Implementing the Biological Weapons Convention

The 1972 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) opened for signature on 10 April 1972 and entered into force on 26 March 1975.

The BWC has 185 States Parties and 4 signatories (as of 14 March 2023). The Convention depositaries are the governments of the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States.


Under Article I of the Convention, biological weapons are defined on the basis of purpose (the ‘general purpose criterion’) as follows:

microbial or other biological agents, or toxins whatever their origin or method of production, of types and in quantities that have no justification for prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes; and
weapons, equipment or means of delivery designed to use such agents or toxins for hostile purposes or in armed conflict.

States Parties have agreed that the prohibition of the use of biological weapons – originating in the 1925 Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare – also falls under the scope of the BWC.

Main obligations

By becoming a State Party to the BWC, states undertake never to develop, produce stockpile or otherwise acquire or retain any biological weapons. Under Article II each state party must destroy, or divert to peaceful purposes, all agents, toxins, weapons, equipment and means of delivery specified under Article I which it has under its control.  Article III requires all states parties to refrain from transferring biological weapons to anyone and from assisting, encouraging or inducing anyone to manufacture or acquire them. In addition, Article X enshrines the rights for state parties to participate in the exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information for the use of bacteriological (biological) agents and toxins for peaceful purposes. This provision also ensures that the Convention is implemented in a manner which avoids hampering economic or technological development or international cooperation in this field.

NIM obligations

Once your state has become party to the Convention, it will be bound by the content of the BWC, and obliged to implement its requirements. In particular, Article IV obliges each state party, in accordance with its constitutional processes, to take any necessary measures to prohibit and prevent the development, production, stockpiling, acquisition or retention of biological weapons in its territory and anywhere under its jurisdiction or control. States should consider penal measures, biosafety and biosecurity measures, import and export controls and enforcement measures to facilitate effective implementation of the BWC