Providence Journal: The Bush administration provoked a cascade of criticism when it announced on July 25 that a 210-page draft accord aimed at providing enforcement provisions for the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention was so defective that continuing negotiations on the matter, at least at this time, was hopeless.
We think the criticism was largely -- if not entirely -- unwarranted.
The decision came after a top-level panel, with members from the State Department, the Pentagon and other relevant agencies, unanimously recommended rejecting the draft protocol. It was announced by Donald Mahley, who has been chief American delegate since 1993, at the 56-nation negotiating forum held in Geneva. He declared, "We don't think it (the draft accord) can achieve its objectives, nor can it be fixed."
Verification: So, what's the problem? Well, it isn't just one problem; according to the Bush administration, there remained no fewer than 37 elements in the draft that made it "unacceptable." We won't attempt to list them all; we will simply summarize by noting a top official's complaint that "this protocol added nothing to our verification capabilities -- nothing."
In exchange for getting nothing, we would be giving a great deal: The accord, he asserted, would pose "significant risks to U.S. national interests" in two ways -- by exposing our biological warfare defenses to potential enemies, and by opening the nation's highly advanced pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries to other nations' espionage efforts.
And then there's the constitutional issue: How, without presidential appointment (see Article II, Section 2), would inspection teams under the accord get the police powers needed to enforce searches of American people and property? Hmm, very interesting.
It should be noted that this reflected qualms long and widely held among top-level American officials. The Clinton administration had most of the same objections to the draft accord that the Bush administration has now expressed. It is, of course, impossible to know for sure whether Mr. Clinton ultimately would have come to the same negative conclusion, but it is misleading, and even irresponsible, to suggest that the American reservations are Mr. Bush's alone.
Enforcement: Trying to devise appropriate enforcement mechanisms under the biological weapons treaty will continue. But U.S. security interests must head our negotiators' priorities. They should not be unduly swayed by disparaging headlines and commentaries in the media, or by uproars from amorphous, and sometimes dubious, entities such as "world public opinion."