Verification Protocol: A Must for BWC Effectiveness

Kalpana Chittaranjan,Researcher, IDSA


A weapon of mass destruction (WMD) that is being increasingly cited as one that will be the preferred mode of destruction by terrorists intent on causing wide-scale destruction is the biological weapon (BW). Having understood the dangers inherent in BW use, a convention, better known by its acronym BWC or Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention was signed by a number of countries in 1972. However, since the BWC does not have any provision for a verification protocol, it remains a toothless treaty. Before a discussion is made on the history and status of the BWC and why a verification protocol becomes essential for the convention to become effective, a discussion ensues as to why the biological weapon (BW) is increasingly becoming such an attractive proposition for individuals, groups and nations looking for an alternative to nuclear or chemical weapons (the other two forms of mass destruction).

Bioterrorism: Not "If" but "When"

Recently, in an article published in The Washington Post, US Secretary of Defence William S. Cohen wrote, "In recent months, the eyes of the world have rightly focused on the threat to American interest and values in the Balkans. At the same time, we cannot afford a national case of farsightedness that precludes us from focusing on threats closer to home, such as the potential danger of a chemical or biological attack on US soil. The United States now faces something of a superpower paradox. Our supremacy in the conventional area is prompting adversaries to seek unconventional, asymmetric means to strike our Achilles' heel."1 He went on to paint a chilling picture of a BW attack by saying, "A biological agent would sink into the respiratory and nervous systems of the afflicted. The speed and scope of modern air travel could carry this highly contagious virus across hemispheres in hours. Indeed, the invisible contagion would be neither geographically nor numerically limited, infecting unsuspecting thousands--with many, in turn, communicating the virus to whomever they touch. The march of the contagion could accelerate astoundingly with doctors offering little relief. Hospitals would become warehouses for the dead and the dying. A plague more monstrous than anything we have experienced could spread with all the irrevocability of ink on tissue paper. Ancient scourges would quickly become modern nightmares. Welcome to the Grave New World of terrorism--a world in which traditional notions of deterrence and counter-response no longer apply."

Many experts agree that bioterrorism2 will some day become a reality and that it is no longer a question of whether a major bioterrorist attack will occur but when. In 1996 itself, microbiologist Raymond Zilinskas of the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute in College Park, who had participated in the UN's hunt for Iraq's biological weapons after the Gulf War, said, "I don't understand why it hasn't happened already."3 At a Press conference on March 17, 1998, Acting Army Secretary Robert Walker was quoted as saying, "The experts tell us that it's not 'if' but 'when' a weapon of mass destruction will be used in this country."4 According to Kyle Olson, a chemical and biological weapons analyst at TASC, a firm of defence consultants in Arlington, Virginia, "People must recognise that the threat of bioterrorism is not a curiosity, but a grim reality as we enter the next century."5 He was of the view that two factors make the threat of a bioterrorist attack greater than before: (a) the taboo that had previously dissuaded terrorists from using chemical or biological weapons against civilians was broken when the nihilistic Japanese cult, Aum Shinrikyo, unleashed the nerve gas "Sarin" on the Tokyo subway, which had the effect of killing 12 people and hospitalising 5,000 more. The cult had also been in the process of developing biological weapons; (b) the explosive growth of what was once regarded as esoteric knowledge about how to culture and disperse infectious agents, i.e., of basic biological research and biotechnology, has spread among tens of thousands of people. Between 1975 and 1991, Life Science Phds that were awarded in the US increased by 30 per cent to more than 5,700 a year, while England alone had the same number of biology graduate students by 1994. While there are over 1,300 biotechnology US companies and about 580 in Europe, there were none more than a quarter century ago. US industry employs about 60,000 Life Science students.6


Where does the BW score over the nuclear weapon (NW) or chemical weapon (CW) as a WMD? What are its potential destructive capabilities? What are the most likely biological agents to be used in an attack? Since micro-organisms are the basic material for a BW, the material can be easily produced. A properly "weaponised" bacterial preparation weighing a few hundred kg which is carefully dried and milled to a precise particle size, has the potential of wiping out the inhabitants of an entire city in a single strike. A 1993 report on WMD by the US Office of Technology Assessment ((OTA) noted that on a clear calm night, a light plane flying over Washington DC, carrying 100 kg of anthrax spores and equipped with a crop sprayer, could deliver a fatal dose to about three million inhabitants.7 Also, weight-for-weight, BW agents can be hundreds to thousands of times more potent than chemical agents and cause a variety of symptoms. A potential proliferator would find that BW provide a much cheaper route to WMD capability considering that nuclear weapons (NW) are very expensive and that it (BW) is much more lethal than an equal quantity of chemical weapon (CW). Almost all the technologies and materials required to produce a BW are dual-use in nature and are widely available for commercial purposes. As an example, pharmaceutical production techniques can be adopted to produce biological agents. Also BW, like CW programmes, are much easier to conceal from international inspectors.8 A study by Conrad Chester of Oak Ridge Laboratories showed that anthrax weapons can be produced at a fraction of the cost of other WMD, with equal effectiveness. His study showed that while the cost for killing most people in a one mile square area would be up to millions of dollars using a conventional cluster bomb, approximately two million dollars using a neutron bomb and about one hundred thousand dollars using a ton of nerve agent, it would cost less than fifty dollars for one kg of anthrax spores.9

