries can take to reinforce the BWC, with no international verification structure.

The BWC announcement follows the Bush administration’s opposition to a verification structure for the recent strategic nuclear weapons reduction treaty with Russia, as well as displays of relative ambivalence about United Nations inspections in Iraq and recent signs that North Korea may be ready to allow unfettered inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Cuba has also recently announced its intention to sign on to the Non-proliferation Treaty, further evidence that US designated “rogues” are noting the importance of participating in multilateral non-proliferation efforts.

International inspections have served as indispensable instruments of treaty verification, assuring countries that arms control agreements are indeed being adhered to. Without enforcement measures the weight of any international treaty is greatly reduced.

Bush’s short-term enforcement alternative to inspection regimes seems to be the use of pre-emptive, unilateral force. This policy, however, falls short of a sustainable solution. Threatening a US invasion of every country suspected of developing weapons of mass destruction is impractical, inconsistent with international laws and norms, and unacceptable to the international community.

Refusing to participate in reciprocal regimes de-legitimizes all US stated commitments to non-proliferation efforts and creates an atmosphere of distrust is likely to agitate, not ameliorate, the perceived need for state actors to possess weapons of mass destruction.

Representatives from the international community have put decades of work into trying to develop lasting systems that would rein in the unnecessary threat caused by weapons of mass destruction. It is true that the regimes negotiated are not ideal and could be improved upon through creative diplomacy. The Bush administration, however, seems intent on unraveling the fruits of these nonproliferation and disarmament efforts while offering no sustainable alternative.

For an in-depth critique of the Bush administrations policy towards the BWC see: