Introduction to Counter-Proliferation

Anthrax spores

Anthrax spores

The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) poses a potential threat to the UK's security. A number of countries continue to develop WMD programmes which give cause for concern.

WMD encompasses nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. The UK has obligations under a number of international treaties, conventions and export control regimes such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Chemical and Biological Weapons Conventions and the Missile Technology Control Regime.

Since 1992, MI5 has played a part in countering this threat.


MI5 focuses its counter-proliferation efforts on those regimes considered to be a threat to our security. This includes developing nuclear states that refuse to sign up to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, those who pursue clandestine weaponisation programmes and those who act in contravention of United Nations Resolutions to limit the build-up of nuclear weapons.

To counter this threat, we engage with a wide variety of other national and international government agencies as well as with private industry and academic institutions. In addition, we seek to highlight the risks to UK manufacturers and suppliers who may become unknowingly involved in supplying goods, software or training to entities working with or at the behest of regimes of concern.

Goods and equipment not normally requiring export licences can still be controlled by provisions in EC Regulations and national legislation. Less sensitive items can be made licensable if they are, or may be, for use in a WMD programme. Many of the goods of concern can be put to a civil use as well as to a military or nuclear use. These are often referred to as "dual-use" goods.

Key counter-proliferation partners

Key counter-proliferation partners for MI5 in the UK include:

Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS)

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has responsibility for maintaining the export licensing system for goods exported from the UK outside the European Union. Goods exported directly and indirectly to countries of concern including Iran, North Korea and Syria may require an export licence and UK exporters are encouraged to liaise with BIS to ensure their goods meet these requirements. 

Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is responsible for promoting and protecting Britain’s interests abroad (see Counter-proliferation programme).

Ministry of Defence (MOD)

The Ministry of Defence provides technical advice in relation to items of interest to countries of concern (see Nuclear disarmament).

His Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC)

HMRC has responsibility for the prosecution of export licensing offences in the UK and publishes guidance on import and export controls.

Home Office

The Home Office has responsibility for securing the UK borders and deals with freight entering and leaving the UK.

National Crime Agency (NCA)

The National Crime Agency has responsibility for tackling organised crime, strengthening our borders and fighting fraud and cyber crime. It also protects children and young people. The NCA became operational in October 2013.

MI5 also works closely with its overseas partners in Europe and elsewhere. Areas of concern are regularly raised and shared.

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