Back to UNESCO WCS Home page


Possible Consequences of
the Misuse of Biological Sciences

Villa Olmo, Como, Italy, 3-6 December 1997

Forum of the UNESCO International School of Science for Peace

Conclusions And Recommendations

Issues and recommendations

Conclusions    Back to top

The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction (Biological Weapons Convention - BWC), which bans the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling and retention of biological (toxin) weapons, entered into force on 26 March 1975. Up to now the BWC has been ratified by 140 countries and signed by another 18 States. However, this treaty lacks the means to verify compliance or to detect non-compliance. The absence of verification provisions is typical of Cold War arms control treaties. Unfortunately the problem of biological weapons proliferation has become more and more complex since the BWC entered into force in 1975, so the lack of verification provisions has demonstrated the weakness of the treaty.

Dual-use technologies, materials and equipment have spread around the globe as the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries have grown. The community of researchers generating the scientific and technical advances in biotechnology, genetic engineering and other related disciplines has also expanded. In short, new frontiers have opened for those seeking biological weapons, including the possibility of manipulating genes to create novel treatment- and detection-resistant biological agents.

The widespread presence of dual-use technologies, equipment, and materials in countries around the globe makes monitoring of the biological weapons proliferation extremely difficult. Tell-tale signs of a covert biological weapons programme are scarce and even discrete signs of a covert weapons programme can be hidden if a government is willing to pursue germ warfare in antiquated facilities without modern safety precautions, such as special containment facilities and worker vaccination.

In addition, clean-in-place technologies can quickly eliminate traces of a biological agent that inspectors might detect, even if they arrive within hours. While useful, inspections of such facilities might only yield a fleeting impression of what these plants are doing while the inspectors are there, but will result in little confidence of what was going on shortly before or soon after the inspections. The nature of dual-use biological equipment and scientific capabilities is such that not even rigorous short-notice inspections can ensure high confidence in compliance with the BWC's prohibitions.

In order to strengthen the BWC, in September 1994 the State-parties to the Convention agreed to establish a new negotiating forum - to follow up on the work of the VEREX group - called the Ad Hoc Group, open to all State-parties, to develop a legally binding protocol to the BWC that specifies the establishment of a biological arms control regime.

Possible elements of the future regime include:

  • confidence-building measures and transparency measures;

  • measures to promote compliance, including 'on-site investigational activities';

  • measures to implement Article X of BWC, i.e. peaceful scientific and technological international co-operation.

Even if the goal to provide the BWC with a workable verification regime is not a simple one due to the enormity of the task facing the the Ad Hoc Group, widespread agreement exists that some type of declaration will be needed as an informational foundation for any on-site monitoring activity. At the very least, submission of the data that some countries had been providing since 1987 for confidence-building purposes would become mandatory for all State-parties. Beyond that, the extent and format of any data declarations are still a matter of debate.

The participants in the UNESCO International School of Science for Peace on 'Possible Consequences of the Misuse of Biological Sciences', organized by the Landau Network-Centro Volta (LNCV) with the collaboration of the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) and the UNESCO-Hebrew University of Jerusalem-International School for Molecular Biology and Microbiology (HUJ-ISMBM), with the support of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Lombardia Region and the Municipality of Como, have identified the following important issues and recommendations:

Issues and recommendations    Back to top

  1. The necessity for routine inspections compatible with the safeguard of highly confidential business and security information in such a way as to safeguard intellectual property information;

  2. The key role played by the confidence-building measures in building confidence in a nation's compliance with the prohibitions of the BWC and as an instrument to prepare countries to join 'security regimes' - such as arms control and disarmament - in the area of the biological/toxin weapons;

  3. The long-term benefits, and not only in economic terms, for the compliance protocol provided by fulfilling the goals of BWC's Article X, under which parties undertake to exchange biotechnology know-how, materials and equipment for peaceful purposes.

Concerning confidence-building measures we stress the need for:    Back to top

  1. legally binding declarations that cover facilities and activities particularly suited for an offensive biological warfare capability;

  2. supervision of publications and of legislation, i.e. BWC State-parties are required to pass legislation making the possession or transfer of biological/toxin weapons a crime;

  3. reports on biological materials and equipment transfer and on requests concerning their transfer;

  4. field investigations of human disease outbreaks possibly associated with the covert use of biological/toxin weapons or accidental leakage from a clandestine development or production facility;

  5. information on pharmaceutical and vaccine production, biosafety capabilities and procedures.

Concerning the spirit of the BWC's Article X we also recommend   Back to top

  1. promoting an extensive assistance and co-operation between the scientific/academic community and pharmaceutical industries to support the goals and objectives of the BWC. In this regard these communities should have a 'seat' at the negotiating table in Geneva in order to facilitate the conclusions of a meaningful and feasible monitoring protocol for the BWC;

  2. encouraging in the area of applied microbiology (biotechnology) mutual visits between scientists, participation in international scientific meetings, and funding of joint research projects involving laboratories of all countries. In addition, biological science and biotechnology researchers from countries suspected to support biological weapons programs should be invited to international conferences and workshops including ethical debates. The UNESCO International School of Science for Peace-LNCV and the ICGEB might lead such an effort offering a permanent link between scientific/academic communities.


Contacts    Back to top
For further information, please contact:


Associated Meetings List

Back to UNESCOBack to Natural SciencesBack to WCS