Text Only | Disarmament Diplomacy | Disarmament Documentation | ACRONYM Reports
Back to the Acronym home page
British Policy
South Asia
About Acronym

Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 17, July - August 1997

UK Foreign Office: Statements on Arms Trade

New Criteria on Arms Trade:
Statement and Parliamentary Answer by Foreign Secretary Robin Cook


'Foreign Secretary announces new criteria to ensure responsible arms trade,' FCO (Foreign & Commonwealth Office) Daily Bulletin, 28 July 1997

Full text

"Britain is one of the largest arms exporters in the world. That leading position obliges us to take seriously the reputation of the arms trade. Success and responsibility go hand in hand.

Today I am announcing the new criteria which the Government will apply to all licences for arms exports. They are universal criteria. They are not aimed at any one country in particular, but they will apply even-handedly to all countries.

The new criteria put into effect our manifesto commitment that 'Labour will not permit the sale of arms to regimes that might use them for internal repression or international aggression'.

The new criteria will stop the export of equipment 'which has obvious application for internal repression, in cases where the recipient country has a significant continuing record of such repression'.

In a separate parliamentary answer I am fulfilling another manifesto commitment to halt the export of equipment used for torture. The Government will now prevent the export under any circumstances of electric-shock batons, stun guns, leg-irons or similar instruments of inhuman or degrading treatment.

The Scott Report on the supply of arms equipment to Iraq revealed the dangers of such decisions being taken in secret. In order that parliament and public can observe that the new policy is being enforced, I am today committing the Government to an annual report on the application of arms exports. An informed public debate is the best guarantee of responsible regulation of the arms trade.

Today's criteria will apply to all arms exports decisions taken by the present Government, including those on applications for a licence held over since 1 May, pending today's announcement. It is not practical to backdate these new criteria, to apply to decisions on licences already taken by the previous administration.

In my policy statement before the general election I set out eight steps towards a responsible arms trade. Today's announcement means that we have already taken four of those steps.

a) We have revised the criteria to halt exports which might be used for internal repression or external aggression.

b) We have stopped the export of equipment used for torture.

c) We have increased the transparency of the arms trade through the introduction of annual reporting.

d) We have banned the production or export of anti-personnel landmines.

The remaining policy commitments relate to international measures such as the introduction of a European Code of Conduct and strengthening of the UN Conventional Arms Register. We will now press for such international action, in order that the measures we have taken, to stop repression or aggression, are not undermined by other countries acting less responsibly.

The Government is committed to a strong and successful British defence industry. The measures I have announced today will assist our defence industry in maintaining its leading position while reducing the risk that British exports might be misused."

The Criteria: Parliamentary Answer

The new criteria were detailed in the following parliamentary question, referred to by the Foreign Secretary in his statement, and appended to the FCO Bulletin of 28 July:

"Question (Stephen Timms MP): 'To ask the Secretary of State what criteria will be used by the Government in considering licence applications for the export of conventional arms; and if he will make a statement?'

Answer (Foreign Secretary): 'The Government is committed to the maintenance of a strong defence industry which is a strategic part of our industrial base, as well as of our defence effort. Defence exports can also contribute to international stability by strengthening bilateral and collective defence relationships in accordance with the right of self-defence recognised by the UN Charter. But arms transfers must be managed responsibly, in particular so as to avoid their use for internal repression and international aggression.

It will be important to avoid a situation in which our policy of seeking to prevent certain regimes from acquiring certain equipment is undermined by foreign competitors supplying them. We will therefore work for the introduction of a European Code of Conduct, setting high common standards to govern arms exports from all EU member states.

Licences to export strategic goods are issued by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry [DTI], and the Export Control Organisation of the DTI is the licensing authority. All relevant individual licence applications are circulated by DTI to other Government departments with an interest, as determined by them in line with their policy responsibilities. These include the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development.

The present Government was not responsible for the decisions on export licences made by the previous Administration. We do not, however, consider it would be realistic or practical to revoke licences which were valid and in force at the time of our election.

The criteria set out below will be used when considering all future individual applications for licences to export goods entered in Part III of Schedule 1 to the Export of Goods (Control) Order 1994), and existing licence applications on which a decision has not yet been made. The criteria will also be applied when considering advance approvals for promotion prior to formal application for an export licence, and licence applications for the export of dual-use goods when there are grounds for believing that the end-user of such goods will be the armed forces or the internal security forces of the recipient country.

The criteria will constitute broad guidance. They will not be applied mechanistically and judgement will always be required. Individual applications will be considered case-by-case.

Criteria Used In Considering Conventional Arms Export License Applications

1. An export licence will not be issued if the arguments for doing so are outweighed by the need to comply with the UK's international obligations and commitments, or by concern that the goods might be used for internal repression or international aggression, or by the risks to regional stability, or other considerations as described in these criteria.

The United Kingdom's International Obligations

2. An export licence should be refused if approval would be inconsistent with:

a) the UK's international obligations and commitments to enforce UN, OSCE and EU arms embargoes, together with any national embargoes or other commitments regarding the application of strategic export controls;

b) the UK's international obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Biological Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention;

c) the UK's commitments to the international export control regimes (the Australia Group, the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the Wassenaar Arrangement);

d) the EU Common Criteria for Arms Exports, the Guidelines for Conventional Arms Transfers agreed by the Permanent Five members of the UN Security Council, and the OSCE Principles Governing Conventional Arms Transfers;

e) the UK's commitment not to export all forms of anti-personnel land mines and their component parts.

