179 countries have acceded to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC)
The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction (BWC) of 10 April 1972 entered into force on 26 March 1975. It contains a comprehensive ban on biological weapons and is thus the first multilateral agreement to outlaw a type of weapon in its entirety.
On 7 April 1983, Germany acceded to the BWC, which currently has 179 States Parties and six signatories. These include all members of the EU and NATO. 11 countries have neither signed nor ratified the BWC. The non‑contracting States are primarily countries in Africa, the Middle East and the Pacific.
No mechanism to verify compliance
The BWC does not include a verification regime to ensure compliance with the Convention. Although Article VI does state that any State Party which suspects any other State Party to be acting in breach of obligations deriving from the provisions of the Convention may lodge a complaint with the United Nations Security Council, which may in turn carry out an investigation, this instrument has not yet been used.
At the 1986 and 1991 BWC Review Conferences, confidence‑building measures (CBMs) were agreed. These consist of an exchange of information: states should report annually on relevant biological activities, on civilian research and production facilities as well as on national biodefence programmes. However, only some 40 percent of the States Parties participate in the CBMs each year. Since an EU Joint Action was adopted on the issue in 2006, all EU member states have submitted annual CBM returns.
Germany is one of the few countries which permit their annual returns to be published on the website of the BWC Implementation Support Unit (ISU). Furthermore, Germany is campaigning with Switzerland and Norway for CBM returns to be more readily comprehensible and translated into all UN languages so that they can be evaluated more easily. As yet, however, no formal decision has been taken on this.
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 (intersessional process).
Since the decision was taken to conduct an intersessional process, the sixth BWC Review Conference took place in Geneva in December 2006. The delegates 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.
It ensured the continuation of the intersessional process until the seventh Review Conference in 2011, 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, a permanent unit was set up in the Disarmament Department of the United Nations in Geneva (Implementation Support Unit, ISU) 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 Implementation Support Unit 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 non-contracting States.
The eighth Review Conference took place in November 2016 and was characterised by difficult negotiations and differences of opinion regarding 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 next Meeting of States Parties will take place in early December 2017 with a German vice‑chairman and will look at further substantive and procedural issues as well as the ISU annual report and progress on universalisation. 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 improving national implementation of the Convention, strengthening confidence-building measures, and improving the operationalisation of the UN Secretary‑General’s Mechanism through concrete measures such as expert training sessions and workshops.
The EU’s contribution to strengthening the BWC
The European Union 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: effective multilateralism, prevention and 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 the Action Plan on biological and toxin weapons, which envisages more efficient use of existing instruments, such as the confidence‑building measures and the UN Secretary‑General’s investigative mechanism (UNSGM) in the event of suspected employment of chemical and biological weapons. As part of the Action Plan, the EU has on a regular basis held seminars on worldwide implementation of the BWC.
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 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 Partnership Program for Excellence in Biological and Health Security in the context of the G8 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 different countries.
In this way, Germany is making an international contribution to improving implementation of the Convention (Article IV thereof) and to the non‑proliferation of biological weapons. The German Government is thus also fostering the international cooperation stipulated under Article X of the BWC.