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18. Biological weapon and arms control developments




There is currently major concern about the potential proliferation of
biological weapon (BW) and toxin weapon (TW) capability, the potential misuse
of permitted activities under the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), and
about possible use of BW and TW agents by terrorists or for sabotage. In 1993
new information became available about past Soviet BW and TW activities,
including the 1979 outbreak of anthrax in Sverdlovsk, but questions remain
about the incident.

The BW and TW threat has grown both because of geopolitical and scientific
developments. On the other hand, developments in molecular biotechnology have
also contributed to mankind's ability to deal with pathogens. For example, in
the south-western USA there was an outbreak of a lethal respiratory disease in
1993. Developments in molecular biotechnology enabled the rapid identification
of a new type of virus as responsible for the outbreak.

Over 130 states are parties to the BWC. The 1991 Third Review Conference of the
BWC improved and amended the voluntary information exchange measures, but
participation in these confidence-building measures has not improved
significantly. The number of states which participated at least once rose in
1993 to 58; only 12 states provided information in all 7 rounds.

A significant step towards further strengthening the BWC was the successful
conclusion of he work of the Ad Hoc Group of Governmental Experts to
Identify and Examine Potential Verification Measures from the Scientific and
Technical Standpoint (VEREX) and the adoption of a consensus report which
identified a number of potential verification measures designed to strengthen
the BWC. The UN General Assembly First Committee adopted without vote a
resolution commending the work of VEREX. After considering the report, a
majority of BWC states parties have asked the depositary governments (Russia,
the UK and the USA) to convene a conference to examine the report and decide on
further action with regard to verification of the BWC. This conference,
scheduled for September 1994, will hopefully pave the way for adoption of a
verification regime to be presented at the 1996 Fourth Review Conference, thus
contributing significantly to prevention of biological and toxin warfare.

The lack of government activity in implementing Article X of the BWC, which
calls for peaceful co-operation in microbiology (and biotechnology), has been
compensated for by the elaboration of international programmes intended to
evaluate unusual outbreaks of disease, to quickly identify their causes and to
provide vaccines to protect against dual-threat agents (pathogens and toxins
which are not only natural enemies of people, animals and plants but can also
be used for hostile purposes as BW and TW agents).