The spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) poses a threat to the UK and the international community. Indiscriminate trade in conventional arms and the use of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) weapons and ballistic missiles raises serious humanitarian and security concerns.
We’re working around the world to champion and implement UK policies as set out in theNational Counter-Proliferation Strategy to prevent the spread of CBRN weapons and ballistic missiles.
The UK works with international partners and through organisations such as the UN, G8, NATO and the EU to reduce terrorists’ ability to create, obtain or use CBRN materials and technologies.
One of the FCO’s tools to combat these threats is our Counter-Proliferation Programme. In the financial year 2012 to 13, the value of the programme is £3 million. This funding is used to support projects around the world which increase political will or technical capacity to reduce the threat of weapons proliferation.
National Counter-Proliferation Strategy
The government published its National Counter-Proliferation Strategy in March 2012. The strategy’s main aims are to deny terrorists the materials and expertise to make and use WMD; to stop countries such as Iran and North Korea from obtaining WMD or advanced conventional weapons; and to build up the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), UN and other organisations and treaties that help us meet our goals through the international community and which help to protect global security and prosperity.
The UK supports the destruction of remaining chemical weapons stocks and works to encourage full national implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) by all countries. The Chemical Weapons Convention bans the development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons.
The UK has signed up to the global implementation of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC). The purpose of the convention is to help prevent states acquiring or keeping biological and toxin weapons, and prevent them ever being used by states or terrorists.
The BTWC doesn’t have a verification system like that of the CWC. Participating countries are required to submit relevant data and declarations, or confidence-building measures, to the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs. This increases openness and gives participating countries confidence that others are complying with the convention. The UK’s confidence building measures are published on the Implementation Support Unit website.
We are working towards nuclear disarmament. The UK is one of 189 states that have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The treaty aims to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and ultimately eliminate them. The NPT has three equally important ‘pillars’:
- to work towards non-proliferation
- to champion nuclear disarmament
- to encourage the peaceful use of nuclear energy
The UK will continue work to strengthen international nuclear security by:
- improving the security of fissile materials
- reducing the number of sites containing nuclear and radiological material
- preventing the acquisition of proliferation-relevant information and expertise by terrorists
Through the successful development of the UK’s Global Threat Reduction Programme we are reducing the threats posed by nuclear and radiological materials and expertise in vulnerable locations worldwide.
We are also supporting the full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1540, which requires all states to refrain from supporting non-government agents from developing, acquiring, manufacturing, possessing, transporting, transferring or using nuclear, chemical or biological weapons and their delivery systems.
The UK also supports and contributes to the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction, agreed at the G8 Summit at Kananaskis, Canada in 2002.
Despite the international legal framework, conventions and treaties, some countries have active programmes to develop and produce WMD. Of particular concern is Iran’s nuclear programme; the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s nuclear programme and willingness to provide weapons to other countries; and Syria’s possession of chemical and biological weapons.
The UK works through various international organisations to seek peaceful means to reduce the threat from these programmes and the networks that support them.
Arms Trade Treaty
While there is a legitimate arms trade, there is also an urgent need for more effective and coherent international regulation of that trade. The UK is working to achieve an international arms trade treaty to provide clearer and more effective control of the illegal arms trade.
A UN conference in July 2012 was unable to adopt an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). However, the UK will continue to play a leading role in future negotiations to help to secure one. An ATT will help to reduce the flow of weapons from legitimate trade to the illicit market.
Further details on the UN process towards an ATT and submissions from states (including the UK’s views on an ATT) are available on the United Nations General Assembly website.
The UK has joined other governments around the world to pursue collective implementation of export controls to prevent the proliferation of WMD. The 4 main export control regimes are:
- the Australia Group - designed to harmonise export control measures aimed at curtailing the unhindered proliferation of chemical weapons
- the Missile Technology Control Regime - an informal and voluntary association of countries that share the goal of non-proliferation of unmanned delivery systems of WMD
- the Nuclear Suppliers Group - responsible for making sure nuclear export controls work in practice
- the Wassenaar Arrangement - established to promote transparency and greater responsiblity in transfers of conventional arms and dual-use goods and technologies
Read further details about the international non-proliferation and arms control regimes.
The UK’s regulatory authority responsible for assessing and issuing strategic export licences to UK exporters is the Export Control Organisation (ECO), part of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). Read more about the UK’s policies and procedures for controlling defence, security and dual-use strategic exports.
The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was born out of fear that the Cold War era would lead to a nuclear arms race and is still the basis of the international nuclear non-proliferation regime. All states are now party to it apart from India, Israel, Pakistan and South Sudan.
The NPT provides for a Review Conference every 5 years, both to review developments over the previous 5 years and to look ahead to the future. At the last Review Conference in 2010 a series of action plans were agreed to enhance implementation of the treaty.
The International Atomic Energy Agency was set up as the world’s ‘Atoms for Peace’ organisation in 1957 within the UN family, and supports the NPT. The agency is at the centre of international efforts to address Iran’s nuclear dossier and to ensure the benefits of safe and secure peaceful nuclear energy are accessible to everyone, not just to the developed world.
In March 2012, the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit assembled 53 countries, the UN, the EU, theIAEA and Interpol, to continue work to secure vulnerable nuclear material around the world within 4 years.
On 24 December 2008 in the UN General Assembly, 133 States voted in favour of a draft resolution ‘Towards an Arms Trade Treaty’. There was a clear majority view that, working together, the international community can shape an Arms Trade Treaty into an effective legally binding mechanism to regulate the international trade in arms.
See our detailed guides on sanctions, embargoes and restrictions. and Current arms embargoes and other restrictions
Within the framework of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), the EU applies restrictive measures in pursuit of the specific CFSP objectives set out in the Treaty on European Union. (see particularly Article 11)
The EU External Action website provides an overview of restrictive measures adopted in the framework of the CFSP that are currently in force.
The UN Security Council Sanctions Committees website contains links to the latest versions of all UN Security Council targeted sanctions lists. The individuals and entities included in these lists are subject to the relevant measures imposed by the Security Council, and all member states are obliged to implement these measures.
Each separate list is maintained by the relevant Security Council Committee.