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The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention(WTBC) was opened for signatory approval in 1972 and became in force on March 26, 1975(Deller et al 2003; Chevrier 2004). At the basic, the convention fully prohibits, the development, the production, and or storage or acquisition of biological weapons(Chevrier 2004). This was the first treaty that totally banned a class of weapon in its entirety. By establishing the norm that these weapons are prohibited internationally, as of 2001, more than 160 states had bound themselves with the obligation out of which 144 were State Parties and 18 Signatory States. Three nations; the United States, the United States and the Soviet Union were the co-Depositories of the Biological Weapons Convention(BWC)(Chevrier 2004). Being co-Depositories the United States and the United Kingdom have been at the forefront in pushing for provisions that would ensure that these weapons are totally banned.
Twenty five years following the institution of the Biological Weapons Convention(BWC); 1975, parties to the convention convened in Geneva to commence negotiations for an additional legal statute; a Protocol. For the twenty five years that the WBC had been in force since 1975, it had barely succeeded in achieving its objectives of biological disarmament. At the beginning of the negotiations the United States asserted that despite the provisions in BWC of 1975, four states were actively pursuing biological weapons programmes, this was a reduction compared to the number of states in the same pursuit at the end of the Cold War when the United States had intimated that up to 10 states were actively pursuing biological weapons programmes(Littlewood 2005; Chevrier 2004). Even though such assertions are often hard to adequately prove beyond the barrage of allegations, in the early 1990s it was general knowledge that certain states party to the Biological Weapons Convention had failed to comply in accordance with the obligations of not to develop, not to produce and not top stockpile any form of biological or toxin weapons. On this basis of non compliance, it became necessary that additional legal measures be negotiated with the intention of strengthening the BWC.
The main deficiency with the BWC was the paucity of legal provisions that demanded compliance with the obligations that states were party to. Compliance was essentially laid on trust that states had for one one another for the complete,. Honest and effective implementation of the BWC. The need to rectify the basis of compliance was necessary to succeed in strengthening the Convention as it was negotiated in 1975. This revolution has been continuous, albeit intermittently since the 1980s and continues to the present day. Thus, the revolution has been characteristic of peaks and troughs as it is fully dependent on the changing positions of nations in the history of the revolution or in some instances attempted revolutions(Littlewood 2005). Basically, these negotiations have been either leaning on the concept of minimalism or alternatively, the concept of reform.
While the United States and the United Kingdom have striven to ensure compliance to the Convention, measures to demonstrate compliance by party states and the address of non compliance continue to erode confidence on the Convention. Concerns of non compliance can be traced to 1991, when the former Soviet Union despite being co-Depository to the treaty continued a massive and an offensive biological weapons programme that lasted reportedly to 1992. As at 1996, further concerns on compliance were raised when the United States intimated the development or acquisition of the weapons by some states party to the treaty. In itself the Convention has no provisions that can be employed in the verification of such intimations except when such concern are presented to the Security Council.
In subsequent reviews leaders agreed on a set of Confidence Building Measures that were geared towards improving on compliance to obligations. Over, the years it has been proven that these politically binding Confidence Building Measures are of limited value as data and information exchanged between State Parties have been nothing but patchy and variable. These submissions after receipt are circulated to State Parties even without translating them to the United Nations Languages. This and the fact that they are not taken through any form of analysis to clarify the variabilities, uncertainties and ambiguities, shows that they have barely been instrumental in achieving the objectives posited at its inception.
The complexity of the problem itself coupled to the intricacies of the Protocol negotiations, present a task that is too far from easy analysis. However, on the basis of the conceptual framework, patterns or underlying trends to the negotiations and the consequent results can be identified. Wholly there have existed contesting views on the utility, implementations, strengths and weaknesses of the BWC. Just like any other international treaty, states meet periodically to review the operation of the Convention. The first of these periodic meetings was held in 1980, and subsequently in 1986, 1991, 1996 and recently 2001-2002(Littlewood 2005). While there are states of groups of states that seek to improve the implementation of the Convention and strengthen it through developing additional mechanisms: the reformists, others push for the reduction of the scope of such measures or eliminate them altogether: the minimalists. Despite such an apt classifications in analytical assessments it is still extremely difficult to capture the essential essence of the tensions that underlie the negotiations and contest of ideas.
