European Union External Action

Disarmament, Non-Proliferation, and Arms Export Control

The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons) and their possible acquisition by terrorist groups was identified in the 2003 European Security Strategy and the 2016 Global Strategy as one of the most serious threats to Europeans’ security.

The EU’s guiding principles, as laid out in its Strategy for non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (2003) and the Strategy to combat illicit Small arms (2005), continue to be effective multilateralism, close cooperation with key partners and other third countries, and effective and complementary use of all available instruments and financial resources.

The European Security Strategy, ‘A Secure Europe in a better world’ was adopted on 12 December 2003 by the European Council and updated in December 2008. The European Security Strategy mentions five key challenges faced by the EU: terrorism, proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), regional conflicts, State failure and organised crime.

The proliferation of WMD is defined as potentially the greatest threat to European security. The consequences of the illicit manufacture, transfer and circulation of small arms and light weapons (SALW) are central to the other four challenges defined in the Strategy.        

In parallel, on 12 December 2003, the European Council adopted the Strategy against the proliferation of WMD which states that WMD and missile proliferation put at risk the security of EU Member States, their people and their interests around the world. The EU must act with resolve, using all instruments and policies at its disposal. The ultimate objective is to prevent, deter, halt and – where possible – eliminate WMD proliferation programmes of concern worldwide.

On 15-16 December 2005, the European Council adopted a Strategy to combat illicit accumulation and trafficking of SALW and their ammunition. The EU SALW Strategy is a comprehensive document that gives the combined response needed to overcome the threats posed by the illicit accumulation and trafficking of SALW and their ammunition. The EU SALW strategy fully exploits the means available to the EU at multilateral and regional levels, within the European Union and in the EU's bilateral relations.

The EU’s guiding principle and overall aim for disarmament and non-proliferation is to uphold and strengthen  international instruments –all relevant international treaties, conventions and instruments, such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the Conventions on prohibition of Chemical (CWC) and Biological weapons (BTWC), the Mines Ban Treaty (APMC), the UN Programme of Action on the illicit Trade in SALW, and support to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540, designed to prohibit proliferation in the field.

The current priorities are the early entry into force of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), the final drafting and endorsement of an EU proposed Code of Conduct for activities in Outer Space, the preparation of the 2015 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference (including the holding of a Conference on a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone in the Middle East), as well as promoting the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Since the establishment of the European External Action Service (EEAS), representatives of the High Representative, through chairing the Council Working Parties dealing with disarmament and non-proliferation, are strengthening coordination of EU positions in international non-proliferation and disarmament fora, to ensure the EU’s role is both active and visible, as foreseen by the Lisbon Treaty.

The EU Non-Proliferation Consortium: In July 2010 the Council of the European Union decided to create a network bringing together foreign policy institutions and research centres from across the EU to encourage political and security-related discussion and exploration of measures to combat the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems (Council Decision 2010/430/CFSP).

The EU Non-Proliferation Consortium comprises four leading think-tanks: La Fondation pour la recherche stratégique in Paris; the Peace Research Institute in Frankfurt; the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute; and the International Institute for Strategic Studies based in London. The Consortium's network comprises over 60 think-tanks from all over Europe.

The EEAS and the Consortium worked together to organise a number of consultative meetings, seminars and a capacity-building workshop.  The Consortium held its fourth international non-proliferation and disarmament conference in November 2015.  Under the Council Decision adopted early 2014, a number of ad-hoc seminars have been organised and the Consortium was asked to produce a number of policy papers.