The Biological Weapons Convention prohibits the development, production, acquisition, transfer, stockpiling and use of biological and toxin weapons. It also prohibits equipment and means of delivery intended to deploy such weapons. Switzerland ratified the Biological Weapons Convention in December 1976.
Lack of verification mechanism a major shortcoming
The Biological Weapons Convention, like the Chemical Weapons Convention, developed out of the 1925 Geneva Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare. Unlike the Chemical Weapons Convention (which has the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) the Biological Weapons Convention does not provide for an oversight organisation or legally binding verification system to monitor compliance with the provisions of the treaty.
The rapid progress and dual-use nature of biotechnologies are fundamental challenges for the Biological Weapons Convention. There is a risk that processes, technologies and materials developed and applied for helpful, peaceful purposes could also be misused to develop and manufacture biological weapons. Given the additional widespread threat of biological agents falling into the hands of non-state actors, the lack of an effective verification mechanism has always been a major shortcoming, and creates uncertainty and mistrust.
Fostering transparency and trust
Switzerland is committed to strengthening the existing confidence-building measures in the framework of the Biological Weapons Convention. These at least ensure a degree of transparency and trust in the absence of a verification system.
Switzerland also takes part in voluntary initiatives to assess the implementation of the Biological Weapons Convention in participating states parties. These include mutual exchanges between experts, reviews of relevant national legislation and transparency visits to laboratories. Switzerland has already organised several such visits to the Spiez Laboratory for states parties.
Focus on scientific and technological developments
Switzerland also seeks to establish working groups dedicated to specific topics in the framework of the Biological Weapons Convention. It is currently advocating for the establishment of a body of experts to systematically broach developments in science and technology and their consequences for the Biological Weapons Convention (science & technology review process).
Since 2014, Switzerland has organised the 'Spiez Convergence' conference series to address the increasing convergence of chemistry and biology and the implications of this for the two conventions.