The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction (usually referred to as the Biological Weapons Convention, abbreviation: BWC, or Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, abbreviation: BTWC) was the first multilateral disarmament treaty banning the production of an entire category of weapons . It was the result of prolonged efforts by the international community to establish a new instrument that would supplement the 1925 Geneva Protocol.
The BWC was opened for signature on April 10, 1972 and entered into force March 26, 1975 when twenty-two governments had deposited their instruments of ratification. It currently commits the 162 states that are party to it to prohibit the development, production, and stockpiling of biological and toxin weapons. However, the absence of any formal verification regime to monitor compliance has limited the effectiveness of the Convention. (Note: As of July 2008, an additional 13 states have signed the BWC but have yet to ratify it)
The scope of the BWC’s prohibition is defined in Article 1 (the so-called general purpose criterion). This includes all microbial and other biological agents or toxins and their means of delivery (with exceptions for medical and defensive purposes in small quantities). Subsequent Review Conferences have reaffirmed that the general purpose criterion encompasses all future scientific and technological developments relevant to the Convention. It is not the objects themselves (biological agents or toxins), but rather certain purposes for which they may be employed which are prohibited; similar to Art.II, 1 in the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). Permitted purposes under the BWC are defined as prophylactic, protective and other peaceful purposes. The objects may not be retained in quantities that have no justification or which are inconsistent with the permitted purposes.
As stated in Article 1 of the BWC:
"Each State Party to this Convention undertakes never in any circumstances to develop, produce, stockpile or otherwise acquire or retain:
The Biological Weapons Convention has 162 States Parties and unofficially, the Republic of China (Taiwan).
Several countries have declared reservations, in that their agreement to the Treaty should not imply their complete satisfaction that the Treaty allows the stockpiling of biological agents and toxins for 'prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes', nor should the Treaty imply recognition of other countries they do not recognise.
A long process of negotiation to add a verification mechanism began in the 1990s. Previously, at the second Review Conference of State Parties in 1986 member states agreed to strengthen the treaty by reporting annually Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) to the United Nations. The following Review Conference in 1991 established a group of government experts (known as VEREX). Negotiations towards an internationally-binding verification protocol to the BWC took place between 1995 and 2001.
At the Fifth Review Conference in 2001 however, the Bush administration, after conducting a review of policy on biological weapons, decided that the proposed protocol did not suit the national interests of the United States. The US claiming that it would interfere with legitimate commercial and biodefense activity — unlike most arms control agreements, the BWC also applies to private parties. The Fifth Review Conference took place in November/December 2001, shortly after 9/11 and the anthrax scare.
It was decided to suspend the Fifth Review Conference and reconvene the following year. At the resumed conference it was agreed to establish annual meetings of state parties and experts who would look at specific issues, including: