Low-Hanging Fruit

October 28, 2020
Nomsa Ndongwe

The following is an excerpt of a paper published by Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security and Conflict Transformation.

As Coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) continues to cut a broad swathe across the planet, it is as good a time as any to revisit strengthening what should be a non-controversial multilateral instrument, the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC). The most overlooked member of the multilateral disarmament treaty family, the BWC is quite remarkable because it was the first treaty to ban an entire class of weapons. Its unfavorable status has been wrought partially because it does not have a verification mechanism, thereby making enforcement a true test of the principle of “good faith,” but also because advances in the field of biotechnology, coupled with much abused “national security arguments” have made it much harder to tell if countries are keeping their promises or not. This means that countries can refer to its limitations with contempt when it suits them, whilst applauding it (and themselves) for banning “an entire category of weapons of mass destruction” in the same breath.

With an almost universal membership of 183 Member States, Article X of the BWC enhances regional, continental, and global cooperation. For far too long, experts in the nonproliferation and national security community have drawn an artificial barrier between international and natural disease outbreaks. While politically, these clearly have very different implications (one can be deemed an act of war), the infrastructure for detection and the mechanisms for treatment and remediation are the same. It is a question of mitigating risk; in the short term, risk reduction is possible through disease surveillance, cooperation, education, and emergency response. Those same actions also work in the medium- and long-term.

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About the Author

Nomsa Ndongwe is a Co-founder and Director of Women of Color Advancing Peace and Security West Coast Chapter. She is also a candidate for the Master of Arts in Nonproliferation, Terrorism Studies and Financial Crime Management degree at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, and a graduate research assistant at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. Previously, she served as a diplomat at the Zimbabwe Permanent Mission in Geneva, focusing mainly on the Disarmament portfolio. She obtained her LLB Single Hons degree at Brunel University, and her Postgraduate Diploma in Legal Practice (LPC) from the University of Law in Guildford, UK.

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