"I find hope in the work of long-established groups such as the Arms Control Association...[and] I find hope in younger anti-nuclear activists and the movement around the world to formally ban the bomb."

– Vincent Intondi
Author, "African Americans Against the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons, Colonialism, and the Black Freedom Movement"
July 1, 2020
Is Washington Prepared to Lead at the BWC Review Conference?
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Jonathan B. Tucker

Roughly every five years since the entry into force in 1975 of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), the member states have gathered in Geneva to review the implementation of the treaty, which bans the development, production, stockpiling, and transfer of infectious disease agents and natural poisons for hostile purposes. The purpose of the review process is to ensure that the goals of the BWC are being met, to examine the implications of scientific and technological advances, and to suggest improvements to the regime.

Although BWC review conferences tend to be low-profile events, British diplomat John Freeman has noted that “we ignore at our peril the role, importance, and potential of the review conference process for effective, ongoing treaty stewardship.”[1] Indeed, the seventh BWC review conference, scheduled for December 5-22, provides a timely opportunity to strengthen the convention and raise its political salience.

The BWC is one of the cornerstones of the nonproliferation regime, but for historical reasons, the treaty has a number of serious flaws: it lacks a secretariat or implementing body and provides no mechanisms for the systematic monitoring of implementation or compliance or for investigating alleged violations. Because of these weaknesses, the BWC failed to prevent the Soviet Union, apartheid-era South Africa, and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq from pursuing clandestine biological weapons programs and thus lost a good deal of credibility. Suspicions about noncompliance with the BWC persist today. In July 2010, the U.S. Department of State released an unclassified report to Congress noting that China and Russia have been less than forthcoming about their past biological weapons programs and alleging the possible existence of offensive biological activities in BWC states-parties Iran, North Korea, and Russia, and also in Syria, which has signed but not ratified the treaty.[2] Another shortcoming of the BWC is its lack of universality; it has only 163 member states, compared to 189 for the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and 188 for the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).

Maintaining the normative power of the BWC requires adaptation to the changing nature of the biological weapons threat. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent mailing of letters contaminated with anthrax bacterial spores, there has been a growing concern over bioterrorism. Although experts differ in assessing the likelihood that a terrorist group could carry out a mass-casualty biological attack, the relevant technologies are becoming increasingly accessible to those with malign intent. The BWC, however, covers nonstate actors only indirectly through national implementing measures such as penal legislation, which many member states have yet to adopt. Another worrisome possibility is that outlaw states, sophisticated terrorist groups, and malicious “biohackers” could exploit recent advances in the life sciences, such as the ability to synthesize lethal viruses from scratch, to wreak havoc on a large scale.[3] Unfortunately, awareness of dual-use risks on the part of the scientific community and efforts to manage such risks through regulation and other forms of governance lag far behind the pace of technological development.

For all of these reasons, this year’s BWC review conference comes at a critical time in the life of the 35-year-old regime. Over the next several months before the conference convenes in Geneva, informal consultations will take place in a number of forums. Preliminary discussions began on the margins of BWC-related meetings in Geneva in August and December 2010, and a preparatory committee will convene April 13-15 to finalize the conference agenda. The presidency of the review conference rotates among the regional groups, and it is now the turn of the Western Group, which has chosen Paul van den IJssel, the Dutch ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament (CD), for the post. He has characterized his approach to the BWC review process as “ambitious realism” and urged member states to suggest ideas in a timely manner, noting that “proposals have less chance of attracting consensus if their first international exposure is at the review conference itself.”[4] The White House has named Laura Kennedy, the U.S. permanent representative to the CD, as special representative for BWC issues, responsible for multilateral diplomacy related to the convention.[5]

Unlike the last BWC review conference in 2006, when the survival of the regime hung in the balance because of deep divisions among member states at the previous conference, the atmosphere surrounding the treaty has become less politicized and more cooperative. Even so, there are a number of complex, interrelated issues on which it will be difficult to forge a consensus. To a considerable extent, the success of the 2011 review conference will depend on constructive leadership from the United States after several years of paralysis and drift. Although the early indications are not encouraging that Washington will offer a bold and compelling package of initiatives to strengthen the BWC, there is still time to turn the situation around.

