March 27, 1991


The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction (BWC) was signed at Washington, London, and Moscow on April 10, 1972. The U.S. ratified the Convention on March 26, 1975, and on that date, the BWC entered into force. The U.S. is one of the three depositary states (U.S., UK, USSR) and one of more than 100 parties to the Convention.

Under the terms of BWC, the Parties undertake not to develop, produce, stockpile, acquire or retain biological agents or toxins of types and in quantities that have no justification for prophylactic, protective, or other peaceful purposes, as well as weapons, equipment or means of delivery designed to use such agents or toxins for hostile purposes or in armed conflict. All such material was to be destroyed within nine months of the Convention's entry into force. The U.S. is in full compliance with the Convention.

The First Review Conference of the BWC was held in Geneva in 1980; the Second Review Conference took place in 1986, also in Geneva. The Third Review Conference is tentatively scheduled for September 9-30 in Geneva, preceded by a meeting of a Preparatory Committee (April 8-12, Geneva). The U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency is the lead agency in preparing the U.S. for the upcoming Review Conference.

At the Second Review Conference in 1986, the Parties agreed on a set of confidence-building measures (CBMs), including the following: exchanging data on research laboratories that meet very high national or international safety standards established for handling, for permitted purposes, biological activities; sharing information on all outbreaks of infectious diseases or similar occurrences caused by toxins which deviate from the normal; encouraging publication of results of biological defense research in scientific journals generally available to the public; and promoting scientific contact, including joint research projects directly related to the Convention. The U.S. has implemented these CBMs and routinely submits data to the United Nations, according to procedures of the Final Declaration of the 1986 Review Conference. Regrettably, most other Parties have not yet implemented these important CBMs, which are based on the principle of openness and transparency. In pursuance of the provisions of the BWC, the U.S. has recently enacted implementation legislation, entitles "Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act of 1989," which makes violation of the BWC a criminal act and allows seizure and destruction of prohibited materials.

As the U.S. prepares for the Third BWC Review Conference, it does so with the following critical objectives in mind: (1) to encourage ratification by signatories, or accession of additional parties, to the BWC in an effort to make it universally applicable; (2) to seek compliance by all other Parties with the Convention in general, and with the annual data reporting commitment of the Final Declaration of 1986 in particular; and (3) to promote the implementation of effective confidence-building measures in an effort to strengthen the BWC, a convention of great significance for the world community in the 1990s and beyond.