Owing to the recurrent failures in the ratifications of the Convention, BWC remains just another illustration of drafts, mechanisms and procedures that are absent from contemporary practice since it is just another product of the culture of international politics that is fully dependent in the context of time. These failures also depicts the present of novel international political cultures and context. With the increasing threats of the use of biological weapons or toxins, the events contributing to the failure can never be disentangled from the progressing trends in international security. There is a perverse lack of ambition on the threat of the biological weapons development. Instead the Convention has been overshadowed with political concerns that have succeeded in taking precedence over the implementation of the Convention(Littlewood 2005).
Following the terrorist attacks of the September 11, 2001 and the anthrax attacks that ensured afterwards, the United States and the world at large were reminded of the dangers proliferation and use of biological weapons. The anthrax mailings resulted in five deaths and the United States was forced to take comprehensive measures in response to the biological weapons threat and also to treat the victims(Deller et al 2003). As the ramifications of the threats and attacks sunk in, the Bush administration reiterated its full support to the BWC.
The Chemical Weapons Convention
The use of chemical weapons in warfare have been under legal prohibition since the Geneva Protocol; 1925. The Chemical Weapons Convention(CWC) was instituted to enhance the prohibition of chemical weapons by banning their development, production, stock piling or the transfer of these weapons. The convention achieves this by monitoring the chemical industry of every member State and by increasing transparency. For more than a decade, the CWC was negotiated within the auspice of the
United Nations Conference on Disarmament. During these negotiations the United States was extremely instrumental in advocating for a treaty that was broad in its scope and possessive of provisions necessary in implementing a thorough verification and inspection of regime. By January 13, 1993, the Chemical Weapons Convention had been completed and opened for signature(Deller et al 2003).
Basically, the CWC contains three obligations that each party is obligated to undertake. First, prohibition of weapons. In line with this obligation, State parties must agree to forever cease the development, acquisition, use or transfer of chemical weapons to any state. Second, destruction of weapons. Under this obligation, parties must destroy all existing chemical weapon stockpiles and production facilities. Third, declarations and inspections. Under this obligation, every State party to the convention must declare any stockpiles or facilities of chemical weapons. Even though States are not limited in the use or the manufacture of these chemical weapons, they must allow for routine inspections of chemicals that have been declared to be of dual use as well as the production facilities that may be put to use in contravention to obligations in the convention. To satisfy the purposes of effective declarations and inspections, the Convention developed a list of chemicals and facilities that are encompassed in the Chemical Weapons Convention(Deller et al 2003).
In addition to these inspections, the Convention also gave parties to the treaty the right to request for a challenge inspection of any suspect facility that have been declared as provided in the third obligation or undeclared on another State’s territory. The request can only be blocked with a three-quarters vote at the Executive Council is such a state is judged of frivolity or abusiveness.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons(OPCW) is an independent agency established by the CWC, to oversea all aspects in the execution of the provisions in the Convention. A sub part of the chemical weapons referred to as the Technical Secretariat is responsible for carrying out the inspections. The Executive Council which is composed of 41 states is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the provisions of the conventions inclusive of investigations of non compliance. The Conference of the State Parties serves as the principal decision making organ. It is composed of all members of the CWC. Their duties include the budgeting and policy making. It also overseas other organs.
As a strategy intended at meeting the threats of terrorism, the CWC established a legal mechanism that requires States to outlaw the production, the use or the transfer of chemical weapons among their nationals as the Convention also prohibits the transfer of such weapons to non member states. Contrary to what has been the norm among member states signatory to the Biological Weapons Convention, the CWC has succeeded in increasing transparency between member states. It is for the high level of transparency that there have been declarations of stockpiles by South Korea, India, Russia and the United States. These member states are currently destroying or are preparing to destroy these stockpiles. Despite these successes, it should be reiterated that the treaty has not gained universality. Currently, there are at least 29 signatories that have failed to ratify the treaty. Non member states such as North Korea, Iraq, Egypt, Israel, Libya and Syria are believed to be maintaining chemical weapons programs. One state party, precisely Iraq, has received accusations from the United States government that it continues its chemical weapons program(Deller et al 2003).
Another issue that continue to prevent the CWC from attaining its full potential are the restrictions placed on the convention on the application of some treaty provisions. The decision to accept a limited implementation of the treaty has led to the erosion of some valuable aspects of the convention. This is inclusive of the regime ratification. These restrictions can be drawn from the difficulties in the approval of the CWC by the Senate.
