HSP
THE HARVARD SUSSEX PROGRAM ON
CBW ARMAMENT AND ARMS LIMITATION

The 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC)

The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction, also known as the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention or BWC, prohibits the development, production, stockpiling and acquisition of these weapons. The BWC thus supplements the prohibition on use of biological weapons contained in the 1925 Geneva Protocol.

Opened for signature on 10 April 1972 and entering into force on 26 March 1975, the BWC is commonly portrayed as the first international treaty to ban an entire class of weapons. As of June 2000, it had 144 states parties (not counting Taiwan), including the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, plus a further 18 signatory states. The United Kingdom, the United States and the Russian Federation are the depositaries of the Convention.

Article I of the BWC reads as follows: "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 [emphasis added]; (2) Weapons, equipment or means of delivery designed to use such agents or toxins for hostile purposes or in armed conflict." Those emphasized words set out the general purpose criterion that the treaty uses to define its scope: the device whereby peaceful applications of pathogens (for example in vaccine production) are not obstructed by the BWC.

Article II is the disarmament provision of the BWC, requiring the destruction of banned items, or their conversion to peaceful purposes, within 9 months of entry into force. Article III is the non-transfer provision whereby, implicitly, states parties undertake to establish export controls on items that might not otherwise satisfy the general purpose criterion. Article IV requires each state party to take any necessary measures "in accordance with its constitutional processes" to prohibit and prevent activities contravening the Convention within its territory. Article V requires states parties "to consult one another and to cooperate" in the event of problems about compliance. Article VI provides for a complaints procedure whereby a state party may seek investigation by the UN Security Council of apparent violation of the treaty. In Article VII states parties undertake to provide assistance to any state party endangered by treaty violation. Article VIII in effect reaffirms the Geneva Protocol. Article XI commits states parties to the negotiation of what, two decades years later, became the Chemical Weapons Convention. Article X requires that states parties facilitate the exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information for the use of biological agents and toxins for peaceful purposes, and also that the Convention shall be implemented in a way that does not hamper the economic or technological development of states parties. Articles XI-XV set out modalities for amendment, review conference, withdrawal, entry into force and deposit.

States parties reviewed the operation of the BWC in 1980, 1986, 1991 and in 1996. During these Review Conferences, states parties reaffirmed that the scope of the Convention extended to new scientific and technological developments, and they also instituted voluntary confidence-building data-exchanges in order to enhance transparency and strengthen the BWC. Nevertheless, the BWC still has important limitations, notably a lack of provision for an international mechanism for monitoring compliance.

Since 1991 there have been efforts to strengthen the BWC in this last regard. Governmental experts evaluated possible verification measures from a scientific and technological standpoint during the VEREX process of 1992-93. The resulting report was considered during a Special Conference in 1994, which established the Ad Hoc Group (AHG) of States Parties to engage in preliminary negotiations on what is now thought of as a BWC protocol. In order to "strengthen the effectiveness and improve the implementation" of the Convention, the AHG was mandated to "consider appropriate measures, including possible verification measures, and draft proposals [...] to be included, as appropriate, in a legally binding instrument, to be submitted for the consideration of the States Parties". The AHG has been working on this since 1995. The final version of the protocol, which will provide for compliance monitoring and transparency mechanisms and for procedures for investigating violations of provisions of the BWC, has been called for in time for the fifth Review Conference, which is now scheduled for 19 November-7 December 2001.

HSP
THE HARVARD SUSSEX PROGRAM ON
CBW ARMAMENT AND ARMS LIMITATION
Date of last revision: 31 January 2001 (RG)