CBW Events is a project to create a record of events to enable and encourage understanding of how policies on the issues relating to chemical and biological warfare (CBW) and its prevention are developed.

BWC Negotiations Chronology

The BWC Negotiations Chronology is one of two thematic chronologies in the current work programme outside of the country studies (Iraq, Libya and Syria). The chronology will record significant events relating to the negotiation of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) as well as key policy developments in the run-up to the decision to start negotiations, including assessments of the scale of relevant challenges. This means having an understanding of the biological weapons programmes of the post-WWII period and post-WWII assessments of the WWII programmes.

This chronology will be an attempt to record the relevant events as impartially as possible and, in doing so, provide a valuable resource for those wishing to understand how the the negotiations for this key international treaty unfolded. A key aim is to provide a context so that contemporary implementation of the BWC can benefit from understandings of why the treaty is structured as it is; in the long term, this should assist efforts to enable a sustainable biological-weapon-free world.

Some sample entries

This small selection of entries from the dataset this chronology will be drawn from is intended to illustrate the scope of material that would be contained within the published version of the BWC negotiations chronology.

22 July 1946     The Economic and Social Council of the United Nations recommends the establishment of a single UN health body at the end of a five-week conference focusing on the issues of health. The conference also drafts a constitution for the proposed "World Health Organization" and nominates an Interim Commission for its establishment. The draft constitution includes within its Preamble: "The health of all peoples is fundamental to the attainment of peace and security and is dependent upon the fullest co-operation of individuals and States".
     [Note: The proposed body would replace the League of Nations Health Organization and the Office International d'Hygiène Publique (OIHP). The OIHP had been created in December 1907 with an initial membership of Belgium, Brazil, Egypt, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, the UK, and the US (the signatories of the agreement establishing the OIHP). Headquartered in Paris, the OIHP comprised nearly 60 countries and territories by 1914. The OIHP existed in parallel with the League of Nations health units as the US opposed the OIHP being incorporated as a League of Nations body. During the Second World War, many functions were taken up by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) established in 1943.]

6 May 1947     US General Douglas MacArthur sends a message to Washington DC on the continuing investigations into the Japanese biological warfare programme.[1] The message includes: "Experiments on humans were known to and described by three Japanese and confirmed tacitly by Ishii ... Ishii states that if guaranteed immunity from "war crimes" in documentary form for himself, superiors and subordinates, he can describe program in detail. Ishii claims to have extensive theoretical high-level knowledge including strategic and tactical use of BW on defense and offense, backed by some research on best BW agents to employ by geographical areas of Far East and the use of BW in cold climates".
     Part 3B of the message states: "Additional data, possibly including some statements from Ishii, probably can be obtained by informing Japanese involved that information will be retained in intelligence channels and will not be employed as "war crimes" evidence" and Part 5 states "Adoption of method in Part 3B above recommended ... . Request reply soonest".
     The same day, a government cable is sent from Washington DC to US officials in Japan: "Recommendation approved. Information obtained from Ishii and associates on biological warfare will be retained in intelligence channels and will not be employed as "war crimes" evidence".[2] This cable is revealed in a television programme some decades later which cites it as evidence of official US connivance in a post-war cover-up of the Japanese BW programme, including Unit 731.
     [1] As quoted in: Peter Williams and David Wallace, Unit 731: the Japanese Army's secret of secrets, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1989, pp 194–95, citing the source as "Radio C-52423, CnC FE, Tokyo, Japan, to War Department for WDGID (pass to CCMLC) MID pass to Maj-Gen Alden Waitt, May 6, 1947". Parts of the message are also reproduced in: Robert Harris and Jeremy Paxman, A Higher Form of Killing: the secret history of chemical and biological warfare, (1st edition), London: Chatto & Windus, 1982, p 153.
     [2] As quoted in: Sara James (reporter), "Factory of Death", television documentary on NBC News Dateline, 15 August 1995, as transcribed by Burrelle's Information Services.

