In March 2022, in the initial phase of the Ukraine Crisis, Russia claimed to have discovered proof that the USA and Ukraine had produced biological weapons in violation of international law. In a statement, Russia claimed to have discovered “proof of an emergency clean-up” done by the Kiev administration that was aimed at eliminating traces of the military-biological program, in Ukraine, financed by the U.S. Department of Defense. In support of Russia’s assertion, a representative for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said that the U.S. Department of Defense employed “26 bio-labs and other associated facilities in Ukraine to undertake bio-military preparations” and had “total control” over them.
The Russian claims were referred to as “preposterous” by a White House spokesperson and were called “complete nonsense” by the U.S. State Department, which also said that Ukraine does not have any biological weapons research facilities.
The Convention appears to favor a few powerful States over compliance and accountability. So, the Convention’s function in international law is vital, especially in cases like Russia’s charges of US biological weapons in Ukraine. In this regard, international lawmakers should evaluate thoroughly and critically how states continue to violate international law, particularly the Biological Weapons Convention, without being held accountable
At the UN Security Council, Russia has frequently expressed worries about US biological labs secretly being operated in Ukraine during the conflict. In response, the Security Council was informed by the UN Under Secretary General and High Representative for Disarmament that “there was no proof of any biological weapons programs in Ukraine.”
It’s not the first time that a state is showing concerns regarding the use of biological weapons by another state; however, the whole process of investigation is vague and needs a lot of reforms. Although the Biological Weapons Convention functions as an arms control and disarmament convention by outlawing the creation, manufacture, acquisition, transfer, and stockpiling of biological and toxin weapons, it requires modification in terms of investigation methods and avoiding being influenced by one party only.
The 1972 Biological Weapon Convention took effect on 26 March 1975. The Convention now has 183 States Parties, including the USA, Ukraine, and Russia, and four signatures. In 1925, the League of Nations enacted the Protocol on the Prohibition of Wartime Use of Asphyxiating, Poisonous, or Other Gases and Bacteriological Methods of Warfare (Geneva Gas Protocol). It prohibits “bacteriological techniques of warfare” and has 146 States Parties, including the USA, Ukraine, and Russia.
After the Second World War, the League of Nations and the UN urged nations to eliminate all “mass destruction-adaptable” weapons, including biological ones. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, states considered disarmament issues and biological warfare threats. These efforts led to the 1971 Biological Weapons Convention, which prohibits the development, manufacturing, and stockpiling of biological and toxin weapons and their destruction. Nonetheless, during the cold war, Russia and the USA accused each other of breaking the biological weapon convention. Nothing can be proven without an inquiry mechanism.
A recent similar incident came to the surface when Russian diplomats outlined concerns towards the USA and Ukraine on their adherence to the Biological Weapons Convention on 13 June 2022. The USA’s role in “activities of biological laboratories in the territory of Ukraine,” in particular, was questioned by Russia. The original diplomatic document, which is not available in the public domain, was later described by Russia as requesting a “bilateral consultation procedure” with the USA and Ukraine over the implementation of Articles I and IV of the Biological Weapons Convention. Article 1 forbids the creation, production, stockpiling, acquisition, or retention of biological agents or toxins, as well as of weapons, tools, and delivery systems intended to employ such agents or toxins. In addition, Article IV mandates that States “take necessary steps” to guarantee that their territory is not utilized to create, acquire, or hold onto biological agents, poisons, or other materials that fall under the purview of the Convention.
Later on, Russia requested a formal consultation conference under Article V of the Biological Weapons Convention. The purpose of the conference would be to “resolve the concerns with the USA and Ukraine over their compliance” with the Convention. In accordance with Article V of the Convention, States are required “to consult one another and to cooperate in settling any difficulties which may arise in respect to it”.
Over 80 countries, including Russia, the USA, and Ukraine, joined the official consultative session in Geneva in September 2022. The closed-door meeting included only Biological Weapons Convention States Parties and signatories. Despite cataloguing States’ documentary submissions, Geneva debate information is not released. 35 delegations either endorsed or rejected Russia’s claims while the USA and Ukraine conducted scientific research. Belarus, Cuba, Iran, Nicaragua, Syria, and Venezuela may have contributed to Russia’s allegations. China was “extremely disturbed” and demanded an impartial international investigation of American biological research.
Technically, the convention’s dispute resolution seems inadequate. If Russia’s charges are true, the meeting had no conclusions of fact, legal conclusion, or sanction for the USA and Ukraine. The summit did not censure or change American policy beyond the few States that back Russia.
The Convention appears to favor a few powerful States over compliance and accountability. So, the Convention’s function in international law is vital, especially in cases like Russia’s charges of US biological weapons in Ukraine. In this regard, international lawmakers should evaluate thoroughly and critically how states continue to violate international law, particularly the Biological Weapons Convention, without being held accountable.