History of the BWC Review Process

Given the dynamic nature of the biological weapons threat, a key function of the five-year BWC review process is to keep the treaty relevant and updated, much as the U.S. Supreme Court interprets the Constitution so that it remains a living document. Past BWC review conferences have played an important role in clarifying ambiguities and gaps in the treaty text by adopting politically binding “common understandings” that clarify or extend the provisions of the convention without the need for formal amendments. At the 1996 review conference, for example, the member states agreed that the BWC implicitly prohibits the use of biological weapons even though the treaty text explicitly bans only their development, production, stockpiling, and transfer. Other understandings have clarified that the BWC covers all biological agents and toxins regardless of their method of production, including by chemical synthesis.

Past BWC review conferences also have reached agreement on politically binding measures to reinforce the goals of the treaty. The conferences in 1986 and 1991 created a confidence-building-measure mechanism that enables member states to exchange information relevant to the BWC on an annual basis, including data on unusual outbreaks of infectious disease, national biodefense programs, maximum-containment laboratories for research with the most deadly and incurable viruses, and human vaccine production facilities, which can be diverted easily to the production of biological warfare agents.[6] Because the BWC lacks formal verification measures, the 1991 review conference established a group of scientific and technical experts called VEREX to examine various approaches to monitoring compliance. The group’s final report in 1993 concluded that although no single measure was likely to detect the clandestine development or production of biological weapons, certain combinations of measures could increase confidence in compliance and help to deter violations.

In early 1995, in response to the VEREX report, the BWC member states launched the negotiation of a legally binding protocol to bolster the convention through the mandatory declaration and on-site inspection of relevant facilities. After six-and-a-half years of multilateral talks, the chairman circulated a compromise text of the BWC protocol in June 2001, but the new administration of U.S. President George W. Bush rejected the draft treaty on the grounds that it would do little to increase confidence in compliance and would be overly burdensome for U.S. biodefense efforts and the biotechnology industry. The United States then withdrew from the protocol negotiations, leading to their collapse.

At the 2001 BWC Review Conference, which convened a few months later, the Bush administration tried to dissolve the negotiating forum for the protocol, but a majority of member states demurred. In an effort to break the deadlock, the conference chairman, Hungarian diplomat Tibor Tóth, put the proceedings on hold for a year and engaged in informal negotiations with key countries. When the review conference resumed in late 2002, Tóth had worked out a compromise formula acceptable to all. It called for holding a series of annual meetings of experts and states-parties during the four-year period before the next review conference to “promote common understanding and effective action” on a variety of topics related to national implementation of the BWC and the prevention of bioterrorism. Although expectations for the intersessional process were low, it turned out to be surprisingly useful. The sharing of best practices among member states improved BWC implementation at the national level, while the annual meetings of experts raised the awareness of biosecurity issues in the scientific and medical communities.

After the vicissitudes of the BWC regime in 2001-2002, the next review conference in 2006 was a modest success. Under the skilled chairmanship of Ambassador Masood Khan, Pakistan’s permanent representative to the UN organizations in Geneva, the member states conducted an article-by-article review of the treaty, assessed relevant developments in science and technology, and agreed on a final document. The 2006 conference also renewed the intersessional work program for another four years and established a small Implementation Support Unit (ISU) for the BWC consisting of three full-time staff members at the UN Office at Geneva. The functions of the ISU are to provide administrative support, encourage additional countries to join the convention, serve as a clearinghouse for receiving and distributing the annual confidence-building data declarations, and facilitate contacts among member states, international organizations, and scientific and academic institutions. Although the mandate of the ISU is time limited and must be renewed in 2011, its creation was a small but significant step forward in strengthening the BWC. That success demonstrated that the level of cooperation among member states had improved since the acrimonious debates of 2001. Nevertheless, the 2006 review conference was able to reach consensus on a final document only by dropping contentious topics such as verification from the agenda.

