The Biological Weapons Convention at a crossroad | WHAT REALLY HAPPENED X-Frame-Options: DENY X-Frame-Options: SAMEORIGIN

The Biological Weapons Convention at a crossroad

Biological weapons are frightening, indiscriminate killers. In 1979, an accidental release of anthrax from a weapons facility in Russia’s Sverdlovsk killed at least 66 people. In Oregon in 1984, 751 people who ate or worked at area restaurants got Salmonella gastroenteritis—it was later determined that the outbreak was caused by intentional contamination of restaurant salad bars by members of a religious commune. In another case involving anthrax, in 2001, several letters sent to U.S. members of Congress and media outlets infected 22 people, killing five and forcing over $1 billion in cleanup costs. More recently, there have been warnings that terrorist groups like ISIS, rogue countries like North Korea, or violent transnational groups like Boko Haram could gain access to biological agents—or even deadly diseases like Ebola or Zika—and use them to create weapons of mass destruction. To make matters worse, the facilities that hold potentially dangerous bacteria, toxins, or viruses are sometimes shockingly ill-secured, and advances in biotechnology could lead to the development of new biological warfare agents.

Thankfully, there’s a major international treaty that can help: the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), which effectively prohibits the development, production, acquisition, transfer, stockpiling, and use of biological and toxin weapons. The treaty is now under pressure to move forward, but its future is uncertain. It needs continued strong leadership to bring it back from a disappointing 2016 Review Conference meeting, funding to ensure it remains a viable disarmament mechanism, and vision on how it can be integrated into a larger and increasingly integrated global security architecture.