History of BW Use

Biological weapons have been in sporadic use over the centuries. There are many examples of using natural diseases in war to place an adversary in a position of disadvantage, and dumping bodies into water supplies is one of them. As far back as 2,000 years ago, the Romans fouled many of their enemy's water sources by throwing the corpses of dead animals in the wells.10 It was as early as 1346 AD that Tatars held the walled city of Kaffa under siege and catapulted plague-infested bodies into the city. The consequent illness resulted in the capitulation of Kaffa.11 Some medical historians even speculate that the event ended up as the bubonic plague epidemic that spread across medieval Europe between 1347 and 1351, which killed 25 million people.12 Three centuries later, during the French and Indian War, in an apparent altruistic overture, the English offered blankets to the Indians who were holding Fort Carillon. The blankets had been exposed to the smallpox virus because the English suspected native Indian tribes of being loyal to the French. The English attacked and defeated the incapacitated force of the Indians after the latter began falling ill and the epidemic spread. The former succeeded in gaining control of Fort Carillon and renaming it Fort Ticonderoga.13 In an effort to contaminate the water supply of the Union forces, the Confederate soldiers shot horses and other farm animals during the American Civil War.14

In this century, there has been some evidence of biological warfare in World War I.15 What is interesting to note is that while an armistice ended the "Great War" in November 1918, it could not halt the ravages of an influenza virus that in the course of a single year, beginning in the spring of 1918, managed to invade the entire world and kill 20 million of its inhabitants. Though this type of strain was identified less than three years ago, the origins of the virus and the reasons for its unusual virulence are still unknown.16 This killer flu was not thought to be a deliberate act of war but it nonetheless demonstrated its potent capacity for mass death. The inter-War years saw a new interest in the use of disease as a weapon and it was paradoxical that the two most active programmes during these years, started as a result of an international initiative to ban biological warfare agents. Japan and Britain had robust biological programmes as early as 1932 and 1934 respectively. Evidence exists that Japan tested biological warfare agents on prisoners of war and on the population of China.17 Debris that was infested with fleas that carried the plague was dropped over 11 cities in mainland China which resulted in a bubonic plague epidemic in China and Manchuria.18 Though these attacks caused casualties, the weapons did not function reliably which resulted in minimal strategic impact on the war.19 The Japanese programme had been extensive and included research on weaponising plague, anthrax, cholera, typhoid and paratyphoid fevers.20 Britain tried to develop its own BW capability by conducting tests on an island called Gruinard, off the north-west coast of Scotland. Their development and testing efforts were concentrated on the lethal effects of anthrax. British scientists used sheep as victims to evaluate the effectiveness of the disease and thousands of them were literally infected with anthrax. The island could not be effectively decontaminated after the testing programme stopped and, consequently, Gruinard is till considered contaminated, which demonstrates the persistence of anthrax as a biological weapons.21 British BW development efforts were soon combined with those of Canada and the USA. Though the Allies had maintained operational plans to employ BW during World War II, there is no evidence to indicate they were actually used on a large scale. However, there is strong evidence to show that Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the Nazi security service, was assassinated with a grenade that had been contaminated with the biological warfare agent, typhoid fever.22