Since 2001, partly in response to the failure of the BWC protocol negotiations, several international bodies and civil society organizations have established measures to strengthen biosecurity outside the treaty framework. Examples of such ad hoc initiatives include UN Security Council Resolution 1540, which requires all UN member states to adopt national legislation to prevent bioterrorism; the guidelines for laboratory biological risk management developed by the World Health Organization (WHO), the European Committee for Standardization, and other agencies; the law enforcement training programs coordinated by Interpol’s Bioterrorism Prevention Program; and the efforts by professional societies and the U.S. government’s National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity to raise the awareness of life scientists about the potential misuse of their research for hostile purposes. Each of these initiatives is useful, yet the diversity of measures and sponsors has tended to fragment the biological disarmament regime. Although the BWC provides the normative framework for all efforts to prevent the misuse of biology, the treaty itself requires strengthening to ensure that the member states remain committed to its goals and comply with its obligations.

Change and Continuity in U.S. Policy

The inauguration of President Barack Obama in January 2009 elicited a wave of optimism among arms control and disarmament advocates because he had called for greater multilateral engagement by the United States and had embraced the visionary goal of a world free of nuclear weapons. Over the past two years, the president has made progress on his nuclear arms control agenda, including the negotiation and Senate approval of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and the convening of the nuclear security summit in 2010. At the same time, the administration has assigned a lower priority to biological and chemical disarmament, as reflected by the long delay in naming a U.S. ambassador to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague. This lack of attention has resulted from the ambitious nuclear agenda and the fact that the senior arms control officials in the Obama administration are all nuclear experts with little knowledge of biological and chemical weapons issues.

To date, the sole U.S. initiative in the field of biological arms control has been the development of the “National Strategy to Counter Biological Threats,” which was released in December 2009.[7] This strategy document sets out a broad road map for administration policy and is likely to provide the basis for U.S. positions at the 2011 review conference. Unfortunately, the measures the document proposes to strengthen the biological disarmament regime are conceptually flawed or too weak to make much of a difference.[8]

The main thrust of the U.S. strategy document is that biological risks comprise a spectrum of hazards including natural outbreaks of infectious disease, accidental releases of dangerous pathogens from research laboratories, and the deliberate use of biological agents as a military or terrorist weapon. Because these various risks are interrelated, it makes sense to combat them in an integrated manner through systems for infectious disease surveillance and response. Traditionally, the WHO has covered natural disease outbreaks and laboratory accidents, while the BWC process has focused on deliberate releases by states or terrorist groups. The Obama administration, however, has proposed integrating public health and national security across the spectrum of biological risks by using the BWC framework to help implement the revised International Health Regulations (IHR), a set of binding rules that was adopted in 2005 by the 193 member states of the WHO and entered into force in 2007.

The 2005 revision of the IHR requires countries to detect and report a “public health emergency of international concern,” such as an epidemic with the potential to spread beyond national borders. To satisfy this requirement, each WHO member state must strengthen its national capabilities for infectious disease surveillance, reporting, and response. Although the WHO has the lead role in implementing the health regulations, the United States has called for using the resources of national security agencies to support capacity building in this area. The departments of State and Defense, for example, have incorporated assistance for disease surveillance into their biological threat reduction programs. At the December 2010 intersessional meeting of BWC states-parties, Kennedy defended this approach. “The U.S. believes…that biological weapons attacks are not always readily identified as attacks, and that effective detection and response to an attack are only possible if there is an effective public health response,” she said. “We should not seek to replace the WHO or the World Organization for Animal Health, but we do need to ensure that their efforts are supported, and that they are integrated seamlessly into a larger response framework that includes the scientific, law enforcement, and national security communities.”[9]

Because the WHO is doing a creditable job of leading efforts to implement the revised IHR with the assistance of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, what is the benefit of pursuing parallel efforts under the aegis of the BWC? The chief rationale for reframing natural outbreaks from a humanitarian concern to a national security threat is that it will generate more financial assistance for disease surveillance efforts. Although additional funding would be desirable if there were no strings attached, that outcome cannot be guaranteed. Indeed, treating public health as an instrument of national security could end up giving greater priority to infectious diseases that the developed world considers threatening because of their potential for rapid spread or suitability for use in bioterrorist attacks, at the expense of combating endemic diseases such as AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria that impose a major health burden on developing countries but are not amenable to weaponization. Conversely, making disease surveillance the centerpiece of efforts to strengthen the BWC would distract attention from the main challenge facing the treaty regime, namely ensuring that the member states comply with their obligations not to acquire or proliferate biological weapons. For these reasons, the Obama administration’s focus on IHR implementation as a vehicle to promote the goals of the BWC could prove counterproductive for the treaty and for international health.

