Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_parties_to_the_Biological_Weapons_Convention

Refer to the section Non-signatory states

Out of the 10 states listed there, the Ratification status of only Israel is No action expected in near future


  1. Why hasn't Israel signed the biological weapons convention?

  2. What exactly is the difference between signing and ratification? As some Non-signatory states have started the process of ratification and some Signatory states (eg: Egypt, Somalia) haven't ratified.


1 Answer 1


The second part of the question is simple and factual:

Signing is when the executive (President, Prime Minister, or their appointed minister) indicate the country's willingness to agree to a treaty. Typically at the end of a period of inter-governmental negotiation, the governments will sign the treaty.

But in many countries (particularly democratic ones) Parliament needs to give legal force to the treaty, because the executive can't create new laws without the approval of Parliament. So the Prime Minister presents the treaty to Parliament who then pass a law to put the treaty into effect. This is called ratifying the treaty.

In multigovernment treaties, there are often clauses that state that the treaty doesn't bind the signatories until a certain number have ratified the treaty.

As an example, President Clinton signed the Kyoto Protocol, but the US Congress (in particular the Senate) didn't ratify it (Clinton didn't even bother presenting it to the Senate as they had already voted 95-0 to oppose any treaty on Kyoto-like terms), so the Kyoto Protocol has no legal status in the USA.

In the case of the Biological weapons treaty, a distinction can be made between "ratifying" the treaty (following the negotiations in the early 1970s) and "acceding" to the treaty. The treaty now does not permit any modifications to be made for the convenience of a particular state. So any countries that didn't sign the treaty in 1973, cannot now negotiate modified terms. The must accede to the treaty as it stands.

The first question, the answer has to be more vague. Israel doesn't generally publish details of its WMD programme on the internet. But the only reason to sign an international treaty is because a government feels that the treaty is in its self-interest. Therefore we say that Israel doesn't feel that this treaty would (on balance) benefit Israel, the natural assumption is that Israel has, or has had, a clandestine biological weapons programme, which they have no intention of disclosing to UN inspectors. Or they do not want the precedent of signing one WMD treaty, since they will not sign other WMD treaties.

  • 12
    The other natural assumption is that they do not want the precedent of signing one WMD treaty, since they will not sign other WMD treaties.
    – o.m.
    Jul 29, 2020 at 15:32
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    @o.m.: Or perhaps that (given the politics of the UN) even if there were no bioweapons programs, inspections for bioweapons could easily be used as a cover for espionage.
    – jamesqf
    Jul 29, 2020 at 18:08
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    @jamesqf Don't inspectors have to be from neutral countries though? For example, nuclear-weapon decommissioning is often overseen by Norway.
    – Dai
    Jul 30, 2020 at 1:32
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    It's also possible Israel is playing on the ambiguity. Inspection would mean giving up knowledge of their capabilities, which could prove them a very formidable foe indeed, or to be more bark than bite. The mystery means they can play up those capabilities. Jul 30, 2020 at 6:52
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    I would suggest that it is at least partly because Israel has been held in violation of various UN resolutions - so it would be difficult (and potentially not credible) for them both domestically and internationally to countenance participation in this kind of treaty. They have made clear that they object to the concept of multi-lateral organizations involving themselves in matters of Israel's national security. Aug 30, 2020 at 15:39

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