Arms Control:

U.S. and International Efforts to Ban Biological Weapons

NSIAD-93-113: Published: Dec 23, 1992. Publicly Released: Dec 29, 1992.

Additional Materials:


Joseph E. Kelley
(202) 512-4128


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on U.S. and international efforts to ban the development of biological weapons, focusing on the effectiveness of: (1) the Biological Weapons Convention and efforts to strengthen it; and (2) U.S. and multilateral export controls in biological weapon proliferation.

GAO found that: (1) the Convention has been ineffective in stopping the development of biological weapons; (2) efforts to strengthen the Convention, which included the recruitment of nonmembers and the creation of a verification system, were unsuccessful because of nonmembers' unwillingness to join the Convention and opposition to an intrusive inspection regime; (3) the United States advocated using confidence-building measures (CBM) such as information sharing so that member nations could exchange biological research and development information; (4) CBM limitations included member nations' failure to submit complete reports and the United Nations' (U.N.) inability to enforce compliance; (5) logistical and practical biological weapon verification difficulties included weapon size, the dual use of biological research and development, and the lack of multilateral information sharing; (6) the United States, United Kingdom, and Russia entered into a trilateral agreement to permit verification visits to build compliance; (7) the United States and Germany were the only countries that developed export controls to increase coordination of export licensing for biological organisms, toxins, and related equipment; and (8) the effectiveness of the Australia Group's efforts to improve export controls depends upon the expansion of its membership and redefinition of export controls.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The State Department responded that it would continue to urge full participation in the CBMs by all States Parties and would continue to seek improved support by the United Nations in this area. The operations and the effectiveness of these arrangements will be on the agenda for discussion at the new conference scheduled for 1995. In addition, a special conference of the members met in September 1994 to discuss several ways of strengthening the Convention through establishing a verification system. CBMs are expected to be a part of the verification process, but a provision for onsite inspections will be the key to establishing an effective convention.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State, in conjunction with the Director, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA), should instruct the State representative to the U.N. to continue to request the Secretary General to provide adequate resources to the Office of Disarmament Affairs to enable the Office to translate the CBM reports submitted, to examine them for completeness, and to urge countries to make timely and complete submissions.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: An ACDA representative stated disagreements with Russia about implementing the agreement have prevented the visits from taking place. In late 1994, the Ad Hoc Group of Governmental Experts is expected to conclude its work, and thus any visits after that time would no longer be useful to the Group of Governmental Experts.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State, in conjunction with the Director, ACDA, should reach an agreement with the United Kingdom and Russia whereby all relevant information, which would not compromise confidentially, resulting from the United States, United Kingdom, and Russian visits to biological facilities can be made available to the Ad Hoc Group of Governmental Experts for use in their deliberations on verification measures for the Convention.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Commerce stated on August 18, 1993, that a program to inform exporters of biological toxins of license control has been completed.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Commerce should take appropriate action to identify U.S. toxin exporters and to ensure that they fully understand the license controls that have been instituted.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Based on an Office of Export Enforcement investigation, the company identified by GAO has been charged with 32 violations of export control regulations. The Office, in responding to the GAO recommendation, stated that it had established an industry outreach program that contacted nearly 130 producers and exports of biotoxins which resulted in the opening of 5 other potential violations investigations. These activities ultimately led to an analysis of possible detection methods and establishment of new procedures to identify violations of biotoxin export controls.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Commerce should direct the Department's Office of Export Enforcement to prepare a full report on the shipment of any toxins subject to licensing controls that were shipped without a license to determine what appropriate action should be taken.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In January 1994 a chemical and biological section was established in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs which is now the focal point for State's review of such licenses.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should review the feasibility of establishing the Office of Weapons Proliferation Policy, Bureau of Politico Military Affairs, as the focal point for the coordination of advisory license reviews of chemical weapons and biological weapons items.

    Agency Affected: Department of State


Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Nov 19, 2020

Nov 9, 2020

Oct 27, 2020

Oct 2, 2020

Sep 22, 2020

Sep 15, 2020

Sep 14, 2020

Aug 27, 2020

Jul 28, 2020

Looking for more? Browse all our products here