In 1978, while walking to the BBC in London where he broadcast to his homeland from Radio Free Europe, Georgi Markoc, a popular writer and exile from Bulgaria suddenly felt a sharp pain in his leg. When he turned around, he confronted a man picking up an umbrella. The man apologised and went away. That night, Markov fell ill, and died several days later. A small metal pellet coated with ricin, a biological toxic substance derived from the castor oil plant, was found during the autopsy.23 An outbreak of human anthrax in the Soviet city of Sverdlorsk in April 1979 was linked to a suspected BW facility. In 1992, Russian President Boris Yeltsin admitted that the Soviet Union had maintained an offensive BW research programme.24 In 1995, allegations continued that the Government of Myanmar was using biological weapons on the Thai-Myanmar border against the Karen ethnic minority,25 but these allegations could not be confirmed. It was in August 1993 that the initial allegation had been made and the disease described was similar to cholera or shigella. The symptoms that had been present in those affected in 1993, reappeared in 1994, in people living in another area, 100km south of Bilin.26 On March 20, 1995, the Sarin (a CW nerve gas) attack on the Tokya underground by the Aum Shinrikyo (Supreme Truth) group headed by its religious cult leader, Shoko Asahara, resulted in 12 dead and 5,500 injured. Before this, members of this religious sect had reportedly experimented with biological agents by releasing small quantities of the lethal biological agent "anthrax" in Tokyo with no obvious lethal effect.27

In a news item telecast by CNN28, it was reported that the Cuban government had accused the US government of carrying out biological warfare against it by aerially spraying biological agents over farmers' crop fields in Central Cuba, thus, completely destroying vegetables that were eaten by caterpillars. The USA denied that the plane in question sprayed BW agents. Cuba alleged that a US anti-narcotics fumigation plane flying from Florida to Grand Cayman crossed Cuba with Cuban authorisation on October 21, 1996. A Cuban civilian aircraft observed the US plane spraying unknown substances intermittently. On December 18, the first signs appeared of a plague of Thrips Palmi, a polyphagous insect pest. Cuba stated that Thysanoptera, to which thrips belong, live on plants and while this particular insect was indigenous to Asia and exotic to Cuban territory, since 1985, its presence had been noted on several Caribbean islands. Other parts of Cuba had been affected by January 1997 and the Cuban government reported that by October of that year, 20,000 tons of produce had been lost to Thrips Palmi. The US explanation that the pilot had used the smoke generator of his aircraft to signal his presence to the Cuban pilot and that the tanks of the sprinkling system had carried extra fuel for the long flight was dismissed by Cuba.29 It formally rejected the US version of the incident in a letter dated June 27, 1997.30 Earlier, the US was accused by Cuba of waging biological warfare, in a note to the UN secretary-general, on April 28.31 A formal consultative meeting (closed session) which began in Geneva on August 25, 1997, failed to resolve Cuba's claim, after three days of talks, because, according to its chairman, British Ambassador Ian Soutar, "it was not possible to draw a direct causal link" between the overflight and the outbreak. Soutar was mandated, in the meeting, to further investigate the allegation and prepare a report by the end of 1997.32

Russia is reported to have developed a genetically engineered variant of anthrax that is totally resistant to all known antibiotics.33 In April 1997, in an incident which raised fears of BW terrorism in the USA, a package with a broken petri dish and a note indicating that the dish contained anthrax and plague was left outside the Washington headquarters of B'nai B'rith, a Jewish organisation. Tests later proved negative for a variety of BW agents.34

While governments are unlikely to admit that they have ongoing BW programmes, countries currently suspected of having them include (but are not limited to) China, Taiwan, North Korea; Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Iran, Cuba, Israel; the former Soviet states, the USA and Japan.35 Iraq's biological and toxin weapons programme has demonstrated that the danger of proliferation of these weapon agents is real.36 However, in the seven months since UN weapons inspectors left Iraq, US Administration officials have stated that they have not seen any indication so far that Baghdad has resumed its biological (and chemical) programmes.37)

Writing in The New York Times on June 2, 1999, Judith Miller reported that beginning in the late 1970s, Soviet scientists used Vozrozhdeniye Island in the Aral Sea as a testing ground for anthrax and other biological agents. American military scientists and intelligence experts who recently took soil samples from the island found that they contained live anthrax spores despite having been decontaminated with bleach, which has raised concerns that Soviet scientists genetically engineered a new, highly resistant form of anthrax. Vozrozhdeniye Island is likely to become connected with mainland Uzbekistan and Kazakhastan as the Aral Sea recedes, potentially exposing Eurasia to the biological agents buried at the site. The US has been asked by Kazakhstan to assist it in assessing the contamination levels and the costs of decontaminating the island, which appear to be prohibitive due to the size of the area and the amount of anthrax buried in the island.38

While questioning the alarmist views of most experts on doomsday scenarios drawn by them on a likely mass bioterrorism attack on over- populated cities, Jonathan B. Tucker and Amy Sands, using available evidence on 263 biological and chemical attacks between 1900 and May 1998, state, "Contrary to the conventional wisdom about the catastrophic nature of chemical and biological terrorism, actual attacks were few in number, small in scale, and generally produced fewer casualties than conventional bombs."39 So far, there has only been one successful bioterrorism incident of a mass-casualty attack in the US, when in 1984, members of the Oregon-based Rajneesh cult deliberately contaminated restaurant salad bars in the town of the Dallas with salmonella bacteria which had the effect of 751 people temporarily down with diarrhoeal illness.40

US Response

The Clinton Administration's proposed federal budget for fiscal year 2000 calls for nearly $1.4 billion to protect US citizens against terrorist biological or chemical attacks. This amount represents more than double the spending in 1999 fiscal spending.