24 February 1952     British Prime Minister Winston Churchill mocks a request from the Biological Research Advisory Board for assurance that any UK use of biological weapons would be in retaliation only.
     The request for assurances from ministers that biological weapons would not be used outside the terms laid down by the Geneva Protocol had been passed on to the Prime Minister by Cabinet Secretary Norman Brook. Brook had written: "the scientists engaged on this work suffer a sense of sin which makes them itch to justify what they are doing. Some months ago they sought authority to release a statement claiming that it was more merciful to kill a man by inducing mortal disease than by blowing him to bits with high explosive. I see no reason to suppose that we shall have to justify our "biological warfare" research. And, if we have to do so, I hope we shall not squirm and cringe in the pretence that it is all "defensive". I do not think we should be troubled to approve a statement like this before the need to issue anything has arisen." His recommendation to the Prime Minister was: "I suggest that these people might get on with their work and stop bothering about publicity for it." Churchill tells Brook: "Please ask them to itch a little longer. We are very busy insects."
     ,The papers are made public 47 years later.[1]
     [1] Susie Steiner, "Churchill dismissed germ scientists' guilt", Times (London), 11 June 1999, p 10; Alan Travis, "Boffins' germ war protest was rejected", Guardian (London), 11 June 1999, p 11.

12 March 1952     In the United Kingdom, the Biological Warfare Subcommittee reports "There is no firm evidence of the existence in the USSR of any BW project either for research, mass-production of BW agents, or the development of the necessary special weapons and equipment. There are however indications that a small group of scientists may be engaged on BW research under the control of the Soviet Army. The only broad conclusion possible is that the Russians are now capable of BW sabotage wither [sic] against man, livestock, or crops, and that they could, if such were their intention, have initiated the mass cultivation of bacteria in 1951 and achieve by 1952 at least the level of production attained by the U.S.A. in 1945".[1]
     [1] Chiefs of Staff Committee, B.W. "Report 1950-1951, Report by the Biological Warfare Sub-Committee", 12 March 1952, p.1 as quoted in: Simon M Whitby, Biological Warfare against Crops, (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2002), p 96.

28 May 1952     US President Harry S. Truman states "The Kremlin cries that we have used germ warfare. There isn't a word of truth in that. We have never broken the Geneva Convention [sic] in our operations in Korea. And they know that. They know it well. But they keep on passing out the lies that have no foundation in fact whatever".[1]
     [1] President Truman, Remarks to Members of the American Action Committee Against Mass Deportations in Romania, 28 May 1952, as cited by the American Presidency Project, at http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=14134.

4 November 1952     In the UK House of Commons, during the "Debate on the Address" which follows the Queen's Speech, backbench MP Emrys Hughes says: "I now want to say a few words about the germ warfare controversy. Everybody in China believes that the allegations about germ warfare in Korea have been proved. I went to the bacteriological warfare exhibition in Pekin [sic], and it was impressive. I did not express any opinion in the visitors’ book, as was I asked to do. I am not a biologist or a biochemist and I should not like to commit myself in a foreign country to something which might be used as propaganda against my own country.
     "However, if we want to rid the minds of the people of China and of Asia as a whole of the idea that the West will destroy them by methods of bacteriological warfare and has been experimenting in bacteriological warfare in Korea, the best thing we can do is to close our bacteriological research stations and say that on no account will we take part in a war of extermination of the people of the East by introducing the germs of plague, cholera and all the dreaded diseases which may be used in another war."
     [1] Emrys Hughes, Debate on the Address, Hansard (Commons), 4 November 1952, Vol 507, c125-26

24 November 1961     In New York, the UN General Assembly adopts resolution 1653 (XVI). The resolution reaffirms aspects of international law: "The use of weapons of mass destruction, causing unnecessary human suffering, was in the past prohibited, as being contrary to the laws of humanity and to the principles of international law, by international declarations and binding agreements, such as the Declaration of St. Petersburg of 1868, the Declaration of the Brussels Conference of 1874, the Conventions of the Hague Peace Conferences of 1899 and 1907, and the Geneva Protocol of 1925".

24 March 1970     Canada makes a statement in the CCD in Geneva on its "Attitude to chemical and biological warfare".[1] The statement says: "(1) Canada never has had and does not now possess any biological weapons (or toxins) and does not intend to develop, produce, acquire, stockpile or use such weapons at any time in the future.
     "Canada does not possess any chemical weapons and does not intend to develop, produce, acquire, stockpile or use such weapons at any time in the future unless these should be used against the military forces or the civil population of Canada or its allies". Tear gas and other riot control agents are not included in this commitment.
     [1] Canada, statement to the Conference of the Committee on Disarmament, 24 March 1970, CCD/PV.460, para 37.

