The Vietnam War created the need for a clearer and more effective prohibition of chemical and biological warfare. The first significant step toward the elimination of these weapons occurred when the British supported the view that biological and chemical weapons should be dealt with separately. In 1969 Britain introduced a draft convention banning the production, possession, transfer, and use of biological weapons. The United States subsequently reassessed its policy on chemical and biological warfare, and in November 1969 President Richard Nixon announced his intention to support the British draft document.
The Soviet Union and its client states, however, held out for a treaty that would deal with both chemical and biological weapons, and the stalemate in the Conference of the Committee on Disarmament thus continued through the 1970 session. In late March 1971 the Soviet Union changed its position and introduced a revised draft dealing with biological and toxin weapons only, resulting in the 10 April 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention. The United States, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain deposited their seals of ratification with the convention on 26 March 1975, and the treaty came into force.
The convention was the first post–World War II disarmament treaty in which an entire class of weapons of mass destruction was prohibited, and it evolved into one of the most inclusive disarmament treaties in contemporary history. When it entered into force, there were 46 signatories; as of December 2004, 153 nations belonged to the convention. Perhaps the most serious deficiency of the agreement was the lack of strong compliance and enforcement mechanisms.
Through the convention's five review conferences, efforts have been made to address convention shortcomings. At the Second Review Conference (September 1986), the signatories agreed to implement measures to prevent or reduce the occurrence of ambiguities and violations such as annual data exchanges. At the Third Review Conference (September 1991), the states agreed to establish a committee of governmental experts to identify and examine potential verification measures from a scientific and technical standpoint. In September 1994, parties to the convention agreed to establish the Ad Hoc Group to negotiate and develop a legally binding verification regime for the convention. The Ad Hoc Group and other convention groups continue to search for ways to strengthen the pact.
Wright, Susan, ed. Biological Warfare and Disarmament: New Problems/New Perspectives. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002.; Zilinskas, Raymond A., ed. Biological Warfare: Modern Offense and Defense. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2000.