In May 1998, Secretary of Defence Cohen approved a plan that would give anthrax shots to US armed services personnel. Between now and 2003, the entire force, including all new recruits, will begin receiving the six-shot series of the anthrax vaccination in a phased inoculation programme.41 The Pentagon is drawing on a stockpile of about 7 million doses which would eventually inoculate all 2.4 million active-duty and reserve personnel.42

In Cohen's piece brought out in the Washington Post, he spelt out what the US Administration was doing by way of preparation to tackle the growing threat of bioterrorism. In his words:43

As part of a federal interagency effort launched last year by President Clinton and led by the National Security Council, the Defence Department is doing its part to prepare the nation for the catastrophic consequences of an attack that unleashes these horrific weapons. Because it has long prepared to face this grim possibility on the battlefield, the military has unique capabilities to offer in the domestic arena as well.

Several core principles are guiding our efforts. First, any military assistance in the wake of a domestic attack must be in support of the appropriate federal civilian authority--either the Department of Justice or the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Second, an unequivocal and unambiguous chain of responsibility, authority and accountability for that support must exist.

Third, military assistance should not come at the expense of our primary mission--fighting and winning our nation's wars. A special Task Force for Civil Support is being created to ensure that we have the military assets to help respond domestically while still meeting our foremost mission.

Fourth, our military response efforts will be grounded primarily in the National Guard and Reserve. In contrast to their more familiar role of reinforcing active-duty forces overseas, our Guard and Reserve are the forward-deployed forces here at home. Special National Guard teams are being positioned around the nation to advise and assist communities upon request.

List I44

Biological Toxins

Toxin Symptoms Effects if untreated

Anthrax Fever, malaise, cough, Shock and death within 36

respiratory distress hours of severe symptoms

Botulinum Weakness, dizziness, dry Paralysis, respiratory failure,

throat, blurred vision, problems death

speaking and hearing, difficulty swallowing

Bubonic plague Malaise, high fever, tender Blood poisoning, death

lymph nodes

Cholera Vomiting, abdominal Severe dehydration, shock,

distension, pain, diarrhoea death

Pneumonic plague High fever, chills, headache, Respiratory failure,

coughing up blood, blood circulatory collapse,

poisoning heavy bleeding, death

Q fever Fever, cough, chest pain Generally not fatal

Ricin Weakness, fever, cough, Dangerously low blood

hypothermia pressure, heart failure, death

Smallpox Malaise, fever, vomiting, Bone marrow depression,

headache, backache, bleeding, death

blister-like rash

Staphylococcal Fever, chills, headache, Septic shock, death

enterotoxin B muscle aches, cough

Tularemia Swollen glands, fever, Generally not fatal

headache, malaise, weight loss,

non-productive cough

Viral hemorrhagic Easy bleeding, red spots on Uncontrollable bleeding,

fevers skin, low blood pressure, circulatory collapse,

flushed face and chest, death

swelling of ankles and other joints

Anthrax and Smallpox: Preferred Weapons for Bioterrorists

Experts agree that while there are a number of organisms (including plague and ricin) that bioterrorists could use as weapons, anthrax and smallpox are the most likely choices as these are capable of causing disease and death on a mass scale that is sufficient to cripple a city or even a country. Anthrax is selected as a primary bio/toxin weapon because, it is highly lethal with morality rates ranging from 80 to 90 percent for inhalation. In concentrations that are a thousand times smaller than chemical nerve agents, it has a deadly effect. Hundreds of thousands of people could be killed in a metropolitan area with just one kg of anthrax spores delivered in aerosol form under favourable weather conditions. It is relatively easy to produce as anthrax bacteria occurs naturally in many parts of the world. A test-tube of feed stock can produce a kg of anthrax in about 96 hours in a fermenter. Equipment used for fermenting home beer can be used for this purpose. It is easy to deliver in its most deadly form, i.e., aerosol, by using low technology delivery systems such as crop duster airplanes, helicopters, simple garden pump sprayers and even purse-sized perfume atomisers.

