The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction (usually referred to as just Biological Weapons Convention, abbreviation: BWC) was the first multilateral disarmament treaty banning the production of an entire category of weapons (with exceptions for medical and defensive purposes in small quantities). It was the result of prolonged efforts by the international community to establish a new instrument that would supplement the 1925 Geneva Protocol.
It was opened for signature on April 10, 1972 and entered into force March 26, 1975 when twenty_two governments had deposited their instruments of ratification. It currently commits the 150 states that are party to it to prohibit the development, production, and stockpiling of biological and toxin weapons. However, the absence of any formal verification regime to monitor compliance has limited the effectiveness of the Convention.
The BWC specifically does not outlaw use of such weapons, only their production, storage, and means of delivery. Although usage of such weapons could be considered unlawful by a number of existing Geneva Convention protocols and international law.
As stated by the BWC:
"Each State Party to this Convention undertakes never in any circumstances to develop, produce, stockpile or otherwise acquire or retain:
- (1) 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;
- (2) Weapons, equipment or means of delivery designed to use such agents or toxins for hostile purposes or in armed conflict."
A long process of negotiation to add these missing elements began in the 1990s. Early in 2001, however, the Bush administration, after conducting a complete review of policy on biological weapons, decided that the protocol did not suit national interests of the United States, that it would interfere with the legitimate commercial and biodefense activity. Unlike most arms control agreements, the BWC also applies to private parties.
Having been suspended in December, 2001, negotiations for a ratification protocol are resuming in November, 2003.  (http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2003/dc2882.doc.htm)
- The Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention website (http://www.opbw.org/)
- UN's Biological Weapons Convention webpage (http://disarmament.un.org:8080/wmd/bwc/index.html)