International Treaties Involving BW

While all these aforementioned nations developed BW programs they were at the same time busy talking with other nations about banning BW. Talks over the past century have resulted in two major international documents concerning BW: The Geneva Protocol in 1925 (5, 12, 68) and the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) in 1972 (16, 27, 28). Seven years after the conclusion of WWI the League of Nations created The Geneva Protocol. It contained the “Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous, or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare.” This Protocol was signed originally by the United States in 1925, but not ratified. It banned the used of BW in warfare but it did not ban the research, manufacturing, and stockpiling of these weapons; it also did not cover internal or civil conflicts and did not have provisions for a verification of compliance. A large number of nations reserved the right to retaliate in kind if BW should ever be used against them. As a result this Protocol was called a no-first-use agreement. By 1989, 123 countries had signed The Geneva Protocol (16, 28, 29).  

In April of 1972, 105 countries including the U.S. and the USSR signed another agreement called, "The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction". This treaty is more commonly known as the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention or BTWC. Parties to this convention agreed 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 related weapons and means of delivery. Unfortunately, this convention did not contain provisions for verifying compliance nor did it prohibit defensive research on BW. In 1975 the Ford Administration and the U.S. Senate approved both the Geneva Protocol and the BTWC (16, 23, 28). 

Even though BTWC signatories agreed to destroy their BW programs or not begin a BW program official U.S. government statements reported for many years that four nations possessed offensive BW at the time they had signed the BTWC and that the number of nations with offensive BW had increased to 10 nations by 1989 (Iraq, Libya, Syria, Iran, Israel, Egypt, China, North Korea, USSR, China). It is believed that around 12 countries in the world still have biological weapons capabilities (8, 20, 23, 30).

Following dismantling of most of the BW program in the USSR, many individuals associated with the BW program suffered from poor economic conditions and there was concern that they might sell their knowledge to rogue states or nonstate actors. There is little evidence to support this concern. As of 1997 very few BW researchers have emigrated from Russia. Of those that did emigrate around 90 percent went to the U.S., Western Europe or Israel. The small number that did move to other countries went to countries that are of no current BW proliferation concern (8, 20).

An additional concern of the BTWC is that there has yet to be a means to verify whether nations have a BW program. Creation of a verification protocol to the BTWC began in 1991 during the third BTWC Review Conference. European countries wanted a rigorous and intrusive on-site regime. However, the U.S. did not want such an intrusive regime. They were concerned that such a protocol could compromise private industries confidential information allowing others to copy their processes weakening their ability to compete. Due to this potential problem and several others the U.S. forced a compromise called VEREX (Verification Experts Exercise; 23). 

During 1992 and 1993 VEREX tried to develop a verification protocol. Following unsuccessful attempts to develop a protocol an Ad-Hoc Group began negotiations in 1995. From 1995 to 2001 Iran, Russia and the U.S. did the most to impede progress on the protocol. In negotiating the verification protocol the U.S. essentially diluted the regime so much that there really would be no ability of the protocol to verify if a country was complying with the BTWC. Once that was accomplish this allowed U.S. negotiators in 2001 to say that the protocol was unable to provide effective verification and therefore they could not agree to comply with the proposed verification protocol (23).


© 2005 Neal Chamberlain. All rights reserved. 
Site Last Revised 6/14/11
Neal Chamberlain, Ph.D. A. T. Still University of Health Sciences/Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine.

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