Another challenge facing the 2011 review conference is that the issue of monitoring compliance with the BWC remains highly divisive. A deep split persists between countries that wish to pursue some sort of legally binding verification regime and those opposed to this approach. The U.S. strategy document takes a clear stand against formal verification measures by endorsing the decision of the Bush administration in 2001 to reject the draft BWC protocol and withdraw from the negotiations. In December 2009, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen O. Tauscher told a meeting of BWC member states that “a legally binding protocol would not achieve meaningful verification or greater security.”[10] In defending this position, she argued that biological verification is “extraordinarily difficult” because of the dual-use nature of biotechnology equipment and materials and the ease with which offensive development and production can be concealed under the cover of legitimate activities. Moreover, Tauscher said, a treaty-based regime “would not be able to keep pace with the rapidly changing nature of the biological weapons threat.”

Continued U.S. opposition to a formal verification regime for the BWC is expected at the 2011 review conference. According to a State Department official, “We don’t think the approach embodied in the BWC protocol would have worked, and we have yet to see a model for an international agreement that would, particularly now that nonstate actors are an important part of the threat matrix.”[11] The U.S. official also claimed that most BWC member states have accepted the fact that reviving the protocol negotiations is unrealistic and are prepared to move forward with practical, voluntary measures to increase transparency and promote confidence in compliance. This assessment underestimates the continued support for verification provisions on the part of the Nonaligned Movement (NAM) group of countries, Russia, and the European Union. At the BWC experts meeting in August 2010, Belgium, speaking on behalf of the EU, reiterated its commitment to “identifying effective mechanisms to strengthen and verify compliance with the Convention.” Although the EU countries do not intend to cause a schism within the Western Group by pushing for an immediate return to the negotiating table, they will not abandon their principled support of a verification system for the BWC. The only way for the United States to persuade them otherwise is to propose an ambitious package of alternative measures that can achieve the same objective.

Instead of setting out such a proposal, the U.S. strategy document offers fairly thin gruel. It stresses the normative value of the BWC as a “uniquely important venue” for international outreach and engagement in countering the full range of biological threats, and emphasizes oversight mechanisms to manage the risks of dual-use materials, equipment, and know-how, with the aim of making the life sciences enterprise more proliferation resistant. The document also calls for voluntary transparency measures to build confidence that member states are meeting their BWC obligations, along with greater use of bilateral diplomacy to address compliance concerns—for example, under Article V of the convention, which empowers member states to engage in consultations to clarify ambiguities and resolve suspected violations.

Despite the emphasis on transparency in the U.S. strategy document, Washington has taken only baby steps to increase the openness of its own vast biodefense program, such as posting most of its 2010 confidence-building declaration on the public part of the ISU Web site. (Due to bioterrorism concerns, several pages of sensitive information, such as the specific agents under study at various U.S. biodefense laboratories, were released to BWC member states but deleted from the public version of the declaration.) At the same time, the United States has shown no inclination to pursue more-ambitious transparency measures that would set a compelling example for other countries, such as minimizing classified “biological threat characterization” research at the National Biodefense Analysis and CountermeasuresCenter at FortDetrick in Maryland. The secrecy surrounding the center and other U.S. biodefense laboratories has provoked unfounded suspicions of illicit offensive activities and spurred other countries to expand their own biodefense programs, further undermining mutual confidence.[12] Another way for Washington to demonstrate its good intentions would be to hold “open houses” for foreign delegations and the international press corps at major biodefense research centers, such as the National Inter-Agency Biodefense Campus at Fort Detrick and Dugway Proving Ground in Utah.

The emphasis in the U.S. strategy document on secret bilateral diplomacy to address BWC compliance concerns also is inconsistent with Washington’s call for greater transparency and with the multilateral nature of the treaty. To the extent that bilateral consultations can help to resolve ambiguities about compliance, procedures should be developed to notify all member states about the results. Also missing from the strategy document is any mention of the multilateral dimension of Article V, namely the option to request a formal consultative meeting of states-parties to address a specific compliance concern. This mechanism, which was developed over a series of BWC review conferences, has been used only once. In 1997 the government of Cuba requested a formal consultative meeting to address its allegation that on October 21, 1996, a U.S. government crop-dusting aircraft that overflew the island en route to a coca-eradication program in Colombia had released a devastating insect pest called Thrips palmi over Cuba in a scheme to cripple its agricultural economy.