Anthrax is caused by the single-celled bacteria called bacillus anthracis and can affect all warm-blooded animals, including humans. It is an active disease and occurs naturally every year. Worldwide, there are 2,000 to 5,000 cases reported annually. It is considered to be an "occupational" disease since it mostly affects people with specific occupations who have access to infected animals, which include veterinarians, ranch workers and people who work with animal carcasses, hair and wool.

As a disease, anthrax has three forms. Cutaneous anthrax, a skin disease contracted by physical contact with a source of infection and human skin which is cut, has an abrasion or some form of opening which allows the bacteria to penetrate the dermis layer, is the most common form of the disease. This is the most curable form but can be fatal if not treated. Pulmonary or inhalation anthrax is the deadliest form of the disease and is contracted by inhaling anthrax spores which lodge in the alveoli of the lungs where the spores germinate and begin to grow. The incubation period is from 2 to 6 days. This form of the disease has morality rates in the 80 to 90 percent range and treatment is often ineffective. The optimum size for lethal infection is 1 to 5 microns and a lethal dose is approximately 3,000 spores. Intestinal or digestive anthrax is contracted by digesting infected animal meat which is not cooked properly and this form of the disease is about 50 percent fatal.45

Where smallpox is concerned, some of the reasons bioterrorists would prefer this are its high fatality rates as it kills about 30 percent of its victims, and its long incubation period which can be up to 14 days. During these two weeks, though the victims do not experience symptoms, they can infect others. Though smallpox was thought to have been eradicated when the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced in 1980 that it had been obliterated and had recommended that all countries cease vaccination, the same year saw the Soviet government embarking on an ambitious programme to grow smallpox in large quantities and adapt if for use in bombs and intercontinental ballistic missiles.46 A generation ago, smallpox plagued 31 countries and killed about two million people a year. However, since its eradication from the general population, the highly contagious virus is supposed to exist only in guarded laboratories at the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and in the Institute for Viral Preparations in Moscow.47

Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention

The "Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, and Stockpiling of Bacteriologial (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction," better known as the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention or by its acronymn BWC was negotiated from 1969-1971, opened for signature on April 10, 1972, at London, Moscow and Washington DC., and entered into force on March 26, 1975, with 43 member countries, upon ratification by the three depository states—the USA, the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom.48

The treaty has fifteen Articles and prohibits the development, production, stockpiling or acquisition by other means or retention of microbial or other biological agents, or toxins whatever their origin and method of production, of types and in quantities that have no justification of prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes, as well as weapons, equipment or means of delivery designed to use such agents or toxins for hostile purposes or in armed conflict. The destruction of the agents, toxins, weapons, equipment and means of delivery in the possession of the parties, or their diversion to peaceful purposes, should be effected not later than nine months after the entry into force of the convention.49

Summary of Articles of BWC50

1. No state to develop, produce, stockpile, or acquire biological agents, etc.

2. Each state to destroy existing stocks.

3. No transfer.

4. States parties required to take measures to prohibit domestic work.

5-7. Consultation, referral to Security Council, assistance to state which is attacked.

8. 1925 Geneva Protocal still in effect (covers use).

9. Obligation to pursue chemical weapons treaty.

10. Use for peaceful purposes.

11-15. Amendment, duration (unlimited), entry into force, reviews, depositing.

As of January 1, 1997, the BWC had 140 member countries that had signed and 18 countries that had signed but not ratified it.51 India ratified the BWC on July 5, 1974.52


The origin of the BWC can be traced back to the "Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare", better known as the 1925 Geneva Protocol which was signed at Geneva on June 17, 1925, and entered into force on February 8, 1928. The protocol banned the use of "bacteriological methods of warfare." In conjunction with a ban on chemical weapons, efforts to ban the production of biological weapons took up many years of discussion in a variety of fora. The prevailing opinion had been that the possession of chemical and biological weapons should be prohibited simultaneously. The "Report on Chemical and Bacteriological (Biological) Weapons and the Effects of Their Possible Use" was issued by the UN secretary general in 1969. The report concluded that these weapons might have irreversible consequences for human beings and the environment. In 1970, the WHO published the "Report on Health Aspects of Chemical and Biological Weapons," which also pointed out that the effects of use of chemical and biological weapons are subject to a high degree of uncertainty and unpredictability. However, several Western countries sponsored the proposal that there should be a ban on biological weapons only and their main reason for separate treatment of these two categories of weapons was that a ban on biological weapons did not require intrusive verification and, therefore, could be concluded quickly, without serious risks which was not the case with chemical weapons. This method of approach was adopted by the Eighteen-Nation Committee on Disarmament (ENDC) and its successor, the Conference of the Committee on Disarmament (CCD), where the negotiations were taking place. On July 10, 1969, the UK submitted a draft to the ENDC calling for the elimination of biological weapons only, which was supported by the USA.

