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Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC)

The use of chemical and biological weapons in war was prohibited in 1925 as a result of universal abhorrence at their effects on First World War soldiers. The 1972 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their destruction (BWC), which entered into force in 1975, prohibited the development, production, stockpiling or acquisition of biological and toxin weapons and required the destruction or conversion of such weapons or delivery means. At time of writing, the BWC has 153 states parties. A further 16 have signed but not ratified, while 25 remain outside the treaty.

The BWC broke new ground in establishing a non-discriminatory prohibition regime, making no distinction between states with existing BW programmes and those without, and explicitly building on the 1925 prohibition on use. However, it contained no provisions for the monitoring or verification of compliance or implementation.

The end of the cold war provided the opportunity to negotiate a verification protocol, but in 2001, after six years of painstaking technical and diplomatic work, negotiations collapsed without agreement after the United States first weakened the verification provisions and then scuppered agreement on the Protocol, arguing that verification would be inadequate and overly intrusive.

Coverage in Disarmament Diplomacy

BWC Meeting of States Parties, 1 - 5 December 2008

For reporting on this meeting see the BioWeapons Prevention Project.

BWC Meeting of Experts (MX), 18 - 22 August 2008

At the 6th Review Conference of the BWC in 2006, States Parties agreed a work programme for 2007–10 to lay the groundwork for substantive improvement of the BTWC subsequent to the 7th Review Conference in 2011. The first Meeting of Experts was held from 20 to 24 August 2007; the first Meeting of States Parties from 10-14 December 2007.

The second Meeting of Experts takes place this week in Geneva. The reports below are written and produced by the BioWeapons Prevention Project and with support from the Acronym Institute.

Reports from Geneva

Further information on the meeting is available from the BioWeapons Prevention Project website at

Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) Meeting of Experts, August 2007

This paper provides detailed examples of different oversight mechanisms that states parties might find helpful in identifying gaps in their existing national oversight frameworks. It concludes with a discussion on the roles of statutory and voluntary/self-governance mechanisms for life science oversight, arguing that while statutory mechanisms are requisite to effective oversight, informal monitoring systems also play a critical role.

Background Information

For past coverage BWC-related issues, please see our BWC archive page.

Useful Information and Links

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