Biological Weapons and Toxins Convention

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For more information, see: Biological weapon.
For more information, see: Arms control.

Created in 1972, and entering into force in 1975, is The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction, commonly known as the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) or Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC).[1] It is the first international agreement to ban all production and use of a class of weapons.

The Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) of 1972 is a disarmament treaty, not an arms control treaty. When it was negotiated, the 1925 Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare, which prohibits the use of biological weapons (BW), was already in force and considered a part of international law. But the negotiators of the BWC wanted to "exclude completely the possibility" of biological agents and toxins being used as weapons by abolishing the weapons themselves.

In the past, the United States has understood the need for transparency and limits in its biodefence programme. A Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) covering biological research, development, testing and evaluation conducted by the Department of Defense (DoD), finalised in 1989, stated that the programme "does not include the development of any weapons, even defensive ones, nor does it attempt to develop new pathogenic organisms for any use. All work conducted under the BDRP is unclassified. However, results may be classified if they impinge on national security by specifying US military deficiencies, vulnerabilities or significant breakthroughs in technology.... Sometime during the 1990s, the situation in the United States changed from a policy of relative openness to secrecy, precipitated perhaps by the Gulf War and the findings of the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) in Iraq, the disclosures of Soviet defectors, and the attempted biological attacks by Aum Shinrikyo in Japan.[2]

The convention does recognize the problem of dual-use of organisms that could be used as biological weapons. For diseases that occur in nature, such as anthrax or plague, there are legitimate reasons to have reasonable quantities of such disease-producing organisms, such as the preparation of vaccines, identification by reference laboratories, development of detection and decontamination techniques, investigation into treatments, and basic research involving the organization. Individual nations have created regulatory and inspection regimes to monitor the legitimate uses, such as the U.S. Select Agent Program.

Review Conferences have further clarified the legitimate uses of potential biological weapons, as well as agreements to destroy stockpiles of actual weapons, or divert them to peaceful purposes.[3] The conferences recognized that legitimate research and health promotion activities were not to be hindered by counter-proliferation activity.


  1. United Nations, The Biological Weapons Convention
  2. Rosenberg, Barbara Hatch (January 2003), Defending Against Biodefence: The Need for Limits, BWC Special Paper No. 1
  3. The text of the Convention and Additional Understandings, September 2005