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The Importance of the Biological Weapons Convention


U.S. soldiers wear gas masks as they take part in a chemical, biological and radiological warfare exercise.

On September 21st, Samoa deposited its instrument of accession to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention with the United States.

On September 21st, Samoa deposited its instrument of accession to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention with the United States. In other words, it agreed to be legally bound by the terms of this treaty. Samoa’s accession brings total membership in the Biological Weapons Convention to 179 States Parties.

International efforts to restrict bioweapons go back a long way. The Geneva Protocol of 1925 prohibits the use, but not possession or development of, chemical and biological weapons. In 1975, 22 governments, including the United States and the Soviet Union, signed the Biological Weapons Convention, a treaty meant to supplement the Geneva Protocol. The new treaty forbids its Parties from developing or retaining biological weapons and related equipment, and obligates them to destroy or divert to peaceful purposes any weapons and related equipment they may already have and to take measures to prevent the development and retention of such items. The latter is particularly valuable in reducing threats from non-State actors.

Not every country is a member of the Biological Weapons Convention. Nonetheless, no state claims that biological weapons are a legitimate instrument of state power. General agreement exists globally that no disease should ever be used as a means of warfare.

That’s because bioweapons are indiscriminate, are difficult to control, and cause terrible suffering. While today’s genome editing technologies are enabling advances in medicine and biotechnology, they also have the potential to make biological weapons easier to produce, and harder to detect and treat. Imagine the damage that could result from the release in a densely populated area, of a lethal bacterium that is immune to antibiotics, or a long-lived virus that is capable of traveling long distances in the air.

The Biological Weapons Convention is critical to international efforts to address the threat posed by biological weapons, whether in the hands of State or non-State actors. Maximizing its effectiveness requires that all States become Parties and fully implement its obligations. The United States strongly urges all States not party to the Biological Weapons Convention, to join the Convention without delay.

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