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Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria

Volume 578: debated on Tuesday 25 March 2014

The UK’s defence industry can make an important contribution to international security, as well as provide economic benefit to the UK. The legitimate international trade in arms enables Governments to protect ordinary citizens against terrorists and criminals, and to defend against external threats. The Government remain committed to supporting the UK’s defence industry and legitimate trade in items controlled for strategic reasons. But we recognise that in the wrong hands arms can fuel conflict and instability and facilitate terrorism and organised crime. For this reason it is vital that we have robust and transparent controls which are efficient and impose the minimum administrative burdens in order to enable the defence industry to operate responsibly and confidently.

The Government’s policy for assessing applications for licences to export strategic goods and advance approvals for promotion prior to formal application for an export licence was set out on behalf of the then Foreign Secretary on 26 October 2000, Official Report, column 199W. Since then there have been a number of significant developments, including:

the entry into force of the Export Control Act 2002

the application of controls to electronic transfers of software and technology and to trade (brokering) in military goods between overseas destinations

the adoption by the EU of Council common position 2008/944/CFSP of 8 December 2008 defining common rules governing control of exports of military technology and equipment

further development of EU export control law, including: the adoption of Council regulation (EC) 1236/2005 of 27 June 2005 concerning trade in certain goods which could be used for capital punishment, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; directive 2009/43/EC of 6 May 2009 simplifying terms and conditions of transfers of defence-related products within the Community; and the re-cast Council regulation (EC) 428/2009 of 5 May 2009 setting up a Community regime for the control of exports, transfer, brokering and transit of dual-use items

the adoption by the UN General Assembly on 2 April 2013 of an international arms trade treaty, which the UK signed on 3 June 2013.

The Government believe that the procedures for assessing licence applications and our decision-making processes are robust and have stood the test of time. We also believe that the eight criteria continue adequately to address the risks of irresponsible arms transfers and are fully compliant with our obligations under the EU common position and the arms trade treaty. Nevertheless it is appropriate to update these criteria in light of developments over the last 13 years. In particular: the list of international obligations and commitments in criterion 1 has been updated; there is explicit reference to international humanitarian law in criterion 2; and the risk of reverse engineering or unintended technology transfer is now addressed under criterion 7 rather than criterion 5. There are also minor changes to improve the clarity and consistency of the language used throughout the text. None of these amendments should be taken to mean that there has been any substantive change in policy.

These criteria will be applied to all licence applications for export, transfer, trade (brokering) and transit/transhipment of goods, software and technology subject to control for strategic reason—referred to collectively as “items”; and to the extent that the following activities are subject to control, the provision of technical assistance or other services related to those items. They will also be applied to MOD form 680 applications and assessment of proposals to gift controlled equipment.

As before, they will not be applied mechanistically but on a case-by-case basis taking into account all relevant information available at the time the licence application is assessed. While the Government recognise that there are situations where transfers must not take place, as set out in the following criteria, we will not refuse a licence on the grounds of a purely theoretical risk of a breach of one or more of those criteria. In making licensing decisions I will continue to take into account advice received from FCO, MOD, DFID, and other Government Departments and agencies as appropriate. The Government’s strategic export controls annual reports will continue to provide further detailed information regarding policy and practice in strategic export controls.

The application of these criteria will be without prejudice to the application to specific cases of specific criteria as may be announced to Parliament from time to time; and will be without prejudice to the application of specific criteria contained in relevant EU instruments.

This statement of the criteria is guidance given under section 9 of the Export Control Act. It replaces the consolidated criteria announced to Parliament on 26 October 2000.


Respect for the UK’s international obligations and commitments, in particular sanctions adopted by the UN Security Council or the European Union, agreements on non-proliferation and other subjects, as well as other international obligations.

The Government will not grant a licence if to do so would be inconsistent with, inter alia:

a) the UK’s obligations and its commitments to enforce United Nations, European Union and Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) arms embargoes, as well as national embargoes observed by the UK and other commitments regarding the application of strategic export controls;

b) the UK’s obligations under the United Nations arms trade treaty;

c) the UK’s obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, the biological and toxin weapons convention and the chemical weapons convention;

d) the UK’s obligations under the United Nations convention on certain conventional weapons, the convention on cluster munitions (the Oslo convention), the Cluster Munitions (Prohibitions) Act 2010, and the convention on the prohibition of the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel mines and on their destruction (the Ottawa convention) and the Land Mines Act 1998;

e) the UK’s commitments in the framework of the Australia Group, the missile technology control regime, the Zangger committee, the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Wassenaar arrangement and The Hague code of conduct against ballistic missile proliferation;

f) the OSCE principles governing conventional arms transfers and the European Union common position 2008/944/CFSP defining common rules governing control of exports of military technology and equipment.


The respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in the country of final destination as well as respect by that country for international humanitarian law.