During the formal consultative meeting, Cuba presented evidence to support its claim of a U.S. biological attack, while the United States countered that the Thrips infestation had spread naturally from nearby countries. Of the BWC member states that submitted written observations on the Cuban allegation and the U.S. rebuttal, eight countries (Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Japan, the Netherlands, and New Zealand) saw no causal link between the U.S. overflight of Cuba and the Thrips infestation; China and Vietnam found the available evidence insufficient to make a determination; and only North Korea believed that the United States was culpable. Although the formal consultative meeting failed to reach a consensus judgment, it involved a useful process of fact-finding and deliberation that effectively debunked the Cuban allegations.

Since 1997 no effort has been made to update the multilateral consultative mechanism under Article V or to use it to address BWC compliance concerns, such as those mentioned in the recent State Department report to Congress. At the 2011 review conference, the member states should discuss the lessons learned from the Thrips palmi incident and refine the multilateral consultative process so that it can be used more effectively in the future. In sum, if Washington wishes to forestall efforts to revive the BWC protocol negotiations, it will need to offer more compelling alternatives for promoting compliance than it has so far.

Other Topics for the Conference

Article XII of the BWC specifies only two requirements for the review conference: it must review the operation of the convention over the previous five years and assess the implications for the regime of recent advances in science and technology. Although the agenda of the 2011 review conference has not been agreed, the following additional topics are likely to be addressed.

Future of the ISU. The 2011 review conference has been tasked with evaluating the performance of the ISU and deciding whether to renew its mandate. Because the work of the three-person unit is widely respected, its continued existence is not in doubt. (Thanks to assistance and encouragement from the ISU, 70 countries submitted confidence-building data declarations in 2010, the highest number of returns in any single year.) The main issues for debate are whether the ISU should be made permanent or its mandate merely extended for another fixed period, and whether its staff, budget, and responsibilities should be increased. Although the Obama administration is more open than its predecessor to a modest expansion of the ISU, it is not yet clear what level of growth will win consensus support.

Renewal of the intersessional process. The review conference will decide whether to extend the intersessional work program and, if so, what its composition should be. Over the past eight years, the annual meetings of experts and states-parties have repeatedly addressed the same set of topics, dealing mainly with national implementation of the BWC and voluntary measures to prevent bioterrorism. Now that these topics have been exhausted, the intersessional process as currently structured has reached the end of its useful life, and the format and content of the annual meetings will have to be rethought.

With respect to format, instead of separate one-week meetings each year of scientific experts and states-parties, it would make sense for the two groups to meet together for two weeks so that the diplomats can gain a better understanding of the technical challenges facing the BWC. In addition, the current rules limit the annual meetings to exchanges of information, a constraint that many countries consider overly restrictive. Possible changes to the intersessional process include allowing the discussion of key topics to continue from one year to the next, creating standing working groups to deal with specific issues, and giving the annual meetings the authority to make collective decisions and adopt common understandings that clarify aspects of the BWC.

With respect to the content of the intersessional process, the United Kingdom has proposed that the next work program include efforts to review and discuss the confidence-building declarations submitted by member states. Another option is to focus some of the annual meetings on advances in science and technology, which are moving so fast that they warrant consideration more frequently than at five-year intervals. One example of a technological development with important implications for the BWC is the convergence of biological and chemical production methods, including the automated chemical synthesis of DNA and proteins.[13] In addition to the implications of scientific advances for the biological threat, the intersessional work program could examine ways in which emerging biotechnologies might be applied in the future to help monitor compliance with the BWC. The emerging field of microbial forensics, for example, has potential applications in this area.[14]

Confidence-building-measure declarations. A topic likely to be raised at the 2011 review conference is how to revise the annual confidence-building declaration formats, which have not been updated since 1991, to make them more informative and easier to submit in electronic form. Because the annual exchange of information is politically but not legally binding, fewer than one-half of the BWC states parties currently participate on a regular basis. In 2010, for example, 70 member states (43 percent) submitted confidence-building declarations that were released to the other states-parties,[15] and 12 posted their returns on the open portion of the ISU Web site, making them available to the public as well.[16] An improved set of electronic declaration formats, simplified and designed for easy use, would encourage greater participation and provide a useful point of departure for consultations under Article V to address gaps or ambiguities in the submitted data. In addition, Canada has proposed that the returns be translated into the six official UN languages to make them more accessible.

