Science and Technology under the Biological Weapons Convention

Article I of the Biological Weapons Convention bans the development, production, stockpiling, acquisition or retention of all naturally or artificially created or altered microbial and other biological agents and toxins, as well as their components, regardless of their origin and method of production and whether they affect humans, animals or plants, of types and in quantities that have no justification for prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes

Background

Biological science and technology has advanced exponentially since the signing of the Convention in 1972. Although the Convention is uniquely broad and bans “microbial or other biological agents, or toxins, whatever their origin or method of production,” its States Parties have recognised the importance of staying informed about relevant advances in science and technology.

This is important for two reasons. First, advances in science and technology could pose risks which could lead to potential breaches of the Convention. On the other hand, scientific advances can be of benefit to the Convention by, for example, improving vaccines and the diagnosis of diseases.

The technology surrounding the BWC is inherently dual-use, demonstrating the importance of taking into account relevant developments in science and technology.

Additional understandings and agreements reached by States Parties at previous review conferences

The Eighth Review Conference in 2016 reaffirmed the importance of Article I, as it defines the scope of the Convention.

The Conference declared that the Convention is comprehensive in its scope and that all naturally or artificially created or altered microbial and other biological agents and toxins, as well as their components, regardless of their origin and method of production and whether they affect humans, animals or plants, of types and in quantities that have no justification for prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes, are unequivocally covered by Article I.

The Eighth Review Conference also reaffirmed that “Article I applies to all scientific and technological developments in the life sciences and in other fields of science relevant to the Convention.”

The full text of these additional understandings and agreements can be found in a document prepared by the Implementation Support Unit in 2018 (see Annex I).

Consideration of science and technology related topics by States Parties during intersessional programmes

Intersessional Programme 2018 – 2020

States Parties are considering the folllowing topics at the annual Meetings of Experts on Review of Developments in the Field of Science and Technology Related to the Convention (MX2) and the annual Meetings of States Parties in 2018, 2019 and 2020:

  • Review of science and technology developments relevant to the Convention, including for the enhanced implementation of all articles of the Convention as well as the identification of potential benefits and risks of new science and technology developments relevant to the Convention, with a particular attention to positive implications
  • Biological risk assessment and management
  • Development of a voluntary model code of conduct for biological scientists and all relevant personnel, and biosecurity education, by drawing on the work already done on this issue in the context of the Convention, adaptable to national requirements
  • Genome editing, taking into consideration, as appropriate, the issues identified above (only considered in 2018)
  • Any other science and technology developments of relevance to the Convention and also to the activities of relevant multilateral organizations such as the WHO, OIE, FAO, IPPC and OPCW

Further information on the deliberations can be found in the respective meeting reports.

In 2018, the Implementation Support Unit prepared a background information document on ‘Review of Developments in the Field of Science and Technology Related to the Convention’.

 

Previous Intersessional Programmes

States Parties considered the topic “Review of developments in the field of science and technology related to the Convention” during the 2012-2015 intersessional programme as a standing agenda item. Further information on common understandings reached by States Parties on the topic can be found in the respective meeting reports.