Biological weapons

The Geneva Protocol 1925

The Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare (the Geneva Protocol 1925) was adopted in reaction to the horrific consequences of the extensive use of gas during the First World War (1914-18). The Protocol entered into force in 1928. It bans the use of ‘asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases, and of all analogous liquids, materials or devices', as well as the use of ‘bacteriological methods of warfare' by a state party to the Protocol against any country which is also a party to the Protocol. Australia acceded to the Geneva Protocol in 1930.

The Biological Weapons Convention (BWC)

The Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), negotiated from 1969 to 1972, prohibits Parties from developing, producing, stockpiling or otherwise acquiring or retaining biological weapons and their means of delivery. It therefore plays a critical role in international efforts to address the threat posed by biological weapons. One of the first countries to sign the BWC when it opened for signature in 1972, Australia ratified the Convention in 1977. Australia actively works to promote universal adherence to the BWC.

Although the BWC does not explicitly ban the use of biological weapons – which are already banned by the Geneva Protocol – the prohibitions it contains and the requirement that states parties destroy any stockpiles accumulated before accession, amount to an effective ban on use, and also establish a strong global norm against the use of such weapons. The BWC also prohibits states parties from assisting other countries to acquire biological weapons, directly or indirectly. Further, it requires states parties to facilitate technical and scientific cooperation in the use of biotechnology for peaceful purposes.

The Eighth Review Conference of the BWC was held in Geneva in November 2016 and set the course of work for the next year.  The December 2017 Meeting of States Parties will seek to reach consensus on a further intersessional program of work. As of 10 November 2016, 178 countries have become states parties to the BWC. Of the UN member states which are not party to the treaty, 6 states have signed, but not ratified, the Convention, and 12 states have neither signed nor ratified it.