Disagreements arise prior to 2011 Biological Weapons Convention

While the 2011 Biological Weapons Convention will not begin until December 5, debates on issues such as the meaning of provision Article X and biological pathogens have pitted Western countries against developing countries.

The BWC, which will run from December 5 through December 22, 2011, will be the treaty's seventh conference since it was signed in 1975. Previous meetings, including a December 2010 meeting in Geneva, did not have authority to make decisions pertaining to the agenda and substance of the review conference, the Arms Control Association reports.

A major issue is Article X of the BWC treaty, which has led to a debate between Western countries and a bloc of developing countries called the Nonaligned Movement. The NAM believes that peaceful-cooperation provisions contained in Article X mean that more-developed countries should provide less developed ones with new findings in life sciences technology, including discoveries in biological pathogens.

"Article X will be the real problem, particularly if NAM remains cohesive and insists or pushes very hard for an institutional mechanism for peaceful cooperation," a BWC expert said in an e-mail exchange, according to the Arms Control Association/ "That might break the conference final declaration."

The Australia Group, which consists mostly of Western countries, controls the exports of biological and chemical dual-use materials. Dual-use materials are items that contain certain technologies like virulent pathogens that can be used for peaceful and military purposes. Members of NAM believe that export controls like the Australia Group should be less restrictive and allow them to import some of these dual-use materials, according to the Arms Control Association.