Tag: biological weapons

Biological weapons under international law

An introduction to the international regulation of biological weapons. 

December 2016

Biological weapons are subject to a specific and comprehensive prohibition under international law. The 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) bans the development, possession, and transfer of biological weapons, and obliges States Parties to destroy or divert to peaceful purposes all such weapons in their possession or under their jurisdiction or control.

21st century biodefence: Risks, trade-offs & responsible science

The dramatic increase in the number of laboratories and scientists working on dangerous pathogens and toxins has exacerbated safety and security risks

By Gregory Koblentz and Filippa Lentzos
  • There has been a dramatic increase in biodefence activities and in the number of facilities and researchers working with dangerous pathogens around the world.
  • This has generated a number of trade-offs, risks related to safety, security, responsible science and transparency.
  • The 2016 BWC Review Conference must encourage states to implement stringent national biosafety, biosecurity and dual-use research regulations; task the science advisory group to develop clear, internationally-recognised guidelines governing dual-use research of concern (DURC); establish a working group to revise the CBMs; and encourage states to participate in the CBM mechanism as well as more interactive information exchanges such as peer review and compliance assessment.

Keeping up with the scientists

To protect and implement the BWC, states parties must improve the framework for reviewing developments in science and technology

By Caitriona McLeish and James Revill
  • Science and technology (S&T) of relevance to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) is advancing rapidly. Such developments have both positive and negative implications for the implementation of a number of the provisions of the BWC.
  • While science and technology reviews have been integrated into the overall BWC review process, their utility has been limited.
  • There is significant support for enhancing science and technology reviews, but differences remain over the details.
  • States parties need to develop a shared understanding of what they want science and technology reviews to achieve, and then determine the best framework to meet that objective. 

Divide and delegate: The future of the BWC

While greater operational application of BWC provisions is clearly needed, states parties should not try to make the BWC something it is not

By Richard Lennane
  • The BWC has successfully established a strong norm against biological weapons, but states parties have a poor record on collective action to implement and strengthen its provisions.
  • The intersessional process has revealed the signi cant potential of means of pursuing the BWC’s aims outside of the direct purview of the Convention, as well as the important role of actors other than states parties.
  • The Review Conference should recognize these facts, and pursue outcomes that protect and promote the norm against biological weapons, delegating operational details to those best placed to pursue them.
  • Such an approach could be applied in particular to Article VII assistance provisions, review of science and technology, and the structure of the intersessional process.

Workshop in preparation for the Eighth Biological Weapons Convention Review Conference

On 19–20 September, ILPI, in cooperation with the Geneva Centre for Security Policy and the Biological Weapons Convention Implementation Support Unit, organised a two-day workshop for Geneva-based diplomats on the science and politics of biological weapons and biology-related security issues.

By Daniel Frederik Mandrella

The Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), which entered into force on 26 March 1975, is the main international legal instrument addressing biological weapons. Its provisions include a total ban of the development, production, and stockpiling of all biological weapons. While the prohibition itself is total, the Convention suffers from not having a formal verification mechanism confirming compliance. In addition, 21st century scientific and technological developments, including the emergence of ‘synthetic biology’ and genetic-engineering techniques such as CRISPR, have brought to the fore the increasing interconnection between international security and science and technology.

BWC Workshop in Geneva

On 11–12 December 2015, ILPI’s WMD project organised a workshop on building a global civil society coalition to strengthen the BWC in GenevaUntitled

By Ingrid Marie Dybvig and Magnus Løvold
19 January 2016

The meeting was organised in collaboration with Chatham House, King’s College London (KCL), and the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP).  20–30 representatives from a variety of civil society organizations, research institutions, international organizations and a select group of states attended the meeting.

Biological Weapons Convention

The 1972 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) prohibits the use of biological weapons by anyone, anywhere, any time for any purpose. It also prohibits all relevant scientific and technological development of biological weapons, now and in the future. Biological Weapons Convention (treaty text, pdf).

The Biological Weapons Convention

The scope, strengths, and weaknesses of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC)


Biological weapons are subject to the strongest ban among weapons of mass destruction under international law. The main legal instrument addressing biological weapons, the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), essentially bans the weaponization of biology.