Scrutiny of Arms Exports (2012): UK Strategic Export Controls Annual Report 2010, Quarterly Reports for July to December 2010 and January to September 2011, the Government's Review of arms exports to the Middle East and North Africa, and control issues - Business, Innovation and Skills Committee Contents

Annex 12: National Counter Proliferation Strategy 2012-2015

The text of a letter and the attachment from the FCO Minister Alistair Burt to the Chairman of the Committees' dated 21 March 2012 relating to the National Counter Proliferation Strategy for 2012-2015 follows:

I write to inform you that the Government has agreed a National Counter Proliferation Strategy for 2012-2015. It flows from key risks identified in the National Security Strategy and formulates three overarching objectives:

  • To deny access to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) materials and expertise to terrorists;
  • To prevent acquisition by states of capabilities and their means of delivery (whether conventional or CBRN) which would threaten stability and UK vital interests, including our armed forces overseas; and
  • To support, strengthen and extend the rules-based international system of counter proliferation treaties, regimes and organizations that underpins global security and prosperity.

It describes the actors on whom we focus our activities, the tools and resources we deploy, and our internal governance arrangements under the National Security Council. I attach to this letter the public version of the strategy, which will be released in the next few days.

We are already using it to drive forward more coherent and focused work across government departments and with our international partners. In the last few months, we have:

  • continued work alongside the United States in Libya to locate and secure stockpiles of advanced conventional weapons, including MANPADs;
  • played a key role in the final preparatory conference on an Arms Trade Treaty held in February, which achieved consensus on the process for the negotiations in July, and the adoption of the Chairman's paper as a basis for these negotiations;
  • as part of implementation of the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review Conference outcomes, and along with the US and Russia, supported closely the Finnish facilitator for the Middle East WMD Free Zone, as he prepares his strategy for a conference;
  • kept up the pressure on Iran over its nuclear programme by securing a strong EU sanctions package at January's Foreign Affairs Council, and a good E3+3 statement at the March meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors.

The next key event will be the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul on 26-27 March, at which the deputy prime Minister will be leading the UK delegation. President Obama convened the first such summit in Washington in 2010, as part of his drive to secure vulnerable fissile material around the world within four years. The second summit will assemble 53 countries, and the UN, the EU, the IAEA and Interpol, to assess progress and reinvigorate commitment.

The Deputy Prime Minister will be able to report significant achievements against our commitments from Washington, including helping to secure nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union (not least, 775 bombs' worth in Kazakhstan); hosting a successful IAEA security advisory mission to Sellafield and Barrow; and leading efforts to secure last year's renewal of the G8-based Global partnership against the spread of WMD.

I expect him to make new commitments for the two years up to the next summit in 2014, including further close partnership with the IAEA, the US, the EU and others on risk reduction programmes overseas; further development of plans for the future management of our inventory of separated civil plutonium; and implementation of the new UK/France framework for cooperation on civil nuclear security and emergency response.

Our key contribution, and the summit's most innovative element, will be our ground-breaking work on the security of nuclear information. Over the past year we have built consensus on the need for greater focus on protecting not just nuclear material but also the information that a terrorist would need to obtain the material, build it in to an improvised explosive device, and mount an attack. Such information ranges from maps of nuclear installations, to how to construct a bomb, to how to beat border security and emergency response plans. At the summit, I expect our work to be reflected in a dedicated paragraph in the communiqué, and an additional UK-led statement, in which at least 20 countries will join us, committing to specific national actions to improve the practice of information security.

I look forward to engaging with you and your committee further on these and other matters in due course.



1. The proliferation of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) weapons and their delivery systems is a huge challenge which poses several serious risks to the UK's national security. These include a CBRN attack on the UK by terrorists or a threatening state, or an international military crisis. Conventional weapon systems also present the clearest threat to the UK's Armed Forces deployed on operations. Reducing these risks requires a comprehensive approach to counter proliferation.

2. The National Counter Proliferation Strategy sets the framework for this activity. Much of our approach is internationally focussed; in priority countries, with partners, or through the rules-based international system. Ensuring that we have the right controls and security in place domestically is also a key element.

A risk-based approach

3. The National Security Strategy takes a risk-based approach to prioritise the Government's national security response. Counter proliferation work is critical to reducing several of the most serious national security risks identified:

RISK 1: A terrorist chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) attack on the UK or its interests, including UK Armed Forces.

4. Al Qaeda has a long-held desire to obtain and use CBRN devices. Without continued global efforts to reduce vulnerabilities in the security of material and information, there is a significant likelihood that terrorists will at some point acquire CBRN capability.

RISK 2: An international military crisis

5. The proliferation of CBRN and conventional military technologies to countries, and the enhancement by countries of their existing capabilities, have the potential to increase instability and precipitate an international military crisis, or exacerbate the consequences of such a crisis, including for UK deployed forces.

RISK 3: A state (or proxy) CBRN attack on the UK or its overseas territories

6. While there is currently a low threat of CBRN attack on the UK, it is still important that we retain our ability to monitor - and where possible prevent - CBRN weapons

advancements by other countries, maintain our defences against attack, and lead global efforts to strengthen the rules-based international system that has helped to limit the number of CBRN possessor states thus far.

