Ban without checks: The Biological Weapons Convention and its loopholes

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Publish Date : 05/21/2022 16:18
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It is true that the Convention does not explicitly forbid the use of biological weapons, but it underlines the provisions of the Geneva Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare of 1925.

The United Nations General Assembly adopted the Biological Weapons Convention on 16 December 1971. Its full title is “Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) Weapons and Toxin Weapons and their Destruction”. Although the Geneva Protocol of 1925 had already outlawed the use of biological or chemical arms, their production and stockpiling continued to be permissible. Moreover, key nations, such as the United States had not signed the Protocol. The United States want to classify pesticides and non-lethal chemical war agents designed for counterinsurgency operations as chemical weapons in the sense of the Geneva Protocol.
In the 1960s, the United Nations redoubled its efforts to establish an agreement specifically outlawing chemical and biological weapons. One reason for this was the use of “Agent Orange”, a chemical warfare agent, by the United States during the Vietnam War. Whereas the countries of the Non-Aligned Movement and the Soviet Union argued for the ban on chemical and biological weapons to be regulated by a single treaty, or at least subject to simultaneous legislation, this view was rejected by the United States and its Western allies. The United States, in particular, was only willing to consider a separate bioweapons deal because it was convinced at the time that chemical weapons could still be militarily useful but saw little military value in biological arms.
When, by the spring of 1971, the Soviet Union agreed to de-coupling a chemical and a biological weapons agreement, the door was open to a Biological Weapons Convention. Having been adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1971, the BWC entered into force on 26 March 1975. It was the first international agreement since World War II to provide for the prohibition and destruction of an entire category of weapons By 2012, 165 countries were party to the Convention. Twelve other countries, including Egypt, Syria, Myanmar, Somalia and Tanzania, have signed but not yet ratified. Nineteen other countries have not even signed it. They include Israel, some Pacific island states and nine African countries.


“ Ban without checks: The Biological Weapons Convention and its loopholes ”