US President Richard Nixon renounced the development, production and stockpiling of BW, irrespective of a possible international agreement and announced his intention to ratify the Geneva Protocol on November 25, 1969. On February 14 1970, the US government formally renounced also the production, stockpiling and use of toxins for war purposes. It stated that military programmes for biological agents and toxins would be confined to research and development for defensive purposes. Later, the USA and the Soviet Union agreed on a text banning production of biological weapons, which was submitted to the CCD and subsequently to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). The UNGA approved a resolution commending the convention on December 16, 1971. As stated previously, the BWC was opened to all states for signature on April 10, 1972. It entered into force on March 26, 1975, after ratification by US President Gerald Ford.

The BWC Review Conferences

The BWC, which has an unlimited duration, called for only one review, which was held from March 3-21, 1980. A UN resolution in November 1982 called on the signatories to establish compliance procedures. The Second Review Conference met in Geneva from September 8-26, 1986. This conference, which was generally positive, strengthened the procedures for consultation in the case of compliance concerns. The participating states tried to strengthen the convention by establishing several politically binding confidence-building measures (CBMs), including annual declarations of high-containment biological facilities designed for work with dangerous micro-organisms, and reports of unusual disease outbreaks. It also called for a meeting of experts which worked out CBM details from March 31 to April 15, 1987, in particular, a call for annual exchanges of data about biological research.

As there is no penalty for failing to file declarations and no central Secretariat urging countries to do so, fewer than half of the states that are party to the BWC have participated in the CBMs. The BWC Third Review Conference was held from September 9-27, 1991. During this conference, it was decided that future review conferences would be held every five years at least. The 1991 review conference recognised the need for stronger measures and mandated the convening of an ad hoc group of government experts (also known as the "verification experts" or VEREX group) to identify and examine potential verification measures from a scientific and technical viewpoint. Eventually, twenty-one measures were identified and grouped in two categories. Surveillance of scientific publications, data declarations, notifications of activities remote sensing, and environment sampling and analysis were included as possible "off-site" measures while possible "on-site" measures included scientific exchanges, visual inspection, interviews, identification of relevant equipment, sampling and analysis and continuous monitoring with cameras or other sensors.53 Four meetings were held by VEREX in Geneva (March 30-April 10, 1992; November 23 to December 4, 1992; May 24 to June 6, 1993; and its final session from September 13 to 24, 1993, where it submitted its consensus final report to all BWC member states). In the report, the experts found that because of the dual-use nature of BW-related facilities, equipment and materials, no single measure could fulfil all of the mandated criteria for a stand-alone verification measure. The group, however, concluded that some measures, used singly or in combination, could strengthen the regime by helping to differentiate prohibited from permitted activities, thus reducing ambiguities about issues of compliance.54 In September 1994, a special conference of BWC states parties met at Geneva to consider the VEREX final report and decide on further actions. It was agreed that an ad hoc group would be established "to consider appropriate measures, including possible verification measures, and draft proposals to strengthen the convention."55 Between 1995 and 1996, the Ad Hoc Group (AHG) held five meetings but it was unable to complete its mandate of providing draft proposals prior to the Fourth Review Conference which was held from November 25 to December 6, 1996.

Article I which defines the basic prohibitions, or the "scope" of the convention, Article IV, which address national implementation measures, Article V, which deals with the consultative process for problems arising from treaty implementation and Article X, which concerns cooperation among states-parties for peaceful purposes were the key issues at the Fourth Review Conference.56 The conference was unable to achieve a consensus for setting a deadline for the AHG's work, but agreed that it (AHG) should intensify its work so as to try and complete it possibly before the commencement of the Fifth Review Conference which is scheduled for 2001 AD.

The AHG established its work programme for 1998 with an intensified schedule of 11 weeks of negotiations divided into four sessions. In his State of the Union message in January 1998, US President Bill Clinton called upon the international community to act to prevent the use of disease as a weapon of war or terror by strengthening the BWC with a new international inspection system to detect and deter cheating.57

While addressing the XIIth Group Session of the AHG at Geneva, US Acting Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affaris and Director, US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, John D. Holum stated that the USA believes that four principles are essential for the AHG to successfully conclude negotiations for a legally binding protocol to the convention. Holum said:

l First, there must be legally binding, mandatory declarations to provide transparency about activities of potential relevance to the Convention. Transparency must be unambiguous so all can understand what is expected of them. We must all accept that they are binding obligations, in contrast to voluntary undertakings.