Article X on cooperation and assistance. A highly divisive issue that will be difficult to resolve at the 2011 review conference is the implementation of Article X of the BWC, which calls for international cooperation in the use of biotechnology for peaceful purposes, including transfers of relevant equipment, materials, and know-how. Some NAM members, such as Cuba, Iran, and Pakistan, have long called for dismantling the export controls on dual-use biotechnologies coordinated by an informal forum of 41 like-minded countries called the Australia Group, on the grounds that restricting trade with certain BWC member states is discriminatory. In 2009, Cuba called for the establishment of a formal mechanism to implement Article X, such as a “cooperation committee” that would review and adjudicate technology-transfer requests.[17] The United States and other members of the Australia Group strongly oppose this idea because of the risk that transferred equipment and materials could be diverted for prohibited purposes; instead the Australia Group countries want to restrict international cooperation under Article X to less sensitive areas, such as capacity-building for disease surveillance and response. At present, it is unclear if a broadly acceptable approach to implementing Article X can be worked out—perhaps along the lines of the “comprehensive action plan,” combining elements of proposed action plans on national implementation and Article X implementation, that was discussed but ultimately not adopted at the 2006 review conference.

UN secretary-general’s investigation mechanism. Pursuant to a series of General Assembly and Security Council resolutions during the 1980s, any UN member state may request that the secretary-general launch a field investigation of an alleged use of chemical, biological, or toxin weapons or a suspicious outbreak of disease. Between 1980 and 1992, UN expert teams investigated incidents of alleged chemical or toxin weapons use in Southeast Asia, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan, and Mozambique, and some of these missions yielded clear-cut positive or negative findings.[18] Because the CWC includes a mechanism for investigating the alleged use of chemical arms, the secretary-general’s mechanism would be activated only in cases involving biological weapons. Recently, a debate has emerged over the relationship between the secretary-general’s mechanism and the BWC. China contends any investigation of alleged biological weapons use should be conducted under the auspices of the Security Council, as provided for in Article VI of the BWC, rather than through the secretary-general’s mechanism. Yet, because any of the five permanent members of the Security Council (including China) can veto an investigation under Article VI, many other states oppose the Chinese position.Universality. Another topic likely to be raised at the review conference is how to achieve greater adherence to the BWC, which, with only 163 states-parties, lags far behind the CWC and the NPT. Under the European Union Joint Action in Support of the Biological Weapons Convention, the EU states have issued démarches (formal diplomatic messages) to countries that remain outside the BWC, urging them to ratify or accede to the convention. Although this effort has persuaded eight additional countries to join since the end of 2006, it has yielded diminishing returns, with no new member states in 2010. To enhance the political weight and credibility of the démarches, non-Western countries will need to participate.


The forthcoming BWC review conference provides an important opportunity to consolidate the political gains made at the previous conference in 2006 and the subsequent four years of intersessional meetings. Nevertheless, if Washington wants to play a leadership role in revitalizing the biological disarmament regime, it will need to offer bolder, more ambitious measures to increase transparency and build confidence in compliance than those set out in its 2009 strategy document. Such a package might contain the following elements:

• Develop a plan to expand and strengthen the ISU so that it can play a more effective coordination and support role in the implementation of the BWC.

• Propose far-reaching transparency measures to build confidence in BWC compliance, such as “open houses” for foreign delegations and the international press corps at major U.S. biodefense facilities, and the minimization of classified biological threat characterization research.

• Make efforts to regularize and strengthen the bilateral and multilateral consultative mechanisms under Article V of the BWC, including the use of confidence-building declarations and open-source information to clarify ambiguities and resolve compliance concerns.

• Renew the intersessional work program with a new set of topics and formats, including an assessment of how advanced biotechnologies could contribute to a future mechanism for monitoring BWC compliance.

