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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Fact Sheet: Understanding the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention


Under the terms of the Convention, the States Parties 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 designed to use such agents or toxins for hostile purposes or in armed conflict.

Important Facts about the BTWC:

§ Effectively prohibits the development, production, acquisition, transfer, retention, stockpiling and use of biological and toxin weapons;

§ Was the first multilateral disarmament treaty banning an entire category of weapons;

§ Is a key element in the international community’s efforts to address the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction;

§ As of December 2011, the BTWC has 165 States Parties and 12 Signatory States; the USG continues to actively encourage universal membership;

§ Opened for signature in 1972 and entered into force in 1975:

o Review Conferences are held every 5 years in Geneva in addition to annual intersessional meetings of States Parties and experts;

o Review Conferences focus on specific issues designed to keep the treaty in a position to address ever-changing nature of biological threats.

§ Supported by the Implementation Support Unit (ISU), a three-member staff based in Geneva.

Why Focus on Bioweapons?

§ The risk is evolving in unpredictable ways;

§ Advances in the enabling technologies will continue to be globally available;

§ The ability to exploit such advances will become increasingly accessible to those with ill intent as the barriers of technical expertise and monetary costs decline;

§ We cannot be complacent but instead must take action to ensure that advances in the life sciences positively affect people of all nations, while we reduce the risks posed by their misuse.

For more information, please see the Official BWC website.

Please also see the U.S. National Strategy for Countering Biological Threats, the U.S. Mission in Geneva, and the U.S. Department of State Biological Policy Staff.

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