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Biological Weapons Convention Turns 30

  • Lisa Schlein

An international convention prohibiting the production and stockpiling of biological and toxin weapons came into force 30 years ago, Saturday. But with recent advances in biotechnology, experts say, it needs to be updated and strengthened in order to remain relevant.

When the convention came into force in 1975, it made an entire category of weapons of mass destruction illegal, and required states party to the convention to destroy stockpiles of disease-causing weapons.

But, 30 years on, U.N. disarmament expert John Borrie says, the world faces potential new threats from the biotechnological revolution, which is under way.

"We are beginning to see that materialize in products on the shop shelves and in the sorts of therapies that are available to people medically," he said. "But, unfortunately, these new technologies also bring with them risks. And, as the technologies become more diffuse throughout society, there is more potential for their misuse."

Experts say the convention needs to be updated to cover these new technologies. And, one key failing of the convention, they say, is that it lacks an effective verification mechanism, making it difficult to know whether states are fulfilling their obligations.

Nicholas Sims of the London School of Economics and Political Science says the issue of updating the convention will be addressed during a review conference next year.

"The convention needs a great deal of help, and that is why the Review Conference next year is the great opportunity to get it back on track, with 153 states-parties, perhaps even more by then, combining their efforts to make it really more useful and more convincing, and more credible in the next 30 years than it has seemed at times in the past 30, when it has gone through great difficulties, and come under great strain," said Mr. Sims.

The experts say changes to the convention are vital, in order for it to remain relevant in the future.

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