Thirty Years of BTWC: A Fact Sheet

SSPC Research

The Convention on the prohibition of the development, production and stockpiling of bacteriological (biological) and toxin weapons and their destruction, better known as the BTWC or BWC has attained thirty years of existence on March 26, 2005. The BTWC, a multilateral treaty, was negotiated from 1969-1971. It was opened for signature at London, Moscow and Washington DC on April 10, 1972. It entered into force on March 26, 1975 with 43 member countries, after ratification by the three Depository State—the USA, the Soviet Union (erstwhile) and the United Kingdom. The Convention has fifteen Articles. Currently it has 153 States Parties, 16 signatory states but yet to ratify the convention and 25 non-signatory states. There have been Five Review Conferences (RevCons) held in Geneva and numbers of Ad Hoc Group and Expert meetings, but the States Parties have been unable to agree on how to strengthen the convention with strong mechanisms to monitor, verify or enforce state compliance. Some of the major landmarks are chronicled here.

March 3—21, 1980 (First Review Conference): Welcomed declarations already made and called on rest of the State Parties to come clean on their BWC status. The RevCon had initiated the sharing of legislative experience by inviting the State Parties, which had taken action under Article IV (National measures) to make the relevant legislative and administrative texts available through the UN for purposes of emulation. Recognized the right of any party to request a consultative meeting at the expert level under Article V, which calls for consultations and cooperation on any problem that might arise in relation to the Convention. State Parties had reaffirmed their adherence to the principle and objectives of the Geneva Protocol of June 17, 1925.

September 8—26, 1986(Second Review Conference): State parties agreed to exchange information annually in two areas: Research centers or laboratories that meet very high national or international safety standards and the unnatural outbreak of diseases. They agreed to encourage publication of research related to the BTWC and to promote use of knowledge and contact between scientists. The RevCon strengthened the procedures for consultation to address its compliance concerns. It called for a meeting of experts, which worked out confidence-building measures in 1987.

September 9—22, 1991(Third Review Conference): This RevCon had added details to the information exchange established in the 1986 conference. Four information declarations were added: 1) description of all offensive and defensive BW programs on or after January 1, 1946, 2) declaration of future research and development programmes in BTW defense, 3) information on human vaccine production facilities, and 4) reports as to what BWC States Parties have done as national measures to implement the BWC. It was decided to hold future RevCon once every five years and recognized the need for stronger measures and mandated the convening of an Ad Hoc Group of Governmental Experts (VEREX), to identify and examine potential verification measures from a scientific and technical point.

March 1992—September 1993(VEREX): Four meetings were held by VEREX in Geneva between these periods. In 1994, VEREX was disbanded that had developed twenty-one verification measures grouped in two categories: Off -Site and On -Site measures.

September 19—30, 1994 (Special Conference on Biological Weapons): Seventy-nine State Parties had attended the Special Conference in Geneva and agreed to establish an ad hoc group (AHG) to consider the twenty-one verification measures suggested by VEREX and to make proposals to strengthen the treaty at the next (4th) Review Conference in 1996.

September 1994- May 2001(The Ad Hoc Group): The Ad Hoc Group (AHG) was established to consider four issues: 1) definitions of terms and objectives criteria, 2) confidence-building and transparency measures, 3) measures to promote compliance, and 4) measures to implement Article X (Cooperate for peaceful purposes) of the Convention. The AHG functioned through Friends of the Chair (FOC), who led the discussion relating to particular aspects of the mandate. The AHG had held twenty-three sessions till May 2001 and had met for about sixty-two weeks over six long years. The last (twenty-fourth) session scheduled to be held from July 23 —August 17, 2001 was suspended due to US rejection of Chair’s Text.

November 25—December 06, 1996(Fourth Review Conference): It addressed issues such as Article I, which defines the basic prohibitions or the scope of the Convention; Article IV, which addresses national implementation measures; Article V, which deals with the consultative process for problems arising from Treaty implementation; and Article X which concerns cooperation among State Parties for peaceful purposes. It emphasized the increasing importance of Article X in view of recent scientific and technological developments, and stressed that the measures to implement this Article had to be consistent with the objectives and purposes of the BWC. The most significant outcome was the approval for the AHG.

November 19—December 07, 2001(Fifth Review Conference): The Fifth Review Conference opened in Geneva and agreed at its sixth plenary meeting on 7 December 2001, to adjourn its proceedings and reconvene at Geneva after one year. Because the conference took place four months after the AHG had failed to agree on a legally binding Protocol for checking compliance with the BWC, a key objective of the RevCon was to identify alternative strategies for strengthening the Convention. The United States tabled a proposal to eliminate the Ad Hoc Group at the last moment, which was rejected by other delegations, blocking consensus on the Final Declaration. To prevent the outright failure of the Review Conference, the chairman suspended the meeting for one year.

November 11—22, 2002(Resumed Fifth Review Conference): The resumed Fifth RevCon ended with a fresh approach to combat the proliferation and use of bioweapons. It was stipulated that states parties would meet annually in the lead-up to the next RevCon in 2006. It has also been decided that a two-week discussion of experts would be held preparatory to each annual meeting. The objective of the entire exercise: was to promote common understanding and effective action on a range of issues pertinent to strengthening the convention. Every annual meeting prior to the Sixth Review Conference has to spotlight different elements: in 2003, there was consultations on national implementation measures; in 2004, the process concentrated on enhancing international capabilities for responding to, investigating and mitigating the effects of the alleged use of bioweapons on suspicious outbreak of disease; and in 2005, the meeting need to address codes of conduct for scientists.

Author Note
Compiled by the SSPC Research Team