7 July 1971     At the Pine Bluff Arsenal in Arkansas, the United States Army starts destruction of biological and toxin weapons following President Nixon’s renunciation of such methods of warfare [see 25 November 1969].
     In press reporting, it is noted that some of the agents being destroyed cause few fatalities. Colonel John K Stoner, commander of the destruction facility is quoted as saying "This is one of the benefits of biological and chemical warfare, you can incapacitate people without killing them. It’s more humane".[1]
     [1] Roy Reed (from Pine Bluff), "Army Is Destroying Biological Weapons", New York Times, 14 July 1971.

5 August 1971     In Geneva, the Soviet Union and the United States table a joint draft text[1] for a Biological Weapons Convention to the on-going negotiations at the Conference of the Committee on Disarmament. Key aspects of this new draft, include new texts for some of the operative articles.
     Within this text, Article I reads: "Each State Party to this Convention undertakes not to develop, produce, stockpile or otherwise acquire or retain: (1) Microbial or other biological agents or toxins of types and in quantities that have no justification for prophylactic 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 ". Article II reads: "Each State Party to this Convention undertakes to destroy, or to divert to peaceful purposes, as soon as possible but not later than ___ months after the entry into force of the Convention all agents, toxins, weapons, equipment and means of delivery specified in Article I of the Convention, which are in its possession or under its jurisdiction or control. In implementing the provisions of this Article all necessary safety precautions shall be observed to protect the population and the environment."
     [1] Both documents are entitled "Draft convention on the prohibition of the development, production and stockpiling of bacteriological (biological) and toxin weapons and on their destruction". The Soviet version bears the document number CCD/337, with the US one numbered CCD/338.

10 August 1971     In plenary session at the Conference of the Committee on Disarmament in Geneva, the recently published joint US-USSR draft text for a Biological Weapons Convention is under discussion.
     The British Ambassador to the CCD, Henry Hainworth states:[1] "Members of the Committee know already of the interest of my delegation in the question of the prohibition of "use". It has always been the United Kingdom view that any convention we negotiate on biological weapons should be as comprehensive as possible. The differences between the scope of the provisions contained in the United Kingdom proposal CCD/255/Rev.2 and those contained in the present parallel drafts are perhaps most clearly illustrated by the difference between the titles of those two documents. The draft in CCD/255/Rev.2 is entitled Revised draft Convention for the Prohibition of Biological Methods of Warfare. This expresses the objective which the United Kingdom delegation feels the Conference of the Committee on Disarmament should strive to achieve. The new drafts are confined to a Draft convention on the prohibition of the development, production and stockpiling of bacteriological (biological) and toxin weapons and on their destruction. This is a less ambitious objective. ... The United Kingdom delegation believes that an ideal convention on biological weapons should include an article providing for the express renunciation by all parties of the use of such means of warfare. A number of my colleagues have expressed the contrary view, arguing that such a provision is inappropriate to the sort of convention we are now trying to elaborate. Various arguments have been used. The first argument has usually been that by repeating in the new draft convention an undertaking that is already enshrined in the Geneva Protocol of 1925 we should somehow detract from the significance of the existing prohibition prescribed by that Protocol. This I find totally unconvincing. Under the Geneva Protocol the parties promise not to do certain things in specified circumstances. One of these promises is not to use bacteriological methods of warfare. That promise was made in circumstances in which nothing was said about the preparation of such methods of warfare. The new convention which we are seeking to elaborate goes further, by providing for agreement not to prepare those methods of warfare. It is entirely relevant to repeat the earlier promise in an instrument to which it is wholly germane".
     He goes on to say: "Under these [parallel] drafts, however, I am advised that legally the reservations to the Geneva Protocol will continue to subsist, conferring a legally-valid international right to retaliatory use of the weapons we are discussing by those who have made reservations of this nature. If this legal entitlement subsists, then there is bound to be a risk that other parties to the new biological-weapons convention we are negotiating might become suspicious and fearful of what would otherwise be quite innocent activities. This, in turn, might lead to a weakening of the convention. It is rather the failure to enunciate the repudiation of all use of these weapons completely than its reiteration that would detract from the significance of the existing prohibition prescribed by the Geneva Protocol of 1925".
     [1] Speech as reproduced in CCD document CD/PV.528. See also: [no author listed], "Britain seeks to improve germ war treaty", Times (London), 11 August 1971; and [no author listed], "Britain and Canada Propose Changes in Germ-War Draft", New York Times, 11 August 1971.

