Chemical weapons include all toxic chemicals, their precursors, munitions and devices designed to cause death, harm, temporary incapacitation or sensory irritation to humans, animals or plants. They include:
The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) bans the development, production, stockpiling and the use of chemical weapons. It means all existing stockpiles have to be destroyed by 2012.
The implementation of the CWC is overseen by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) based in The Hague. The UK has been represented on the Executive Council of the OPCW from the start because of our large chemical industry.
The OPCW has made an effective start to implement a rigorous verification and inspection regime. Over 3,800 inspections have taken place worldwide (as of August 2009).
‘Challenge Inspections’ can also be made if there are strong grounds to suspect a country’s declaration is inaccurate or incomplete. This has not yet been required.
The Department for Energy & Climate Change (DECC) is responsible for implementation of the CWC in the uK and our dependencies and overseas territories.
It oversees all Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) inspections in the UK - there have been 113 routine inspections of UK industrial and defence sites as of April 2010.
DECC also funds the UK's share of the OPCW.
A biological warfare agent is a living microorganism or toxin. Many pathogenic (disease producing) microorganisms are bacteria or viruses. Fungal organisms are also potential agents. Toxins, although not living, are produced by certain species of microorganisms, plants or animals.
The use of biological weapons was banned in international law by the 1925 Geneva Protocol 1925. The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) was negotiated between 1969 and 1972 and entered into force in 1975.
The BTWC bans development, production, stockpiling, acquisition or retention of biological and toxin weapons.
The BTWC doesn’t have a verification system like that of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)
The Seventh Review Conference will take place in 2011. This will review the operation of the Intersessional Work Programme, the operation of the Implementation Support Unit (ISU), Confidence Building Measures and scientific and technological changes relevant to the Convention.
For more information please visit the United Nations Geneva Office website
Under the BTWC, States Parties to the Convention are required to submit to the United Nations annual Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) include data and other information, as well as declarations of past and present activities, of relevance to the Convention. They strengthen compliance with the Convention and constitute an important element to increasing transparency and building confidence, as well as reaffirming States Parties’ commitment to the BTWC.
Some States, including the UK, place their CBM returns on the public section of the Implementation Support Unit (ISU)’s website.
The FCO Counter Proliferation Department's Chemical and Biological Weapons Section can be contacted by email: BTWC@fco.gov.uk