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Biological Weapons Convention

Biological Weapons Convention
Opened for signatureApril 10, 1972 in Moscow, Washington and London
Entered into forceMarch 26, 1975
Conditions for entry into forceRatification by 22 states
Parties158 as of August 2007


The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction (usually referred to as the Biological Weapons Convention, abbreviation: BWC, or Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, abbreviation: BTWC) was the first multilateral disarmament treaty banning the production of an entire category of weapons (with exceptions for medical and defensive purposes in small quantities). It was the result of prolonged efforts by the international community to establish a new instrument that would supplement the 1925 Geneva Protocol.

The BWC was opened for signature on April 10, 1972 and entered into force March 26, 1975 when twenty-two governments had deposited their instruments of ratification. It currently commits the 158 states that are party to it to prohibit the development, production, and stockpiling of biological and toxin weapons. However, the absence of any formal verification regime to monitor compliance has limited the effectiveness of the Convention. (Note: As of August 2007, an additional 16 states have signed the BWC but have yet to ratify it)

The scope of the BWC’s prohibition is defined in Article 1 (the so-called general purpose criterion). This includes all microbial and other biological agents or toxins and their means of delivery. Subsequent Review Conferences have reaffirmed that the general purpose criterion encompasses all future scientific and technological developments relevant to the Convention. It is not the objects themselves (biological agents or toxins), but rather certain purposes for which they may be employed which are prohibited; similar to Art.II, 1 in the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). Permitted purposes under the BWC are defined as prophylactic, protective and other peaceful purposes. The objects may not be retained in quantities that have no justification or which are inconsistent with the permitted purposes.

As stated in Article 1 of the BWC:

"Each State Party to this Convention undertakes never in any circumstances to develop, produce, stockpile or otherwise acquire or retain:

  • (1) Microbial or other biological agents, or toxins whatever their origin or method of production, of types and in quantities that have no justification for prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes;
  • (2) Weapons, equipment or means of delivery designed to use such agents or toxins for hostile purposes or in armed conflict."



  • Article I: Never under any circumstances to acquire or retain biological weapons.
  • Article II: To destroy or divert to peaceful purposes biological weapons and associated resources prior to joining.
  • Article III: Not to transfer, or in any way assist, encourage or induce anyone else to acquire or retain biological weapons.
  • Article IV: To take any national measures necessary to implement the provisions of the BWC domestically.
  • Article V: To consult bilaterally and multilaterally to solve any problems with the implementation of the BWC.
  • Article VI: To request the UN Security Council to investigate alleged breaches of the BWC and to comply with its subsequent decisions.
  • Article VII: To assist States which have been exposed to a danger as a result of a violation of the BWC.
  • Article X: To do all of the above in a way that encourages the peaceful uses of biological science and technology.


The Biological Weapons Convention has 158 States Parties.

The 21 countries that have neither acceded to the Convention, nor signed it prior to the Convention entering into force, are:

    • Andorra
    • Angola
    • Cameroon
    • Chad
    • Comoros
    • Djibouti
    • Eritrea
    • Guinea
    • Israel
    • Kiribati
    • Marshall Islands
    • Mauritania
    • Federated States of Micronesia
    • Mozambique
    • Namibia
    • Nauru
    • Samoa
    • Tuvalu
    • Zambia

Additionally there are 16 signatory states are yet to ratify:

    • Burundi
    • Central African Republic
    • Côte d'Ivoire
    • Egypt
    • Gabon
    • Guyana
    • Haiti
    • Liberia
    • Madagascar
    • Malawi
    • Myanmar
    • Nepal
    • Somalia
    • Syrian Arab Republic
    • United Arab Emirates
    • Tanzania

Several countries have declared reservations, in that their agreement to the Treaty should not imply their complete satisfaction that the Treaty allows the stockpiling of biological agents and toxins for 'prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes', nor should the Treaty imply recognition of other countries they do not recognise.

Review Conferences

A long process of negotiation to add a verification mechanism began in the 1990s. Previously, at the second Review Conference of State Parties in 1986 member states agreed to strengthen the treaty by reporting annually Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) to the United Nations. The following Review Conference in 1991 established a group of government experts (known as VEREX). Negotiations towards an internationally-binding verification protocol to the BWC took place between 1995 and 2001.

At the Fifth Review Conference in 2001 however, the Bush administration, after conducting a review of policy on biological weapons, decided that the proposed protocol did not suit the national interests of the United States. The US claiming that it would interfere with legitimate commercial and biodefense activity — unlike most arms control agreements, the BWC also applies to private parties. The Fifth Review Conference took place in November/December 2001, shortly after 9/11 and the anthrax scare.

It was decided to suspend the Fifth Review Conference and reconvene the following year. At the resumed conference it was agreed to establish annual meetings of state parties and experts who would look at specific issues, including:

    • 2003: national mechanisms to establish and maintain the security and oversight of pathogenic micro-organisms and toxins.
    • 2004: enhancing international capabilities for responding to, investigating and mitigating the effects of cases of alleged use of biological or toxin weapons or suspicious outbreaks of disease.
    • 2004: strengthening and broadening the capabilities for international institutions to detect and respond to the outbreak of infectious diseases (including diseases affecting plants and animals).
    • 2005: codes of conduct for scientists.

See also

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Biological_Weapons_Convention". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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