A simple treaty, a complex fulfillment: A short history of the Biological Weapons Convention Review Conferences

By Nicholas A. Sims | May 1, 2011

The Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) was negotiated as a simple treaty but its fulfillment has not been so simple: The convention has no monitoring or verification agency, no governing council, and no permanent secretariat. Instead, in an effort to make the treaty more robust, a body of extended understandings, definitions, and procedures have gradually been agreed upon at its first six review conferences. The Seventh Review Conference, in December 2011, can take forward this evolutionary process by building on the best elements in the treaty regime. The author writes that the upcoming review conference needs to renew the mandate of its Implementation Support Unit; authorize BWC annual meetings to make decisions to be included in a comprehensive agenda; enable States Parties to report systematically on their compliance with BWC obligations through an accountability framework; organize collective assessment of BWC-relevant developments in science and technology; update states’ annual reporting arrangements on information measures to increase transparency; and appoint a working group to consider whether confidence is best generated in the longer term by such measures or by new methods.

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