New Concerns Over Biological Weaponry

This is the title of an article by Barbara Hatch Rosenberg in the September 1992 issue of The Ploughshares Monitor. She points out that a Biological Weapons Convention has been in existence since 1972; this was the first treaty to ban an entire class of weapons. It has now been ratified by 118 nations. Three Review Conferences have been held, the most recent in 1991.

At the time the Convention was negotiated was generally considered that biological weapons were of little practical military importance, so it was relatively easy to obtain general agreement among the nations, and it did not appear necessary to include legally-binding measures for verification. However biotechnological procedures that have been developed during the past 20 years for medical and industrial purposes could be readily adapted to the production of pathogenic organisms in large quantitites, and genetic engineering could in principle be used to produce new strains of organisms with properties rendering them Particularly suitable for military use.

Political developments have raised other problems. With the great diminution of the risk of conflict between East and West, the major concern. now is with the possibility of the development of biological weapons by the Third World. It is known that Iraq. had a biological weapons development project before the Gulf War. Since biological weapons are relatively cheap and easy to produce, they are likely to be tempting to countries with limited resources.

There is now an urgent need for a democratic verification regime which would give equal rights to all nations and permit intrusion only by an international imspectorate. In the absence of this, the only procedure for verification will continue to be unilateral forceful intrusion, as in Iraq following the Gulf War. Unfortunately the introduction of such a democratic verification regime has been opposed by a number of countries, notably the United States.