Biological weapons are those that are derived from living organisms. These weapons can cause widespread and immense damage, both on human and societal levels. Fortunately, such weapons have not been widely used in recent years. However, research programs through which anthrax, smallpox, plague, and tularemia were developed for weaponization, were conducted by the US and Russia after World War II. Moreover, given the rise in the potential and capability of non-state actors, the risk of such a terrorist group acquiring and using biological weapons is serious. Even their use on a small scale, such as releasing them into a water supply or in a crowded subway, can cause widespread destruction.
Because of the threat posed by terrorists and other non-state actors, and because of the evolution in scientific technology, the urgency to push for disarmament efforts in this field is greater than ever before.
Therefore, current issues focus on expanding the coverage and implementation of the existing treaties on the topic. The first convention that covers the use of biological weapons is the Geneva Protocol (also known as the Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare), which entered into force in 1928. This Protocol bans the use, but not the production, stockpiling, or deployment, of such weapons.
Because the BTWC is the strongest international law regarding biological weapons currently in place, most of the work toward disarmament is focused on expanding and strengthening it. For example, as of April 2006, only 155 states have signed onto the BTWC, fewer than have signed onto the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty) or CWC (Chemical Weapons Convention). Moreover, there is no formal verification group or mechanism. Though parties to the treaty agreed in 1991 to create an Ad Hoc Group (VEREX) to work on constructing binding verification measures (their final report can be found here), and though parties agreed in 1994 to develop a legally binding verification and implementation instrument, these negotiations fell apart in 2001 when the United States withdrew its support. However, the recent adoption of Resolution 1540, which reinforces the obligations of member states to disarm and prevent proliferation of weapons of mass destruction like biological weapons, is a step towards improved verification.
The Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, headed by Hans Blix, provides a series of recommendations for the use in eliminating WMDs in their latest publication, "Weapons of Terror." Six of these are aimed directly at biological weapons. The first, in response to the BTWC, discusses the need for all states to join the convention. The next one works on a national level to urge states to create legislation that adheres to the BTWC. The next two hope to work on the lack on the lack of institutions involved in the elimination of biological weapons. The first says that states should grant more power to the Secretary-General to investigate biological weapons around the world. The second suggestion recommends that states work towards a standing secretariat on the matter like those that already exist through the CWC and the NPT. The fifth recommendation says that states should work on healthcare surveillance to keep informed of unusual outbreaks. Furthermore, it says that states should work to coordinate with health organizations. The last point aims at the BTWC review conference in 2006. It says that states should try to accomplish some of these earlier goals as well as set agendas for future work. If all these recommendations were followed, the elimination of biological weapons would be significantly advanced.