The Chemical Weapons Convention just like all treaties that the United States is party to must be taken through full review by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee before it is voted for ratification. At the time of the ratification of the treaty, Senator Helms; a man who represent a dominant school of thought among many people in government was the Chairman of the Committee. Senator Helms espouses that school of thought that believes that should the participation of the United States in such treaties be fully ratified, then the move will undermine the role of the United States as it is the only superpower. Opponents of the full ratification argued that such a move may injure United States businesses through compromising trade secrets. The argued that the move would also necessitate costly monitoring systems. Additionally, they also posited that such limitations in implementation was necessary the prevention of cheating, moreover other countries may desist from being signatory to the CWC(Deller et al 2003).
Since the ingredients used in making chemical weapons have other commercial uses and that such facilities could not be hidden, no legal statute can succeed in catching all violators. No treaty whatsoever is fool proof, thus increasing transparency is the most important mechanism that is instrumental in preventing the transfer, production, development or use of such weapons.
The CWC verification regime has a mechanism governing the routine inspections of all declared dual use facilities, information sharing and have the capacity to challenge inspections in cases where they suspect non compliance.
Even though the United States signed the CWC in 1991, it has largely ignored it. Due to the United States exceptionalism in the ratification of the treaty, opposition to the treaty has gained momentum. The main limitations to the compliance are: the prohibition on the analysis of chemical samples originating from the U.S in laboratories situated outside the United States, the second limitation is the presidential right to outrightly refuse any on site inspections. The third limitation, is the limitation on the scope of facilities that can be declared. The refusal to allow the samples to be analyzed outside the United States was put in place so as to guard against interference with verification of compliance. The decision to limit the scope of verification risked weakening the ability of monitoring and detecting non compliance. On the basis of this limitation it should be reiterated that Iraq and Russia had successfully concealed their facilities under the cover of large industrial cities hence shrinking the pool of facilities to which the OPWC inspectors had access to four routine inspections.
Since the provision allowing states to challenge the verification compliance was invoked, no country has used the provision as a way of advancing the information gathering and the spread of chemical weapons to other member states or non member states. A case in point is the United States allegations that Iran continues to develop chemical weapons. Even though Iran has allowed inspections on its former chemical facilities and as such satisfied the compliance obligations, the United States intelligence sources report otherwise. These intelligence sources also allege that Iran has asked assistance from other signatory members, Russia and China to advance its program(Deller et al 2003). Despite these undercurrents, the CWC has been largely been successful in achieving its core objectives with the exception of countable circumstances.
Biological warfare can be definitively described as deliberate dispersal of infective or toxic agents with the sole intent of killing, or incapacitating man and or severely damage or destroy crops or livestock and consequently disrupt the food chain(Oyston 2003). Biological weapons include microorganisms like viruses, bacteria, fungi, or their toxic products or other toxins derived from plant species. Linden(2003), defines toxin weapons as “illness producing chemicals formed from living creatures, such as bacteria fungi, plants and animals”(p. 135). Biological weapons are classified as weapons of mass destruction owing to their indiscriminate nature of effects. The effects of toxins range from disabling to acutely toxic. Toxins are generally more potent that chemical weapons since they require limited material to produce equivalent casualties, but they cannot self reproduce hence require more material than biological weapons such as bacteria and viruses.
To prevent the development, production, storage or transfer of such weapons, the Biological and Toxins Weapons Convention(BTWC) and the Chemical Weapons Convention(CWC). However, despite these noticeable interventions, there still exist terrorist organizations and certain rogue states that have refused to accept and implement the BTWC and the CWC.
Biological weapons have a long history stretching to the Middle ages where dead bodies were used to poison wells. During the middle ages, armies catapulted infected corpses into towns that had been besieged as a way of breaking the opposing army’s will and their ability to resist. In the 14th century when a plague was sweeping populations across the world, the Tarters after besieging the city of Kalfa fell victim to the plague. Since Kalfa was without plague at that time, the Tartars catapulted infected corpses into the city hence infecting them. The fleeing of the Genoese merchants who were infected with the plague to Italy, was the cause behind the Black Death that almost wiped the entire population in Europe(Oyston 2003).
