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The BWC is critical to international efforts to address the threat posed by biological weapons – whether in the hands of governments or non-state actors. To remain effective, it must deal with all biological weapons threats we face in the 21st century. An important objective shared by the United States and other BWC States Parties is universal adherence to the Convention, and – as of December 2019 – only fourteen countries have not yet joined it.

The core obligations of Parties under the Convention are:

  • Never to develop, produce, stockpile, or otherwise acquire or retain: 1) biological agents or toxins of types and in quantities that have no justification for peaceful uses; and 2) weapons, equipment, or means of delivery designed to use such agents or toxins for hostile purposes (Article I).
  • To destroy or divert to peaceful purposes all agents, toxins, weapons, equipment, and means of delivery specified in Article I in their possession, or under their jurisdiction or control (Article II).
  • Not to transfer or in any way to assist, encourage, or induce any entity to manufacture or otherwise acquire any of the agents, toxins, weapons, equipment or means of delivery specified in Article I (Article III).
  • To take any necessary measures to prohibit and prevent the development, production, stockpiling, acquisition, or retention of any of the agents, toxins, weapons, equipment, and means of delivery specified in Article I under its jurisdiction or control (Article IV).

In addition, the BWC provides for a number of other commitments among its Parties in such areas as: 1) assistance to and cooperation with other Parties in the use of biological agents and toxins for peaceful purposes (Article X); 2) consultation and cooperation in solving problems with the Convention (Article V); 3) complaints in the case of a possible breach of the Convention’s obligations (Article VI); and 4) assistance to other Parties “exposed to danger as a result of violation of the Convention” (Article VII).

BWC Review Conferences (RevCons) take place every five years and are held to review the operation of the Convention, including clarifying States Parties’ understandings about its provisions, strengthening its implementation, and charting next steps.  Annual Meetings of States Parties and Meetings of Experts are held between RevCons to promote common understanding and effective action on key BWC issues. The principal issue areas, each of which is the subject of a Meeting of Experts, are international assistance and cooperation; science and technology; national implementation; preparedness for and response to disease outbreaks; and institutional strengthening of the Convention.

In  addition, States Parties have agreed to the annual exchange of Confidence-building Measures (CBMs) “in order to prevent or reduce the occurrence of ambiguities, doubts and suspicions and in order to improve international cooperation in the field of peaceful biological activities”.  CBMs include information provided by States Parties about their activities and developments in the following areas: research centers and laboratories; biological defense research and development programs; past offensive biological research and development programs; vaccine production facilities; legislation, regulation, and related measures; encouragement of publication of results and promotion of use of knowledge; and outbreaks of infectious disease.

The United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG) is the representative office of the Secretary-General at Geneva and is a focal point for multilateral diplomacy.  It includes the BWC Implementation Support Unit, which provides a range of services to States Parties, including support for national implementation, Confidence-Building Measures, seeking universality, international cooperation and assistance, implementing the decisions of Review Conferences, and administrative matters.  BWC documents and other information about the Convention can be accessed from this UNOG webpage:  https://www.unog.ch/80256EE600585943/(httpPages)/04FBBDD6315AC720C1257180004B1B2F?OpenDocument  .

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future