The United Kingdom's National Interests

3. Full weight should be given to the UK's national interests when considering applications for licences, including:

a) the potential effect on the UK's defence and security interests and those of allies and EU partners;

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

c) the potential effect on the UK's relations with the recipient country;

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

e) the protection of the UK's essential strategic industrial base.

Human Rights and Internal Repression

4. The Government:

(a) will take into account respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in the recipient country;

(b) will not issue an export licence if there is a clearly identifiable risk that the proposed export might be used for internal repression.

5. For these purposes equipment which might be used for internal repression will include:

(a) Equipment where there is clear evidence of the recent use of similar equipment for internal repression by the proposed end-user, or where there is reason to believe that the equipment will be diverted from its stated end-use or end-user and used for internal repression;

(b) Equipment which has obvious application for internal repression, in cases where the recipient country has a significant and continuing record of such repression, unless the end-use of the equipment is judged to be legitimate, such as protection of members of security forces from violence.

6. The nature of the equipment proposed for export will also be carefully considered. Certain goods have more obvious potential for use in internal repression than others, such as armoured personnel carriers specially designed for internal security. In other cases, there may be prima facie reasons for believing that a particular equipment might be used in such roles in certain circumstances. Any proposed export which is to be used by the recipient country for internal security purposes should be considered particularly carefully.

7. Internal repression includes extra-judicial killings, arbitrary arrest, torture, suppression or major violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms. In some cases, the use of force by a government within its own borders does not constitute internal repression. The use of such force by governments is legitimate in some cases, e.g. to preserve law and order against terrorists or other criminals. However, force may only be used in accordance with international human rights standards.

International Aggression

8. The Government will not issue an export licence if there is a clearly identifiable risk that the intended recipient would use the proposed export aggressively against another country, or to assert by force a territorial claim. However, a purely theoretical possibility that the items concerned might be used in the future against another state will not of itself lead to a licence being refused.

9. When considering the risk that the country for which arms are destined might use them for international aggression, the Government will take into account:

(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) whether the equipment would be likely to be used other than for the legitimate national security and defence of the recipient.

Regional Stability

10. The need not to affect adversely regional stability in any significant way will also be considered. The balance of forces between neighbouring states, their relative expenditure on defence, and the need not to introduce into the region new capabilities which would be likely to lead to increased tension, will all be taken into account.

Other Criteria

11. In assessing the impact of the proposed export on the importing country and the risk that exported goods might be diverted to an undesirable end-user, the following will be considered:

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

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

c) whether the purchase would seriously undermine the economy of the recipient country, taking into account its public finances, balance of payments, external debt, economic and social development and any IMF/World Bank sponsored economic reform programme;

d) the risk of the arms being re-exported or diverted to an undesirable end-user, including terrorist organisations (anti-terrorist equipment would need particularly careful consideration in this context).

12. The following factors will also be taken into account:

(a) the risk of use of the goods concerned against UK forces;

(b) the need to protect UK military classified information and capabilities;

(c) the potential for the equipment to be a force multiplier in the region;

(d) the risk of reverse engineering or technology transfer.

13. In the application of all the above criteria, account should also be taken of, for example, reporting from diplomatic posts, relevant reports by international bodies, intelligence, and information from open sources and non-governmental organisations.

Reporting to Parliament

To ensure full transparency and accountability to Parliament the Government will report annually on the state of strategic export controls and their application, thereby providing for parliamentary consideration of the application of the criteria. The Government will also inform Parliament of any changes to the criteria.'"

UN Arms Register

'UK to work to strengthen UN Register of Conventional Arms,' Statement by Foreign Office Minister of State Tony Lloyd, FCO Daily Bulletin, 3 July 1997


"'The British Government will work to strengthen the UN Register of Conventional Arms', Tony Lloyd, Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, announced today.

Tony Lloyd said:

'We will encourage greater disclosure of information on arms exports and arms transfers by all countries, as part of the Government's commitment to increasing transparency in the field of defence exports.

Effective international regulation of defence exports cannot be carried out by the UK alone. We must encourage the participation of our partners in Europe and beyond.

With other members of the international community, we shall be encouraging increased participation by UN member States, exploring ways of broadening the areas for which members are requested to report. For example, we shall work to extend the Register to include other categories of weapons such as small arms. I should also like to see all countries provide details of the type of equipment they export, as the UK does.'


1. Tony Lloyd made these comments in announcing today, in answer to a Parliamentary Question, the UK's return to the UN Register of Conventional Arms covering calendar year 1996.

2. The UN Register of Conventional Arms is a confidence-building and transparency measure which was established by UN General Assembly resolution 46/36L in December 1991 after the Gulf War. The UK has submitted returns every year since the Register began in 1992. Member States are requested to provide, on an annual basis, information on imports and exports of seven types of major offensive conventional weapons. They are also invited to provide background information on procurement from national production and military holdings, together with statements on relevant policies. ...

5. A UN panel of Experts, tasked with reviewing the scope of the Register, has recently met for their second session in New York. They are due to report to the Secretary General in September.

6. The UK is represented on the Panel, and is contributing strongly to the Panel's efforts to increase global transparency in arms exports. The UK's aims for the Review are to encourage increased participation by UN member States, broaden the scope of the Register by including military holdings and procurement from national production on the same basis as imports and exports. The UK has always provided this information, but fewer than 30 other member States provide it. We are also supporting the expansion of some of the categories to include equipment of a lesser capability. We shall also be taking forward the Government's commitment to extend the Register to include other categories of weapons such as small arms. ..."

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

Return to top of page

Return to List of Contents

Return to Acronym Main Page