During the Second Word War, the Japanese evaluated the use of cholera, plague, anthrax and yellow fever. The activities of the unit 731 known for its notoriety, resulted in the death of thousands of human guinea pigs in China. They also conducted extensive experiments on prisoners of war using gas gangrene, plague, anthrax, typhus, encephalitis, tularemia, typhoid, hemorrhagic fever, cholera and small pox. In the middle of the last century so many countries including the United States and the United Kingdom, had large research programs that involved both laboratory based research buttressed with controlled field trials. The Germans used an assortment of biological agents on prisoners of wars in concentration camps. Fearing that the Germans might employ these agents against the United States and the United Kingdom, these two nations also developed their own weapons. The United Kingdom tested anthrax spores in Gruinard Island on the coast of Scotland making the expanse inhabitable for years. The United States also developed botulinum toxins and anthrax spores but they were never used in war. However, the political and moral climate led to the abandonment of such programs as more and more states signed to the Conventions(Levy & Sidel 2007).
Due to its relative high toxicity and its ease of production, the U.S considered ricin toxin as a biological weapon during the period of its offensive biological warfare program. The United States Chemical Warfare Service started studying ricin as the World War I was nearing its end and the study continued into World War II. Ricin; a potent cytotoxin is derived from the beans of castor plant: Ricinus communis. In excess of one million tones of these beans are usually produced for the purposes of castor oil production. Castor oil is beneficial for industrial and medicinal purposes. Industrial purposes include the production of marine and aircraft lubricants, paints and dyes. The wastes from these industrial processes consist of approximately 5% of ricin by weight(Lindler et al 2005). The threats posed by ricin as a biological weapon are thus compounded by the availability and the inexpensive production of ricin.
Even though widely popularized, the potency of ricin does not match that of viral or bacterial agents. Its potential as a biological weapon lies in its low cost, ease of manufacture and its relative stability in crystalline, liquid, aerosolized and lyophilized forms. During the cold war, ricin was used by the Bulgarian Intelligence service and the Soviet KGB in the assassination of George Markov; a dissident of Bulgaria who was living in London at the time of assassination(Lag & Lubitz 2003). A similar technique was used to attack Vlamimir Kostov, another exile but the assassination attempt failed because the ricin projectiles failed to penetrate Kostov’s skin as it was slowed down by the thick winter clothing he was putting on at the time(Null & Feast 2003). On a broader scale, the Japanese performed horrific experiments on prisoners of World War II with the objective of assessing the proportionate effects of different toxin dosages. Contemporaneously, during the same period, the US was also carrying experiments to assess the toxins killing power. The only difference is that the United States used animals as ricin’s victims instead of prisoners of war.
The beans of castor plant contain two toxins and two haemagglutinins. The two toxins are heterodimers that consist of a cytotoxic A chain and a B chain. These chains bind to externally situated cellular membrane receptors that support the A chain intracellularly. The toxins are potent site specific N-glycosydases that cause the cleavage of A4324 of rRNA. The cleavage results in the inhibition of the process of protein synthesis. In addition to this mode of action there are other reported enzymatic activities. Transmission of the toxin is achieved through water and food contamination, but transmission can also occur percutaneously via projectiles or pellets designed to carry the toxin or alternatively as a biological warfare aerosol(Lindler et al 2005). The potency or the toxicity of ricin varies with the quantity absorbed and the route of application. However, once the toxin gains entry into the cell, a single molecule of ricin can effectively deactivate more than 1500 ribosomes per minute. This leads to rapid cell death. Immediately after the molecule is released into the cytosol, the A chain inhibits DNA replication and protein synthesis.
Signs and symptoms from exposure to toxins appear on a timescale of intermediate between the biological weapons like bacteria and viruses and chemical weapons. Such symptoms may be charted over a course of several hours. Upon inhalation, the initial symptoms such as acute onset of fever, weakness, cough, dyspnea, chest tightness, arthralgia, nausea and vomiting can be detected after a post exposure time of between four to eight hours. After a post exposure time of between eight to eighteen hours symptoms include; pulmonary edema, cyanosis, sweating, coughing and dyspnea. This post exposure time period symptoms are classified as delayed symptoms. The late symptoms(18-24 post exposure) after inhalation include; airway necrosis or suppurative lesions, rhinitis, hypotension, pulmonary edema occasioned by pulmonary capillary leak, laryngitis and cardiovascular and respiratory collapse within 36-72 hours of exposure(Lag & Lubitz 2003).