Having assessed the recipient country’s attitude towards relevant principles established by international human rights instruments, the Government will:

a) not grant a licence if there is a clear risk that the items might be used for internal repression;

b) exercise special caution and vigilance in granting licences, on a case-by-case basis and taking account of the nature of the equipment, to countries where serious violations of human rights have been established by the competent bodies of the UN, the Council of Europe or by the European Union;

c) not grant a licence if there is a clear risk that the items might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law.

For these purposes items which might be used for internal repression will include, inter alia, items where there is evidence of the use of these or similar items for internal repression by the proposed end-user, or where there is reason to believe that the items will be diverted from their stated end use or end user and used for internal repression.

The nature of the items to be transferred will be considered carefully, particularly if they are intended for internal security purposes. Internal repression includes, inter alia, torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment; summary or arbitrary executions; disappearances; arbitrary detentions; and other major violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms as set out in relevant international human rights instruments, including the universal declaration on human rights and the international covenant on civil and political rights.

In considering the risk that items might be used for internal repression or in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law, the Government will also take account of the risk that the items might be used to commit gender-based violence or serious violence against women or children.


The internal situation in the country of final destination, as a function of the existence of tensions or armed conflicts.

The Government will not grant a licence for items which would provoke or prolong armed conflicts or aggravate existing tensions or conflicts in the country of final destination.


Preservation of regional peace, security and stability.

The Government will not grant a licence if there is a clear risk that the intended recipient would use the items aggressively against another country, or to assert by force a territorial claim.

When considering these risks, the Government will take into account, inter alia:

a) the existence or likelihood of armed conflict between the recipient and another country;

b) a claim against the territory of a neighbouring country which the recipient has in the past tried or threatened to pursue by means of force;

c) the likelihood of the items being used other than for the legitimate national

security and defence of the recipient;

d) the need not to affect adversely regional stability in any significant way, taking into account the balance of forces between the states of the region concerned, their relative expenditure on defence, the potential for the equipment significantly to enhance the effectiveness of existing capabilities or to improve force projection, and the need not to introduce into the region new capabilities which would be likely to lead to increased tension.


The national security of the UK and territories whose external relations are the UK’s responsibility, as well as that of friendly and allied countries.

The Government will take into account:

a) the potential effect of the proposed transfer on the UK’s defence and security interests or on those of other territories and countries as described above, while recognising that this factor cannot affect consideration of the criteria on respect of human rights and on regional peace, security and stability;

b) the risk of the items being used against UK forces or against those of other territories and countries as described above;

c) the need to protect UK military classified information and capabilities.


The behaviour of the buyer country with regard to the international community, as regards in particular to its attitude to terrorism, the nature of its alliances and respect for international law.

The Government will take into account, inter alia, the record of the buyer country with regard to:

a) its support for or encouragement of terrorism and international organised crime;

b) its compliance with its international commitments, in particular on the non-use of force, including under international humanitarian law applicable to international and non-international conflicts;

c) its commitment to non-proliferation and other areas of arms control and disarmament, in particular the signature, ratification and implementation of relevant arms control and disarmament instruments referred to in criterion one.


The existence of a risk that the items will be diverted within the buyer country or re-exported under undesirable conditions.

In assessing the impact of the proposed transfer on the recipient country and the risk that the items might be diverted to an undesirable end-user or for an undesirable end-use, the Government will consider:

a) the legitimate defence and domestic security interests of the recipient country, including any involvement in United Nations or other peace-keeping activity;

b) the technical capability of the recipient country to use the items;

c) the capability of the recipient country to exert effective export controls;

d) the risk of re-export to undesirable destinations and, as appropriate, the record of the recipient country in respecting re-export provisions or consent prior to re-export;

e) the risk of diversion to terrorist organisations or to individual terrorists;

f) the risk of reverse engineering or unintended technology transfer.


The compatibility of the transfer with the technical and economic capacity of the recipient country, taking into account the desirability that states should achieve their legitimate needs of security and defence with the least diversion for armaments of human and economic resources.

The Government will take into account, in the light of information from relevant sources such as United Nations Development Programme, World Bank, IMF and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development reports, whether the proposed transfer would seriously undermine the economy or seriously hamper the sustainable development of the recipient country.

The Government will consider in this context the recipient country’s relative levels of military and social expenditure, taking into account also any EU or bilateral aid, and its public finances, balance of payments, external debt, economic and social development and any IMF or World Bank-sponsored economic reform programme.


Article 10 of the EU common position specifies that member states may, where appropriate, also take into account the effect of proposed exports on their economic, social, commercial and industrial interests, but that these factors will not affect the application of the criteria in the common position.

The Government will thus continue when considering licence applications to give full weight to the UK’s national interest, including:

a. the potential effect on the UK’s economic, financial and commercial interests, including our long-term interests in having stable, democratic trading partners;

b) the potential effect on the UK’s international relations;

c) the potential effect on any collaborative defence production or procurement project with allies or EU partners;

d) the protection of the UK’s essential strategic industrial base.

In the application of the above criteria, account will be taken of reliable evidence, including for example, reporting from diplomatic posts, relevant reports by international bodies, intelligence and information from open sources and non-governmental organisations.