Biological Weapons Convention

Biological Weapons Convention

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.

The Convention was the result of prolonged efforts by the international community to establish a new instrument that would supplement the 1925 Geneva Protocol. The Geneva Protocol prohibited use but not possession or development of chemical and biological weapons.

A draft of the BWC, submitted by the British 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 165 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 October 2011, an additional 12 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 (with exceptions for medical and defensive purposes in small quantities). 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."

Read more about Biological Weapons Convention:  Summary, Membership, Verification and Compliance Issues, Review Conferences

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