Policy paper

2010 to 2015 government policy: weapons proliferation

Updated 8 May 2015

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

This is a copy of a document that stated a policy of the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government. The previous URL of this page was https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/countering-weapons-proliferation. Current policies can be found at the GOV.UK policies list.


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 the National 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.

Global Partnership

The Global Partnership (GP) is a multilateral non-proliferation initiative created by G8 countries at the Kananaskis Summit on 27 June 2002. GP countries fund projects to prevent terrorists and other proliferators from acquiring chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) weapons and materials of mass destruction. The GP also helps countries work together on WMD threat reduction.

Counter-Proliferation Programme

One of the FCO’s tools to combat these threats is our Counter-Proliferation Programme. In the financial year 2013 to 14 the value of the programme is £2 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
  • 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.

Chemical weapons

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.

Biological 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.

Because, unlike the CWC, the BTWC does not have a verification system, 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.

Nuclear weapons

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

Nuclear security

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.

The UK is a State Signatory to the 1997 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which prohibits the carrying out of any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion. The Treaty is not yet in force. The UK is working to ensure universality of the Treaty and the completion and maintenance of its verification regime: the International Monitoring System, the International Data Centre and an on-site inspection operational capability.

State programmes

The existence of an international legal framework supported by a range of conventions and treaties is not on its own sufficient to dissuade some countries from seeking to develop, produce and, in some cases, sell weapons of mass destruction. The UK works through various international organisations and groupings to seek peaceful means to reduce the threat posed by among others - the nuclear programmes of Iran and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as well as working to address issues arising from Syria’s possession of chemical and biological weapons. In addition to taking forward activity to reduce the threat posed by the programmes themselves, the UK separately works to dissuade businesses and individuals from supporting the activity of the networks that support them.

Mines and mine action

The UK has shown a strong commitment to mitigating the effects of landmines and cluster munitions (a type of explosive weapon which scatters smaller munitions). The UK has signed and ratified:

Arms Trade Treaty

The UK has led international efforts to secure an Arms Trade Treaty in the United Nations since co-authoring the original UN Resolution in 2006 (with Argentina, Australia, Costa Rica, Finland, Japan and Kenya). At the conclusion of the negotiating conference on 28 March 2013, Iran, Syria and the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea blocked consensus on the adoption of the draft Treaty. The UK, with the co-authors, and New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Mexico and US, then tabled a Resolution in the United Nations General Assembly to adopt the draft Treaty. This was passed on 2 April 2013, by 154 votes in favour, 3 votes against and 23 abstentions.

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.

Export licensing

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.

President Obama hosted the first Nuclear Security Summit in Washington in 2010. Forty-seven countries and three international organisations participated, and each committed to work towards ensuring the security of all vulnerable nuclear material within four years. A second NSS was held in Seoul in 2012, with the fifty-three participating countries and four international organisations focusing on progress in implementing those agreements. The third NSS, in The Hague in 2014, centred on the results achieved and looked towards the future, and final, 2016 NSS.

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.

Appendix 1: North Korea nuclear policy

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

On 12 December 2012 North Korea launched a satellite in clear violation of UN Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874 as it involved the testing of ballistic missile technology. The UK strongly condemns the launch.

In May 2009 North Korea launched a nuclear device in a clear breach of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1718, which was adopted after North Korea’s first nuclear test in October 2006. The international community responded by unanimously passing UNSCR 1874 on 12 June 2009.

UNSCR 1874 is a strong response that builds on the measures in UNSCR 1718. The resolution is absolutely clear in condemning North Korea’s nuclear test and demanding that it does not conduct any further nuclear tests or launches using ballistic missile technology. It shows the international community is united against North Korea’s continued proliferation activities and attempts to disrupt regional security.

The resolution clamps down on North Korea’s proliferation activities and bans the export of all arms from North Korea, one of the means by which North Korea funds its nuclear and missile programmes. It places North Korea’s trading activity under close scrutiny with a more thorough inspections regime that will help to disrupt North Korea’s attempts to contravene trade restrictions.

The resolution bans the provision of international finance to North Korea, except for humanitarian and development work, again cutting off a source of funding for its Weapons of Mass Destruction programmes. It promotes the effective implementation of sanctions by introducing a monitoring mechanism.

We continue to urge North Korea to refrain from further provocative actions, and to re-engage in dialogue with the international community. Actions that breach UN Security Council Resolutions and North Korea’s obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty undermine regional security and further isolate North Korea.

Appendix 2: Global Threat Reduction Programme

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

The Global Threat Reduction Programme (GTRP) is part of our counter-proliferation strategy. It provides the UK’s contribution to the G8’s Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction - a multilateral initiative to prevent terrorists and other proliferators from acquiring WMD.

We are working on GTRP programmes that aim to:

  • improve the security of fissile materials (i.e. plutonium and highly enriched uranium)
  • reduce the number of sites containing nuclear and radiological material
  • reduce the risks in the proliferation of biological expertise and materials
  • prevent terrorists acquiring proliferation-relevant information and expertise

UK GTRP work dealing with the cold war nuclear and radiological legacy in Russia was completed under the Global Partnership in 2012.

Programme management

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is responsible for GTRP policy and oversees the programme. The Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) delivers the nuclear and radiological parts of the programme. The Ministry of Defence (MOD) manages the chemical weapon destruction and biological elements of the programme.

DECC and MOD have in-house teams that oversee day-to-day management of the GTRP portfolio. DECC uses private sector contractors, appointed under international competitive tender in accordance with government and EU procurement rules, to manage the project and associated risks and provide technical assistance. Some work is provided by partners, such as contributions to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Nuclear Security Fund.

We have been widening the geographic scope of this work to concentrate on places where the threats are greatest and where the capacity to deal with them is least developed.


In 2002 the GTRP was established for a 10-year period to focus on countries of the former Soviet Union.

In 2008 the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction expanded the GTRP’s scope of activities.

At the 2011 Deauville Summit, G8 leaders extended the partnership beyond 2012 and agreed that in addition to the completion of priority projects in Russia, it should also work on:

Appendix 3: restricting the development of nuclear weapons

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

Under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, non-nuclear weapon states agree not to acquire or develop nuclear weapons and to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. This includes accepting international verification of their nuclear programmes by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). States that have nuclear weapons (China, France, Russia, UK and US) agree to work towards nuclear disarmament.

The UK is working to ensure nuclear material and technology can be shared for peaceful purposes. Part of this work seeks to minimise the risk of countries that don’t have nuclear weapons misusing technology and material to develop the capability to create nuclear weapons. Specifically, we support:

  • stronger powers for the International Atomic Energy Agency
  • stronger compliance mechanisms and procedures to ensure that Iran and North Korea comply with their international obligations
  • the principle and practice of nuclear weapons free zones, including the call for a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons as well as other WMD

We also recommend immediate discussions at the UN Security Council if a country announces its intention to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

We continue to make the case for all states to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty which bans nuclear explosions by everyone, everywhere; and to begin negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (a global ban on the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices) within the Conference on Disarmament.

Appendix 4: Counter-Proliferation Programme

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

The Counter-Proliferation Programme is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s fund used to support projects around the world which strengthen political will or technical capacity to tackle the threat of weapons proliferation.

Countering weapons proliferation is a strand of work central to the Government’s efforts to safeguard Britain’s national security and to support stability around the world.

The fund has a number of objectives including reinforcing support for the Non-Proliferation Treaty, strengthening export control regimes, progressing the establishment of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East and reducing the threat posed by conventional weapons to UK, regional and global stability.

Funding is allocated to projects in a competitive bidding process, which is normally run twice per year, with a main bidding round in March, and a smaller bidding round in September. Further information is available on the Programme page.

Appendix 5: Global Partnership

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

Since its establishment in 2002, the Global Partnership (GP) has expanded beyond the G8 to include 28 members. Its achievements include:

  • the destruction of 20,000 tonnes of chemical weapons
  • the secure dismantling and transport of decommissioned nuclear powered submarines
  • improved detection of nuclear and radiological materials
  • the re-employment of over 1700 former WMD scientists and technicians to civilian programmes
  • the removal and safe transportation of 775 bombs’ worth of nuclear material in Kazakhstan

From 2002-2012, the UK committed over £350 million of funding to GP projects. In 2011 the renewed GP agreed four priorities, which are all closely aligned with the United Kingdom’s National Security Strategy:

  • nuclear security
  • biological security
  • scientist engagement in the WMD field
  • implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540 (a resolution obliging states to implement a range of domestic measures against WMD terrorism)

The Global Threat Reduction Programme (GTRP) is the UK’s main programme of overseas assistance to counter proliferation of CBRN materials. The Department of Energy and Climate Change is responsible for implementing the nuclear and radiological elements of the GTRP, the Ministry of Defence manages the chemical weapon destruction and biological elements of the programme. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office hold the overall policy responsibility.


The UK held the chairmanship of the GP in 2013, under its G8 Presidency. Click here for the Summary report of the UK Chairmanship.

Germany will host the next Global Partnership Working Group meeting in Berlin in November 2014

GP members

There are 28 GP members: USA, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, United Kingdom, Japan, Russia (and EU). Other GP members: Australia, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Kazakhstan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Ukraine. Other prospective members under consideration: Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Chile, China, India, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Turkey, UAE, and Jordan.