The 2011 review conference provides a rare opportunity to strengthen the BWC at a time when rapid scientific and technological advances threaten to undermine the regime. Given the dramatic improvement since 2001 in the level of cooperation among member states, the time is ripe for a thorough review and revitalization of the convention. This opportunity could easily be lost, however, unless the United States is prepared to play a leadership role by proposing an innovative package of strengthening measures and working hard to build an international consensus behind them.

Jonathan B. Tucker is the Georg Zundel Professor of Science and Technology for Peace and Security at Darmstadt University of Technology near Frankfurt, Germany, and a member of the board of directors of the Arms Control Association. In 2008 he served on the professional staff of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism.


1. John Freeman, “The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention Review Process: What More Can It Contribute?” CBW Conventions Bulletin, Nos. 69-70 (September-December 2005), p. 4.

2. U.S. Department of State, “Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments,” July 2010, pp. 10-26.

3. Jonathan B. Tucker and Raymond A. Zilinskas, “The Promise and Perils of Synthetic Biology,” The New Atlantis, No. 12 (Spring 2006), pp. 25-45, www.thenewatlantis.com/archive/12/tuckerzilinskas.htm.

4. Richard Guthrie, “The Second Day: Review Conference Preparations,” MSP Report, No. 3 (December 8, 2010), available on the BioWeapons Prevention Project Web site at http://www.bwpp.org.

5. U.S. Mission to the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva, “Ambassador Laura Kennedy Named U.S. Special Representative for Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) Issues,” December 3, 2010.

6. The annual confidence-building measure data declaration forms cover the following topics: (A-1) maximum-containment laboratories that work with the most deadly and incurable pathogens; (A-2) national biodefense research and development programs; (B) unusual outbreaks of infectious disease and similar occurrences caused by toxins; (C) publication of research on dangerous pathogens; (D) active promotion of contacts between scientists; (E) legislation, regulations, and other measures taken to implement the BWC; (F) declaration of past offensive and defensive activities related to biological and toxin weapons since 1946; and (G) production facilities for human vaccines.

7. National Security Council, “National Strategy for Countering Biological Threats,” November 2009.

8. Jonathan B. Tucker, “Seeking Biosecurity Without Verification: The New U.S. Strategy on Biothreats,” Arms Control Today, Vol. 40, No. 1 (January/February 2010), pp. 8-14.

9. Laura Kennedy, “U.S. Statement at the Annual Meeting of States Parties of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention,” Geneva, December 6, 2010, p. 1.

10. Ellen O. Tauscher, “Address to the Annual Meeting of the States Parties to the Biological Convention,” Geneva, December 9, 2009, p. 4.

11. U.S. State Department official, e-mail communication with author, October 22, 2010.

12. Joby Warrick, “The Secretive Fight Against Bioterror,” The Washington Post, July 30, 2006, p. A1.

13. Jonathan B. Tucker, “The Convergence of Biology and Chemistry: Implications for Arms Control Verification,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 66, No. 6 (November/December 2010), pp. 56-66.

14. Jonathan B. Tucker and Gregory D. Koblentz, “The Four Faces of Microbial Forensics,” Biosecurity and Bioterrorism, Vol. 7, No. 4 (December 2009), pp. 389-397.

15. The 70 BWC member states that submitted confidence-building data declarations in 2010 are listed at www.unog.ch/__80256ee600585943.nsf/%28httpPages%29/fa4da37a55c7966c12575780055d9e8?OpenDocument&ExpandSection=24#_Section24.

16. The 12 countries that published their confidence-building declarations on the public part of the ISU Web site in 2010 were Australia, Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Lithuania, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

17. Meeting of the States Parties to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bateriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction, “The Establishment of a Mechanism for the Full Implementation of Article X of the Convention,” BWC/MSP/2009/MX/WP.24, August 25, 2009 (submitted by Cuba on behalf of NAM and other states-parties).

18. Jonathan B. Tucker, “Multilateral Approaches to the Investigation and Attribution of Biological and Toxin Weapons Use,” in Terrorism, War, or Disease? Unraveling the Use of Biological Weapons, ed. Anne L. Clunan, Peter R. Lavoy, and Susan B. Martin (Stanford, CA: StanfordUniversity Press, 2008), pp. 269-292.