Federation of American Scientists Module 1.0: Introduction
Topic: Control Efforts Subtopic: Biological Weapons Convention

Control Efforts: Chemical and Biological Weapons Image

There have been a host of efforts to control the proliferation of biological weapons and to regulate research that could be misused for nefarious purposes. Here we present some of the more influential laws, reports, and organizations on modern biosecurity.

The use of chemical and biological weapons was prohibited in 1925 by the Geneva Protocol following the use of chemical weapons during World War I. However, it was not ratified by the US Senate until 50 years later and did not prohibit such weapons from being developed. The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC, or more formally The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction) was established in 1972 and enacted in 1975. It prohibited the development, production, stockpiling, and acquisition of biological and toxin weapons, and required the destruction of existing inventories and delivery devices. As of February 2007, 155 state parties have signed the treaty with 16 signatories yet to ratify it and 23 parties remaining outside of the treaty.

While the Convention has unlimited duration, a series of review conferences have been held to establish compliance procedures, which were lacking in the original treaty. These conferences have been unsuccessful in resolving the issue of accountability and enforcement, given persistent questions (notably, by the United States) regarding the ultimate effectiveness of mandatory declarations, visits, investigations, and concerns over intrusion on national security and confidential business information. The issue of accountability and enforcement has gained increasing prominence given evident treaty violations by the Soviet Union during the Cold War and by others since then, such as Iraq. There is also concern that the treaty is not keeping up with the rapid pace of biotechnology advances.

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