l Secondly, there must be means to get in investigators on-site, quickly and with a mandate flexible enough to do their job efficiently. These mandates should include responding to legitimate concerns about possible use of biological weapons, or suspicious outbreaks that may be from unnatural causes, or inspecting suspect locations where there is real concern that activities in violation of the Convention are being conducted. Investigations and visits must be conducted in ways to protect legitimate proprietary and national security sensitivities, but they also must be conducted vigorously, to provide confidence in compliance.

l Third, there must be means to ensure that all sites whose activities merit declaration are in fact declared, and that the declarations are accurate. We cannot allow a proliferator the refuge of simply ignoring the international community and the norms of humanity by failing to provide complete or accurate information about relevant activities.

l Fourth, there must be a professional organisation to implement the Protocol. It must be talented, small, and cost-effective. We cannot afford a bloated, cumbersome bureaucracy--which would cost too much and have low operational effectiveness.58

Current Status

The current focus is on the work of the AHG which is attempting to negotiate a verification protocol to strengthen the BWC. It released a rolling text for the new verification protocol and was continuing to negotiate the protocol's terms.59


It is clear that the threat of bioterrorism is growing by the day. While the heart of the BWC Articles aims at the prohibition of the development, production and stockpiling of bacteriological (i.e. biological) and toxin weapons and on their destruction, the convention will remain a paper treaty only if a verification protocol is not issued soon by the AHG to strengthen it (the BWC). The verification protocol should be brought out before the commencement of the Fifth Review Conference scheduled for 2001.



1. William S. Cohen, "Preparing for a Grave New World," The Washington Post, July 26, 1999.

2. Bioterrorism is the use or threat of use of biological agents, such as anthrax, to cause or to threaten to cause disease. Bioterrorism occurs at the release of an actual or perceived agent, the notification of authorities by a perpetrator that an attack has been made or a silent attack with the subsequent outbreak of some uncommon illness or an abrupt, significant increase in the incidence of commonly observed symptoms. See website<>.

3. Robert Taylor, "All Fall Down," New Scientist, vol.10, issue 2029, May 11, 1996. website

4. The Y2K Survival Guide, "Anthrax: Biological/Toxin Warfare," from website

5. n. 3.

6. Ibid.

7. For some more examples of how biological agents can cause destruction, see Kalpana Chittranjan, "Biological Weapons and Biological Weapons Convention", Strategic Analysis, vol. 22, no. 6 September 1997, p.875., and Kalpana Chittranjan, "Biological Weapons: An Insidious WMD," Strategic Analysis, vol. 22, no. 9, December 1998, p. 1431-1432.

8. Ibid., September 1997 p. 878.

9. n. 4.

10. Charles Piller and Keith R. Yamamoto, Gene Wars, Military Control Over the New Genetic Technologies (New York: Beech Tree Books, 1988), p. 29.

11. Robert Harris and Jeremy Paxman, A Higher Form of Killing (New York: Hill and Wang, 1982), p. 74.

12. Ibid., p. 9.

13. Kathleen C. Bailey ed., Director's Series on Proliferation (Springfield, VA: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, May 23, 1994), pp. 9-10, and Ibid.

14. Ernest T. Takafuji, Biological Weapons and Modern Warfare (Fort McNair, Washington DC., The Industrial College of the Armed Forces, National Defence University, 1991), p. 4.

15. Bailey, n. 13, p.10.

16. John D. Steinbruner, "Biological Weapons: A Plague Upon all Houses" Foreign Policy, Winter 1997-98, p. 85.

17. Sheldon H. Harris, Factories of Death: Japanese Biological Warfare 1932-45 and the American Cover-up, (New York: Routledge, 1994), pp. 113-131

18. Terry N. Mayer, Biological Weapons--The Poor Man's Nuke (Springfield, VA: US Dept. Of Commerce, April 1995), p. 6.

19. Jonathan B. Tucker, "The Future of Biological Warfare," The Proliferation of Advanced Weaponry (Washington DC.: AAAS, 1993), p. 16.

20. John Cookson and Judith Nottingham, A Survey of Chemical and Biological Warfare (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1969), p. 296.

21. Mayer, n. 18, pp. 6-7.

22. Harris and Paxman, n. 11, pp. 88-93.

23. Jeanne McDermott, The Killing Winds: The Menace of Biological Warfare (New York: Arbor House, 1987), p. 156.

24. Jonathan B. Tucker, "Strengthening the Biological Weapons Convention," Arms Control Today, vol. 25, no.3, April 1995, p. 9.

25. "Burma and Biological Weapons," Jane's Intelligence Review, vol. 7, no. 11, November 1995, p. 518.