Appendix 6: UK’s position on the FDLR

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

I refer to the British High Commissioner’s letter of 14 August 2014 which set out the UK’s position on the FDLR. As the voluntary disarmament process has reached its mid-point review, I want to reiterate the UK’s commitment to ensuring all armed groups in the Eastern DRC, including the FDLR, no longer pose a threat to peace and security in the region.

The FDLR are an armed group espousing genocide and should be treated as such. Rwanda’s constitution is rightly clear – there is no room for groups espousing a genocide ideology. The region, including Rwanda, is playing a crucial leadership role. The choice they have presented the FDLR is clear: disarm voluntarily now or face military action. We fully support this.

To achieve our shared objective of neutralising FDLR requires three further steps:

Firstly, if the FDLR’s stated desire to disarm is to mean anything, they must immediately stop blocking the disarmament process on the ground.

Secondly, we must ensure the SADC and ICGLR deadlines are met.

Thirdly, military action must indeed be the inevitable consequence if FDLR do not disarm voluntarily by the SADC deadline. The UN Security Council, on which both Rwanda and the UK sit, has given a clear and unequivocal mandate to MONUSCO to take action against armed groups. It is important that all in the region and MOUSCO work together to discharge their responsibilities.

The FDLR continues to pose a threat to the region, not least to Rwanda’s vision of a prosperous and secure future. The UK is committed to doing all it can to ensure these steps are taken and no one in this region lives in fear from armed groups.

I hope the Rwandan government will do all it can to ensure these steps are taken when it attends the regional review of the voluntary disarmament process in a few weeks time. It can be sure of the UK government’s support on this.

Dr Luke Beaumont,

Acting British High Commissioner to Rwanda

Appendix 7: embargoes and sanctions

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

Sanctions are measures by which the international community targets certain countries, individuals and/or entities to coerce them into changing their behaviour so that they will no longer threaten international peace and security, abuse human rights or act contrary to international norms and/or obligations.

They can include arms embargoes, travel bans, asset freezes, reduced diplomatic links, reduction in any military relationship, suspension from international organisations, withdrawal of aid, trade embargoes, and restriction on cultural/sporting links.

The European Union applies sanctions or restrictive measures in pursuit of the specific objectives of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) as set out in Article 11 of the Treaty on European Union.

The use of United Nations mandatory sanctions is intended to apply pressure on a state or entity to comply with the objectives set by the Security Council without resorting to the use of force. Sanctions thus offer the Security Council an important instrument to enforce its decisions.

The UK has trade and financial sanctions against a number of states as a result of the UK’s foreign policy commitments and the imposition of EU and UN sanctions and embargoes:

The detailed guide Current arms embargoes and other restrictions lists the countries subject to controls and describes the sanctions that have been imposed and any stricter trade controls that are in place.

Appendix 8: the Chemical Weapons Convention

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

The UK is one of 188 countries that have ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), the first arms-control treaty to introduce a verifiable ban on an entire class of weapons of mass destruction.

The CWC entered into force on 29 April 1997 and all Member States must agree to its provisions, which include:

  • to chemically disarm by destroying all stockpiles of chemical weapons, any facilities which produced them and any old or abandoned chemical weapons from the past
  • never to develop, produce, stockpile or use chemical weapons
  • submit regular declarations to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on the production, processing, consumption, and import and export of certain dual-use chemicals
  • allow the OPCW to carry out routine inspections on their territories

The OPCW is based in The Hague, and has the mandate to achieve the object and purpose of the CWC, which includes an international verification regime to build confidence between CWC States Parties.

UK CWC National Authority

DECC, as the UK CWC National Authority, is responsible for implementing the CWC throughout the UK, the Crown Dependencies and the Overseas Territories. Our powers to do this are contained in the Chemical Weapons Act 1996. The Act outlines the legal obligations on those producing, processing, consuming, importing or exporting certain toxic chemicals.

The UK CWC National Authority also takes part in efforts, led by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), to strengthen the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC).

As part of DECC’s role to safeguard and promote the peaceful use of chemicals the CWC UK National Authority:

  • compiles annual declarations on UK chemical activity for the OPCW
  • facilitates inspections between declared UK sites and the OPCW
  • enforces the export and import licensing regulations, in co-operation with the Export Control Organisation

For full contact details please see the bottom of this page.


Contact Information

For information on DECCs chemical and biological non-proliferation work:

Email: cwcna@decc.gsi.gov.uk (for chemicals enquiries) btwc@decc.gsi.gov.uk (for biological enquiries)

Phone: +44 (0)300 068 5939 /or 5941 / 5925 / 5937

In writing:

  • Department of Energy and Climate Change
  • CWC UK National Authority
  • Room G.07
  • 3 Whitehall Place
  • London
  • SW1A 2AW