You'd think the U.S. would be eager to embrace the goal of a summit on biological weapons that convened Monday in Geneva: to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention, a treaty drafted in 1972 and since ratified by 146 nations, including this one, to ban the development, production and stockpiling of biological weapons. Improvement certainly is needed; after all, as Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton has pointed out, the treaty, though well-intentioned, is toothless, lacking any mechanism to verify compliance.
The impotence of the treaty is alarming because the threat posed by biological weapons, widely recognized since the anthrax attacks, has been growing. For instance, new biotechnologies have made it easy for scientists in hostile nations like North Korea and Iraq to turn harmless microbes into deadly biological agents that are impossible to counter with existing drugs.
Far from cheering on the summit, however, Bolton seems bent on subverting it. Last week, he urged summit leaders to stick to enforcing the existing treaty. He cautioned that Washington would oppose adding any stringent enforcement measures, such as an international system of independent lab inspectors who could travel at a moment's notice to suspect nations like Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Libya, Sudan and Syria, as well as to the United States, Britain and other treaty signatories.