Compliance with the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC)

Department of State

Department of State

This week the State Department released the unclassified version of a report on specific countries’  “Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Committees” (henceforth referred to as the Compliance Report). One section of this report covers compliance issues with the Biological and Toxins Weapon Convention (BWC, aka BTWC).  The Compliance Report indicated that following State Parties and signatories to the BWC were in compliance: Egypt, India, Iraq, Libya, and Pakistan. In addition, India and Pakistan have strengthened their export control on biological agents and Iraq has a National Monitoring Directorate that focuses on BWC compliance and confidence building measures.  Taiwan, while not a State Party or signatory to the BWC, was also analyzed and found to be in compliance. It is important to note that there are no verification requirements in the BWC, and the effectiveness of such requirements have been questioned by the United States during both the Bush and Obama administrations (see Ellen Tauscher’s 2009 Statement on biological weapons). Voluntary Confidence Building Measures (CBM), such as information exchanges and transparency about dual use and high containment research conducted within a country, are currently in the BWC, but, since they are voluntary, these measures are not always followed and therefore, as David Hoffman in Foreign Policy magazine noted, “…do not provide much confidence.”     Below is a summary of countries in the 2010 Compliance Report that have questionable compliance, or not in compliance with the BWC .

State Parties to the BWC in Compliance, but with Less Certainty
China, Iran and the Russian Federation, all State Parties to the BWC, were not explicitly found to be in violation of the BWC.  These parties were found to be engaged in dual use research, which is not prohibited in the BWC.  The Compliance Report noted that China has yet to release information about their biological weapons program from before the ratification of the BWC, as requested in the BWC’s voluntary Confidence Building Measures (CBM), and they have not documented the destruction of its past biological munitions.  It is important to note that article II of the BWC requires the destruction of biological munitions within 9 months of ratification, but it does not require documentation. The 2005 Compliance Report claimed that “China maintains some elements of an offensive BW capability in violation of its BWC obligations.” China rejects these allegations.

Cuba was found to be in compliance during this reporting period, though there are unresolved issues in the 2003 and 2005 Compliance Reports which indicated that Cuba has the technical capability and “… at least a limited, developmental offensive biological warfare research and development effort.”

The Compliance Report stated that Iran was in compliance, but that their information “…indicates [that] Iran has remained engaged in dual-use activities that include procuring dual-use biological equipment and materials, conducting research involving BW-related pathogens and genetic engineering, and developing mechanisms that could be used to deliver biological agents.”  These dual use activities are not in violation of the treaty, but could be worrisome to states with poor Iranian diplomatic relations.

The Compliance Report indicates that the Russian Federation was engaged in dual use research, but whether or not the country was in violation of the BWC remains “unclear.”  Russia has acknowledged past BWC violations by the Soviet Union, but the issue still remains as to whether or not they destroyed the Soviet era biological munitions and diverted the inherited programs to peaceful purposes as required by the BWC.  Past Compliance Reports (2003 & 2005) indicate that Russia has “… continued to violate the BWC.”

Not in Compliance
The Compliance Report states that North Korea, a state party to the BWC, “…may still consider the use of biological weapons as a military option, and that it has continued its past effort to acquire specialized equipment, materials, and expertise, some of which could support biological weapon development.” North Korea is also not open to any of the voluntary confidence building measures in the BWC.

Syria is a signatory to, but has not ratified the BWC.  It is therefore not bound to any requirements in the BWC, but if it was, the United States’ government claims that they would be in violation.  In 2004, the Syrian president indicated that it was entitled to the use of biological or chemical weapons as deterrents, and current information indicates their statement still holds true.     The United States government has also authorized sanctions against any entities that transfer to or from Syria in the 2005 “Iran and Syria Nonproliferation Act,” since those entities are considered to be Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) proliferators.

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2 Responses to “Compliance with the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC)”

  1. James August 24, 2010 at 10:56 AM #

    “ATTENTION! BIOHAZARD! DEATH! ”
    These are the words placed along the secured restricted zone, they mark the facilities which are of serious hazard to all living beings, which are used as a place to work at different toxins, bio- and bacteriological materials, this work being held under seal of secrecy. And such a facility is nearly put into operation not high in the mountains or in a deserted area but in a Tbilisi suburb – Alekseevka village.
    Despite nearly all the countries in the world signed the biological and toxin weapons convention Washington is keen to freeze up the negotiations on the mechanism of its inspection by all means available. And there are some good reasons for that.
    Diligently keeping away from making up a global non-proliferation of biological weapons control system the USA have been actively developing their overseas laboratories. And the geography of the facilities is rather extended -Afghanistan, Egypt, Peru, Thailand, Germany and several European countries. And now it’s Georgia.
    It is known, that any biological laboratory concerned with drugs development has all the resources to perform operations going against the Convention.
    Forcing the start-up of Health and disease control center laboratory Washington actively train specialists in this field. But judging by the guidelines of the training the laboratories will handle not only hemorrhagic fever, anthrax, plague, aphtha, phthisis and goat fever agents.
    On certifying the laboratory as a top level biosafety one its owners mean not higher standards for the engineers and laboratorians but a certain equipment reserve factor. The staff can be replaced, the equipment configuration can be changed in several hours – and we have an output of last generation combat biological agents. And it’s worth mentioning that we have them outside continental US.
    But even American specialists do mistakes, and do them on the verge of a fall.
    For instance, last year an independent commission detected some egregious violations in Fort Detrick infection diseases research institute. They could lead to a global disaster. The personnel was unskilled, so it was attacked by infected animals, the protective suits were marred by lab tools, the transport containers with test biomaterials were losing their hermiticity. And, in addition to all that, some used protective suits and injection syringes were found at the city waste dump, say nothing of an attempt to hush up the loss of a container with first class pathogens.
    From all appearances, Georgia will face the same problems in the nearest future, and it may be not the only one. The Georgians’ well-known devil-may-care attitude to secure arrangements and their homebred microbiologists’ total inability of dealing with deathful biological materials may lead the world to its final edge.
    These are just factors concerning the organization of the process and they can be somehow overcome. But no one including his American advisers is able to predict the way M. Saakhashvili may behave. His sharp desire to have the independent republics back under Georgian jurisdiction may play a low-down trick with the future of the whole world.
    Launching a “small” biological war under the guidance of his advisers, M. Saakhashvili risks letting the uncontrollable genie out of the bottle. And who would be responsible for the consequences? In that situation it may happen that there just won’t be anyone to be called to account, and, most likely, nobody will be left to do that.
    Could Alekseevka laboratory be just a new storage, an international virologic waste dump? There’s a chance.
    But about eight square kilometers is obviously too much to study human and animal diseases.
    May be it’s world expert community which will be able to give an answer to the mankind, what is going on here in Georgia and who develops its highly dangerous technologies far away from its own borders?

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