The Australia Group

Fighting the spread of chemical and biological weapons. Strengthening global security.

Objectives of the Group

Chemical and biological weapons (CBW) are indiscriminate in their application and their deadly effects have been known since ancient times. They were first used on a large scale in the First World War, with soldiers being exposed to poisonous gases, including phosgene and sulphur mustard (a blistering agent). The result was over one million casualties and approximately 100,000 fatalities. Since that time, CBW technology has become more advanced, and hence even more lethal. The use by Iraq of CW in the form of nerve agents and sulphur mustard in the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, and the 1995 poison gas (sarin) attack on the Tokyo underground, provide chilling examples of the indiscriminate and inhumane effects of these weapons.

The principal objective of Australia Group participants’ is to use licensing measures to ensure that exports of certain chemicals, biological agents, and dual-use chemical and biological manufacturing facilities and equipment, do not contribute to the spread of CBW. The Group achieves this by harmonising participating countries’ national export licensing measures. The Group’s activities are especially important given that the international chemical and biotechnology industries are a target for proliferators as a source of materials for CBW programs.

Participants have recognised from the outset that export licensing measures are not a substitute for the strict and universal observance of the 1925 Geneva Protocol, the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) and the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). All participants in the Australia Group are States Parties to both the BWC and the CWC. Support for these regimes and their aims remains the overriding objective of Australia Group participants. Export licensing measures instituted by individual members assist in implementing key obligations under the CWC (Article I, 1 (a) and (d)) and the BWC (Articles I and III).

Export licensing measures also demonstrate participants determination of members to avoid not only direct but also inadvertent involvement in the spread of CBW, and to express their opposition to the use of these weapons. It is also in the interestS of commercial firms and research institutes and of their governments to ensure that they do not inadvertently supply chemicals, chemical equipment, biological agents or biological equipment for use in the manufacture of CBW. Global chemical and biological industries have firmly supported this principle.