Our objectives

7. We are working to reduce proliferation risks by:

1. Denying access to CBRN materials and expertise by terrorists;

2. Preventing acquisition by states of capabilities and their means of delivery (whether

conventional or CBRN) which would threaten stability and UK vital interests, including our armed forces overseas; and

3. Supporting, strengthening and extending the rules-based international system of

counter proliferation treaties, regimes and organisations that underpins global

security and prosperity.


8. We are focusing activity on four broad groups of actors:

  • states which may have vulnerabilities in the security of their CBRN information and materials;
  • states which may have the capability or intent to develop CBRN or advanced conventional weapons;
  • states which may actively or inadvertently supply or transit CBRN weapons, delivery systems and conventional weapons, or related technologies, to actors of concern; and
  • partners and multilateral organisations with whom we can effect change, including the UN, G8, NATO and the EU.

States with CBRN security vulnerabilities

9. Many countries possess significant quantities of CBRN material or expertise, or have a significant CBRN technological base; some countries have CBRN weapons. In several of these we assess that security weaknesses could make such capabilities easier for non-state groups to acquire or exploit for malicious purposes.

States with the capability or intent to develop CBRN or advanced conventional weapons

10. A number of states have active CBRN and advanced conventional weapons and delivery system programmes - either to acquire a new capability or to improve an existing one. The existence of either can be destabilising for a region and can lead to an arms race or a military response by a regional or global power. This would increase the risk of a state threat to the UK and its overseas interests.

11. Despite Iran's claims that its nuclear programme is peaceful, serious concerns about a military dimension remain as a result of Iran's actions over recent years. We continue to follow the dual track strategy of engagement and sanctions. We also have continuing concerns about North Korea's proliferation activities. We continue to urge North Korea to refrain from further provocative actions and to re-engage in dialogue with the international community.

12. Alongside our commitment to prevent the spread of such weapons, we are promoting the peaceful use of nuclear energy, the right to which is enshrined in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

States which may supply or transit material and technologies which threaten security

13. Where states admit to, or are judged to, have a nuclear weapons capability, or

chemical or biological technologies and materials, controls are essential to prevent more states from acquiring CBRN weapons. We want all states with these dual use technologies to have the will and ability to prevent leakage.

14. Globalisation has increased the flow of trade and knowledge making it harder to

identify cargoes and technologies destined for weapons programmes of concern. We cannot stop this trade on our own, so we need to work with trading hubs to improve policing.

Partners and multilateral organisations with whom we can effect change

15. We are working with our closest international partners and in the multilateral

environment, including in the UN, G8, NATO and the EU, to effect change in both specific countries and the rules-based international system.


16. The rules-based international system is a network of organisations, ad hoc groups,

treaties and regimes that has been built up over the last 80 years and has over that period successfully limited, and even helped to reduce, the number of states with - or looking to acquire - WMD or their delivery systems, or advanced conventional capabilities. In developing the rules-based international system, we seek to:

  • Strengthen international commitments to non-proliferation treaties such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention;
  • Lead in groups such as the Nuclear Security Summit or G8 Global Partnership which are delivering CBRN security improvements on the ground;
  • Provide financial, technical and diplomatic support to the international bodies that monitor and verify compliance against these commitments, such as the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons;
  • Strengthen enforcement of existing obligations and export control regimes, and adoption of non-obligatory guidelines, while developing and implementing new ones such as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, an Arms Trade Treaty, and a Fissile Materials Cut-off Treaty;
  • Lead by example internationally in terms of our own domestic security practices and export controls;
  • Identify, and seek consensus to mitigate, any gaps in the international architecture.

17. To complement this, we are:

  • Working to encourage states to improve nuclear and biological security, and ensure that sensitive science is not misused for hostile intent;
  • Aiming to disrupt proliferation networks, through helping others to enforce sanctions and export regimes more rigorously;
  • Supporting the international community in tackling proliferation finance by working with banks to identify front companies and freeze assets;
  • Tackling the supply of delivery systems;
  • Promoting the peaceful use of nuclear energy.


18. We are using the diplomatic network to increase our understanding of and influence on the drivers of policy in priority countries including government, industry and civil society.

Our missions to international institutions and organisations - especially in Vienna, New

York, Geneva and the Hague - are playing a crucial role in developing, strengthening and upholding the rules-based international system.

19. Our export controls and enforcement capability enable us to reduce the risks of material getting into the wrong hands. We are acting to maintain a robust and effective national export control regime, and to improve international export controls. We are at the forefront of efforts to gather international support for a legally binding Arms Trade Treaty to regulate the global trade in conventional weapons.

20. We have prioritised our objectives to ensure that we make best use of available

resources. We are providing technical and financial support to deliver concrete

improvements in the security of materials and know-how in partner countries; facilitating debate and delivering training to help build partners' engagement and capacities; and

maintaining our own technical and scientific expertise in counter proliferation, arms control and CBRN security.

21. The National Security Council, chaired by the Prime Minister, ultimately oversees

implementation of this strategy. We will measure, evaluate and report progress on its delivery at regular intervals, including through reports to Parliament on implementation of the Strategic Defence and Security Review.[357]

357   "National Counter Proliferation Strategy 2012-2015", FCO website, Back

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Prepared 13 July 2012