Bureau of Arms Control
May 22, 2002
The Biological Weapons Convention
The 1975 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) establishes a global ban on biological weapons. Under its terms, countries undertake not to develop, produce, stockpile, or acquire biological agents or toxins "of types and in quantities that have no justification for prophylactic, protective, and other peaceful purposes," as well as weapons and means of delivery. One hundred forty-five countries, including the United States, have joined the treaty.
Unfortunately, the BWC has no mechanism for checking on compliance. Therefore, in 1994, member states established an Ad Hoc Group to "strengthen the Convention." From 1995 until July 2001, States Parties negotiated on a legally binding protocol to enhance transparency and promote compliance. In July 2001, however, the Bush Administration reluctantly concluded that the draft protocol would not enhance our confidence in compliance and would do little to deter those countries seeking to develop biological weapons.
The U.S. immediately embarked on efforts to find other, more effective ways to combat the BW threat, spurred by the unprecedented attack on the U.S. on September 11 and subsequent bioterrorism, which underscored the dangers posed by both determined State actors as well as non-State actors. While the BWC retains an important role, the U.S. believes we should also look beyond traditional arms control measures to deal with the complex and dangerous threat posed by BW. Countering this threat will require a full range of measures -- tightened export controls, intensified non-proliferation dialogue, increased domestic preparedness and controls, enhanced biodefense and counterterrorism capabilities, and innovative measures against disease outbreaks, as well as the full compliance by all States Parties with the global ban.
The U.S. presented a package of "alternative measures" to strengthen the Convention to the Conference held in November 2001 to review the operation of the global ban. Our goals at the Conference were to highlight compliance concerns and gain support from all States Parties for our package and other measures that would address the biological weapons threat of today and the future. There was widespread support for U.S. and allied initiatives intended to strengthen the Convention through practical, national implementation measures and continuing expert meetings. The U.S. succeeded in raising worldwide awareness of the serious problem of noncompliance with the BWC.
The Review Conference adjourned on December 7, 2001 and will reconvene on November 11, 2002. At the time of adjournment there were major disagreements on several issues, including "the way forward" for strengthening the Convention and on how to reflect compliance concerns. The challenge that lies ahead before the Conference resumes in November is to develop a mutually acceptable approach, building on the foundation of the proposals and themes the U.S. tabled in November 2001.
Released May 22, 2001