26. Cited in SIPRI Yearbook 1996: Armaments, Disarmament and International Security (London: Oxford University Press: 1996), p. 686.

27. The International Institute for Strategic Studies, Strategic Survey 1996/97 (London: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 32.

28. CNN News-Item, 0755 hours (IST), July 4, 1997.

29. Jean Pascal Zanders and John Hart, "Chemical and Biological Weapons Developments and Arms Control", SIPRI Yearbook 1998: Armaments, Disarmament and International Security (London: Oxford University Press 1998), p. 479.

30. Letter dated June 27, 1997, from the permanent representative of Cuba to the United Nations, addressed to the secretary-general, UN document A/52/ 231, June 27, 1997.

31. Note verbale dated April 28, 1997, from the Permanent Mission of Cuba to the United Nations addressed to the secretary-general, UN document A/52/128, April 29, 1997.

32. SIPRI, n. 29, p. 480.

33. T. Cullen and C.F. Foss, eds., Jane's Land Based Air Defence 1997-98 (Coulsdon, Surrey: Jane's Information Group, 1997), p. 9.

34. SIPRI, n. 29, p. 481.

35. See website

36. See J.B. Tucker, "Lessons of Iraq's Biological Warfare Programme," Arms Control, vol. 14, no.3, December 1993, pp. 229. For a comprehensive coverage of Iraq's biological weapons programme and UNSCOM's activities (upto April 1998), see Kalpana Chittaranjan, "Iraq's BW Programme: UNSCOM Stays On," Strategic Analysis, vol. 22, no. 4, July 1998, pp. 623-634.

37. Karen DeYoung, "Baghdad Weapons Programmes Dormant: Inactivity Mystifies US Observers," Washington Post, July 15, 1999.

38. Judith Miller, "At Bleak Asian Site, Killer Germs Survive," The New York Times, June 2, 1999.

39. Jonathan B. Tucker and Amy Sands, "An Unlikely Threat," The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, July/august 1999, vol. 55, no. 4. Downloaded from website

40. Ibid.

41. Website<

42. Bradley Graham, "Dose of Explanation Comes With Anthrax Shot," Washington Post, October 30, 1998.

43. 1.

44. Source: Charlene Laino, "Bioterrorism: 'A Very Real Scenario,'" MSNBC, February 16, 1999, downloaded from website>.

45. n. 4.

46. n. 44.

47. The New York Times, July 21, 1999.

48. The Arms Control Reporter: A Chronicle of Treaties, Negotiations, Proposals, Weapons and Policy, (Massachusetts: IDDS, 1996), p. 701. A. 1

49. n. 26, pp. 778-779.

50. The Arms Control Reporter: A Chronicle of Treaties, Negotiations, Proposals, Weapons and Policy, (Massachusetts: IDDS, 1997), p. 701. A. 6.

51. See FACTFILE: Signatories to the Biological Weapons Convention, Arms Control Today, vol. 26, no. 10, January/February 1997, pp. 28-30.

52. Jozef Goldblat, Arms Control, (London: Sage Publications, 1994) p. 374. In a statement made on the occasion of the convention, India reiterated its understanding that the objective of the convention is to eliminate biological and toxin weapons, thereby excluding completely the possibility of their use, and that the exemption with regard to biological agents or toxins, which would be permitted for prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes, would not in any way create a loophole in regard to the production or retention of biological and toxin weapons. Also, any assistance which might be furnished under the terms of the convention would be of a medical or humanitarian nature and in conformity with the UN Charter. The statement was repeated at the time of the deposit of the instrument of ratification.

53. Tucker, n. 24, p. 10.

54. Ibid.

55. n. 48, p. 701. A.2

56. For a comprehensive coverage of the Fourth Review Conference, see Graham S. Pearson, "The Fourth BWC Review Conference: An Important Step Forward", Arms Control Today, vol. 26, no. 10, January/February 1997, pp. 14-18.

57. ACDA's 1997 Annual Report, "II. Eliminating Chemical and Biological Weapons,". Downloaded from, October 25, 1998.

58. Speech delivered by John D. Holum, under secretary for Arms Control and International Security Affairs and ex-director, US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency to the BWC AHG Session XII at Geneva, Switzerland, on October 6, 1998. Downloaded from

59. While the 13th session of the AHG was held from January 4-22, 1999, the 14th session was held from March 29-April 9, 1999 and the recently concluded 15th session took place from June 28-July 23, 1999. The remaining sessions are to take place between September 13-October 8, 1999, and between November 22-December 10, 1999. For text of Working Papers, Rolling Texts and Procedural Reports issued at the AHG sessions, see website