Understanding Biological Disarmament: The Historical Context of the Biological Weapons Convention

A three-year project funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) on Understanding Biological Disarmament and the History of the Biological Weapons Convention.

About the AHRC History of the BWC Project

Outlawing an entire class of weapons is a major step towards creating a safer world. On 10 April 1972, the first ever such step was taken as the nations of the world were invited to sign up to the new Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). This treaty, which had been several years in the making, was remarkable for attempting not simply biological arms limitation but full disarmament. Three years later the treaty entered into force. Currently, 170 nations are states parties to the BWC (April 2013).

Despite its significance, and close to the fortieth anniversary of its entry into force, there is surprisingly little scholarly research on the origins of the BWC, still less on how this treaty was shaped by its broader political and social context. Perhaps more remarkably, most scholarship on the Cold War ignores the BWC. Understanding Biological Disarmament is a new three-year project, which aims to draw on a wide range of archival and oral sources to go beyond a blow-by-blow account of the technicalities of arms treaty negotiation, and instead provide a deep historical account of the birth of the treaty.

People Involved in the Project

This is the research team involved in the AHRC History of the Biological Weapons Convention project:

Principal Investigator: Prof. Brian Balmer in the UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies (STS).
Co-Investigator: Dr Caitriona McLeish at the Harvard-Sussex Program (HSP), SPRU - Science and Technology Policy Research Unit.
Postdoctoral Research Associate: Dr Alex Spelling in the UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies (STS).

Project Duration

This three-year project commenced on 1st September 2013 and ran until July 2017. It was funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

Project Advisory Board

Dr Patricia Lewis (Chatham House)
Professor Julian Perry-Robinson (Sussex University)
Professor Ulf Schmidt (Kent University)
Mr Nicholas Sims (LSE)
Dr Stephen Twigge (National Archives)
Dr John Walker (Arms Control and Disarmament Research Unit, Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

Project Publications For more details, please visit the project’s main site here.

Final Report of the Project

A copy of the project’s Final Report is available here.

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