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Biological Weapons Convention (BWC)

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The Biological Weapons Convention contains a comprehensive ban on biological weapons.

The BWC currently has 182 States Parties

The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction (Biological Weapons Convention – BWC) of 10 April 1972 entered into force on 26 March 1975. It contains a comprehensive ban on biological weapons and, as the first multilateral agreement to outlaw an entire category of weapons, is a major element of the international WMD (weapons of mass destruction) non‑proliferation regime.

The BWC currently has 182 States Parties, including all members of the EU and NATO. Five countries have signed but not yet ratified the BWC (Egypt, Haiti, Somalia, Syria and Tanzania). Ten states, primarily in Africa, the Middle East and the Pacific, have neither signed nor ratified it. Germany continues to seek these countries’ accession, pursuing complete universalisation.

Membership of the Biological Weapons Convention 

 

Confidence-building in the absence of a verification regime

The BWC does not include a verification regime to ensure compliance with the Convention such as that in the Chemical Weapons Convention (Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction).

At the 1986 BWC Review Conference, however, agreement was reached on the exchange of information via confidence-building measures (CBM).

 This exchange of information involves reports on relevant biological activities, on civilian research and production facilities as well as on national biodefence programmes. The format and substance of these CBM has been repeatedly revised and expanded at Meetings of Experts or Review Conferences in 1987, 1991, 2006 and most recently 2011. Although the number of CBM returns has tended to constantly increase, only 42 percent of States Parties participated in 2018. Since an EU Joint Action was adopted on the issue in 2006, all EU member states have submitted annual CBM returns. Germany, along with almost all EU member states, is among the 30 countries which have published their 2018 returns on the BWC website.

German CBM return (in German)

Review Conferences to strengthen the BWC

Application of the BWC is examined by Review Conferences every five years. At the 2001 Review Conference, the States Parties failed to agree on a legally binding supplementary protocol containing rules on verification to ensure compliance with the Convention.

The Review Conference was only saved from complete failure by a compromise accepted by the States Parties in 2002 following difficult consultations. They agreed that alternative steps should be taken to strengthen the BWC. Moreover, no legally binding negotiations would be held between the BWC States Parties until the Review Conference in late 2006. However, the States Parties did hold a Meeting of Experts and a Meeting of States Parties each year until 2005 to discuss and introduce effective measures. These annual Meetings of Experts and Meetings of States Parties from 2003 to 2005 constituted the first “intersessional process”.

After the end of this first intersessional process, the sixth BWC Review Conference took place in Geneva in December 2006. The delegates at the Conference discussed the future of the BWC regime, how to strengthen the multilateral process via practical measures, as well as providing institutional support for the BWC.

The continuation of the intersessional process until the seventh Review Conference in 2011 was ensured, with annual Meetings of Experts and Meetings of States Parties that would examine, among other things, how to improve national implementation of the BWC as well as the issue of biological security. In addition, the Implementation Support Unit (ISU), a permanent unit, was set up in the Disarmament Department of the United Nations in Geneva to provide the BWC with improved administrative support. This is mirrored by national contact points in the States Parties which are designed to coordinate BWC activities. Finally, an outreach programme was agreed to encourage non‑contracting States to ratify the Convention.

The seventh Review Conference in December 2011 approved continuation of the intersessional process from 2012 to 2015, with one Meeting of Experts and one Meeting of States Parties each year. The renewal of the ISU mandate for a further five years can also be considered a success. In addition, the possibilities for involving developing countries were strengthened. Germany participates in the programmes by inviting experts from these States Parties.

The eighth Review Conference took place in November 2016 and was characterised by difficult negotiations and differences of opinion on issues regarding the implementation of the Convention. The minimal consensus eventually achieved was one Meeting of States Parties each year, the discontinuation of the Meeting of Experts (without replacement) and the extension of the ISU mandate for a further five years. The Meeting of States Parties in December 2017 agreed on a programme of work up to 2020, envisaging the resumption of annual Meetings of Experts on specific topics alongside the annual Meetings of States Parties.

Germany will continue to press for the strengthening of the Convention in the years leading to the ninth Review Conference in 2021. Germany’s priorities include working towards the universalisation of the Convention, improving national implementation of the Convention, strengthening confidence-building measures and supporting transparency initiatives. Germany also supports the improvement of the operationalisation of the UN Secretary-General’s Mechanism for Investigation of Alleged Use of Chemical and Biological Weapons through concrete measures such as expert training sessions and Workshops.

Europe's contribution to strengthening the BWC

The European Union (EU) supports all multilateral instruments that aim to promote disarmament and non‑proliferation. This includes the BWC. The EU Strategy against proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), which was adopted on 12 December 2003, set out three main principles for non‑proliferation of WMD: 1) effective multilateralism, 2) prevention and 3) cooperation. To implement the Strategy, the EU is effectively taking all action identified in Chapter III, in particular with a view to strengthening, better implementing and universalising the BWC.

On 20 March 2006, the Council adopted a first Joint Action on biological and toxin weapons (2006/184/CFSP), which envisages more efficient use of existing instruments, such as the confidence‑building measures and the UN Secretary‑General’s Mechanism (UNSGM) to investigate alleged use of chemical or biological weapons. This first Joint Action was continued in 2008, 2012, 2016 and most recently in January 2019 with further Council decisions (2008/858/CFSP, 2012/421/CFSP, 2016/51/CFSP and 2019/97/CFSP). As part of these Joint Actions, the EU has, for example, held regular seminars on the worldwide implementation of the BWC.

Furthermore, the EU played a constructive part in the 2006, 2011 and 2016 Review Conferences. This most recent engagement is based on the Common Position of the Council of 16 November 2015, which identifies four priorities with regard to participation by the EU:

  • building and sustaining confidence in compliance
  • supporting national implementation
  • supporting the UN Secretary‑General’s Mechanism for Investigation of Alleged Use of Biological Weapons and agents, and
  • promoting the worldwide application of the BWC (universality).

 For more information on the EU’s efforts, click here:

Germany’s efforts in the field of biosecurity

In 2013, the Federal Government launched the German Biosecurity Programme in the context of the G7 Global Partnership against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction set up in 2002. The programme provides for sustainable projects in the field of biosecurity to be funded and implemented by German partner organisations and institutes in various countries. In 2016, the decision was taken to continue the Programme initially until the end of 2019.

With the Biosecurity Programme, Germany is also making a contribution to improving implementation of the BWC within the context of international cooperation, as envisaged in the Convention.

For more information on the German Biosecurity Programme, click here   (in German).

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