When ricin is injected there is a rapid onset of symptoms within four post exposure hours. Small dosages of < 20µg produce fatigue, flu like symptoms, myalgia and nausea and vomiting, large doses > 20µg produce general symptoms akin to those in inhalation coupled to lymph node and muscle necrosis, gastrointestinal hemorrhage, liver necrosis, elevated white blood levels, diffuse splenitis, mild pulmonary perivascular edema, hypotension and tachycardia in the later stages. Symptoms characteristic of ingestion include very rapid onset of symptoms within four hours of exposure, mild pulmonary perivascular edema, hemetemesis, anuria, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, vascular collapse and death within 3-4 days. After a conclusive diagnosis the patient can be subjected to suggestive approaches that are dependent on the routes of exposure. These treatment approaches are only supportive and no definitive treatment exists for ricin poisoning(Lag & Lubitz 2003).
Terrorism and the Development of Biological and Toxin Weapons
The rarity in the use of these weapons is a product of not only the prohibitions but also the difficulty in using them on a wide scale. However, the ease of manufacture and acquisition of weapons such as ricin has endeared them to terrorist organizations. There are numerous intelligence reports that individuals and terrorist organizations have been trying to develop these biological and toxin weapons.
Between 1991-1997, three cases were reported in the United States. In 1991, four members of the Patriots Council; an extremist organization, were arrested in Minnesota. These individuals who were plotting to overthrow the government of the United States, were arrested and accused of planning to kill a US marshal with ricin toxin. The ricin was manufactured in a home laboratory. The overall plan involved mixing the toxin with solvent dimethyl sulphoxide(DMSO) and smearing the mixture on the handles of the marshal’s car door handles. In 1995, a man was arrested while crossing the US-Canada border with several guns and ricin. In 1997, a man shot his stepson point blank in the face. Investigations of the mans apartment discovered a makeshift ricin laboratory in the basement(Linden 2003; Croddy & Wirtz 2005).
In 2003, several people arrested by the British Law enforcement officials were accused of producing ricin in the London apartment they were inhabiting. Previously, it was generally assumed that the technical difficulties involved in the development and weaponization of these agents was in itself an adequate barrier in curbing their development but recent events prove otherwise. In 1995, the Aum Shinrikyo cult used sarin; a chemical nerve agent in an attack of the Tokyo subway system. During the days following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on United States soil, anthrax; a bacterial agent was used in mailings to individuals in Florida, New York and the District of Columbia. These mailings resulted in at least five deaths and a couple of hospitalization. In December 2002, British police arrested six terrorist suspects in Manchester, England. When their apartment was searched, the investigators found out that the apartment was serving as a ricin factory. In January, 2003, two residents in London were raided and the police found traces of ricin. The consequent investigations pointed out that Chechen separatists had the intention of using the chemical to attack the Russian Embassy(Linden 2003; Nance 2008;Croddy & Wirtz 2005).
In summary, terrorism can be defined as the, “unlawful use of force against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population or any segment thereof , in the furtherance of political or social objectives”(Felissa & Durham 2002). when this definition is extrapolated to the use of chemical weapons or biological weapons in such terrorist attacks, such a form of terrorism thus constitutes what is known ad bioterrorism. It is the responsibility of the government to analyze and categorize terrorist groups and based on these classifications, determine the weapons that such groups are capable of using to advance their objectives. Terrorist groups the world over are either completely independent or state supported. The use of these offensive weapons therefore supersedes the state to state or the state to person transfer of weapons as the possibility of person to person transfer is as plausible as the former. The presence of a variety of biological weapons that can be employed either on a limited or expanded scope calls on international intelligence information sharing as a war of eradicating the use of the offensive weapons. On a national scale there are exist a variety of strategies that can be employed to prevent the millions of tones of castor oil from getting into the hand of individuals with objectives that are not congruent to the national security interests.
The potency and the toxicity of ricin as a biological weapon coupled to the historical reports of the risks of ricin use by individual use, not only calls for stringent implementation of both the BTWC and the CWC with regard to preventing the development, production, use or transfer of these weapons among nations. To reduce terrorist access and use of these biological weapons, states should institute programs that ameliorate the destructive aspects of these weapons and increase vigilance in the detection and prevention of bioterrorist attacks.