17 September 1971     In Washington, DC, the US Joint Chiefs of Staff dispatch a memorandum to the Secretary of Defense regarding the negotiations for a biological weapons convention currently continuing in Geneva.[1] The memorandum is a response to proposed changes [see 17 August] to the draft convention presented the previous month [see 5 August]. The bulk of the memo concerns questions relating to the obligations (both legalistic and perceived) that might arise in relation to negotiations to control chemical weapons.
     The memorandum also includes the following paragraph: "The Joint Chiefs of Staff are concerned that support was not obtained for an operative article that would ban the use of biological weapons as had been provided for in the UK BW convention".
     [1] Memorandum JCS-420-71, "Negotiation of Bacteriological Warfare Convention", from Rear Admiral Mason Freeman on behalf of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Secretary of Defense, dated 17 September 1971.

16 November 1971     In New York, the United Nations General Assembly adopts resolution 2826 (XXVI) which commends the Biological Weapons Convention to member states. The text of the BWC is annexed to the resolution.

28 September 1971     In Geneva, Bulgaria, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Italy, Mongolia, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, USSR, UK and USA submit a joint text for a Biological Weapons Convention to the Conference of the Committee on Disarmament.[1]
     [Note: This is the text that forms the final version of the Convention.]
     [1] CCD/353.

29 November 1971     The French Representative to the United Nations tells the First Committee of the UN General Assembly why France will not be signing the Biological Weapons Convention [see 16 November]: "What we fear is that on the international level this would be the first step towards a policy of disarmament without control. Such a policy would limit itself to prohibiting the manufacture of weapons, the use of which is unlikely in any case. It would have the serious shortcoming of giving credence to the idea that disarmament is forging ahead, whilst the true dangers will not have been allayed, and in the field of verification it will be based on the use of national means of observation and will therefore be discriminatory, since not all states have sufficient means. International control as a principle is the indispensable corollary to any disarmament measure of a contractual nature, albeit partial. If this element is ignored, the draft convention on the prohibition of the manufacture of biological weapons is an extremely dangerous precedent, the existence of which will weigh heavily upon all disarmament work. A State cannot merely have faith in the goodwill of other Powers in a field where its security is at stake".[1]
     [Note: France later accedes to the BWC in September 1984.]
     [1] Statement of the Representative of France, First Committee, United Nations General Assembly, 29 November 1971, A/C.1/PV.1838, as cited in SIPRI II, p 187-88.

30 November 1971     The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) releases the first three books of its six-volume series entitled The Problem of Chemical and Biological Warfare. Published today are: Volume I, "The Rise of CB Weapons"; Volume IV, "CB Disarmament Negotiations, 1920–1970"; and Volume V, "The Prevention of CBW". Pre-publication drafts of the volumes had been circulated earlier in the year to assist in negotiations for the Biological Weapons Convention.

9 March 1972      The French National Assembly passes a Bill outlawing development, manufacture or stockpiling of biological or toxin weapons. The law is promulgated on 7 June 1972 to become law 72-467. The law forms one component of its response to the Biological Weapons Convention [see 16 November 1971] which it has declared it will not sign [see 29 November 1971].[1]
     [1] SIPRI II, p 187-88.

10 April 1972      The Biological Weapons Convention is opened for signature. [see 16 November 1971]
     Three signing ceremonies are held; one each in Moscow, London and Washington. States signing this day are: Afghanistan, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Benin [Dahomey], Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burma, Burundi, Byelorussian SSR, Canada, Central African Republic [Empire], Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Czechoslovakia, Democratic Kampuchea [Cambodia], Denmark, Dominican Republic, Egypt, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Finland, Gabon, German Democratic Republic, Germany (Federal Republic of), Ghana, Greece, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Laos, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Luxembourg, Malawi, Mali, Mauritius, Mexico, Mongolia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Republic of Korea, Romania, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukrainian SSR, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, United Kingdom, United States of America, Venezuela, Yemen, Yugoslavia and Zaire.

26 March 1975     The Biological Weapons Convention enters into force, a little under three years from its opening for signature [see 10 April 1972]. The three depositary states — UK, USA and USSR — all formally ratify the Convention on this date. Other countries also depositing their instruments of ratification today are Afghanistan (in London), Byelorussian SSR (in Moscow), Senegal (in Washington) and Ukranian SSR (in London, Moscow and Washington).