Counter proliferation and export controls
On this page
- Export control regimes
- Nuclear Suppliers Group
- Zangger Committee
- Australia Group
- Missile Technology Control Regime
- Wassenaar Arrangement
- Proliferation Security Initiative
- United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540
- Strengthening global non-proliferation security
- Related links
Export control regimes
Canada tightly regulates the export of material, equipment, and technology in the nuclear, chemical, and biological fields. Export controls also apply to conventional weapons, related dual-use goods, and a number of additional strategic goods and technologies.
These regulations ensure that such exports are consistent with our foreign and defense policies. Controlled materials, goods, and technologies are exported only to entities in countries that meet our stringent export control requirements regarding:
- arms control of conventional weapons
Sensitive exports are assessed for proliferation and arms control considerations by determining whether the export:
- represents an unacceptable risk of diversion to a program for proliferation of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons, or for the means of delivery for such weapons
- is in accordance with national, multinational and generally recognized international principles, commitments and agreements regarding the transfer of conventional weapons
- represents an unacceptable risk to space security
Such exports often require the issuance of an export permit pursuant to the provisions of the Export and Import Permits Act (EIPA).
Most items on Canada’s Export Control List (ECL) reflect Canada’s obligations under relevant multilateral international agreements.
Canada participates in export control regimes and multilateral initiatives in response to our concerns about the proliferation of:
- nuclear materials
- biological weapons
- related dual use goods and technologies
- conventional weapons
Each export control regime addresses a different category of goods and technologies and maintains current lists of controlled equipment, technology, and materials.
Nuclear Suppliers Group
Created in 1974, Canada helped found the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) following the explosion of a nuclear device in India, a non-nuclear weapons state. The event in India demonstrated that nuclear technology was spreading and may not always be used for peaceful purposes.
The goal of the NSG is to support the effective implementation of the NPT by establishing clear rules on nuclear transfers.
Guidelines on nuclear trade for peaceful purposes
NSG guidelines aim to ensure that nuclear trade for peaceful purposes does not contribute to the proliferation of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. These guidelines seek to control materials and technology that could make a significant contribution to an unsafeguarded nuclear fuel cycle or nuclear explosive activity.
The NSG also supports communication and information sharing amongst participating governments regarding possible nuclear proliferation issues.
Canada and the NSG ensure that the most stringent nuclear and nuclear-related export controls are in place, through the ongoing strengthening and revision of the NSG Guidelines.
Control lists for nuclear material, equipment, and technology
Global Affairs Canada implements the NSG’s control lists for nuclear material, equipment, and technology. This requires a permit for the export of listed nuclear material, equipment, and technology or related goods.
In addition, a license must be issued by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, following the provisions of the Nuclear Safety and Control Act.
A permit and license are issued only when the responsible officials are satisfied that the proposed export meets all of Canada’s stringent nuclear non-proliferation requirements.
After the NPT came into force, the Zangger Committee (ZC) was formed. We are one of 38 member states and contribute through the implementation of ZC decisions in Canada’s export controls.
The ZC aims to define which nuclear items should trigger International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. This includes fissionable materials (or materials that can give nuclear weapons their explosive power) and equipment or materials especially designed or prepared for the processing, use, or production of such materials.
Under the NPT, these items should be subject to IAEA safeguards if supplied by any NPT state party to any non-nuclear weapon state. ZC guidelines provide three conditions for such supply:
- assurance of non-explosive use
- an IAEA safeguards requirement
- a provision regarding the terms of retransfer
Founded in 1985, the Australia Group (AG), under permanent Australian chairmanship, is a multilateral export control regime made up of 43 countries. The AG seeks to prevent the proliferation of chemical and biological weapons.
Canada joined with a number of other countries to create the AG so as to harmonize their export controls on:
- chemical precursors and dual-use chemical manufacturing equipment and related technology and software
- dual-use biological equipment and related technology and software
- human and animal pathogens and toxins, and plant pathogens
The AG also meets periodically to share information on relevant scientific breakthroughs, update export control lists, and discuss trends in cases of attempted proliferation.
Canada actively participates in the annual plenary meeting and intersessional discussions to ensure that effective controls are in place to address current chemical and biological proliferation threats.
Canada implements the Australia Group common control lists through the Group 7 of the Export Control List.
Applicants must obtain permission from Global Affairs Canada prior to any export of controlled:
- biological agents
- dual-use goods
In addition, applicants are required to obtain licenses from the Public Health Agency of Canada for permission to export pathogens not listed under Group 7.
Missile Technology Control Regime
The Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) is an informal voluntary association of 35 countries acting to limit trade in unmanned delivery systems that can deliver weapons of mass destruction (WMD). It coordinates national export licensing to prevent the spread of WMD.
Canada and all MTCR partners have voluntarily introduced export licenses for rockets, missiles, and other unmanned air delivery systems. Licenses are required for related equipment, material and technology, to deter those who seek to build or acquire unmanned WMD delivery systems and related technologies.
For Canada, the MTCR control list is in Group 6 of the Export Control List.
MTCR partners closely watch transfers of missile and UAV equipment, material, and related technologies that can be used to deliver WMD. Partners apply common export policy guidelines based on a common list of controlled items.
The MTCR does not make export-licensing decisions as a group. Individual partners have discretion to implement the MTCR guidelines and annex according to their national legislation and practices. Partners regularly trade relevant data about export license issues.
In 1987, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States established the MTCR.
The Wassenaar Arrangement’s goal is to contribute to security and stability by promoting transparency and responsibility in transfers of conventional arms and dual-use goods and technology.
In 1996, the Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-use Goods and Technologies was established.
Preventing the build-up of weapons
The Wassenaar Arrangement seeks to ensure that transfers of controlled items do not contribute to the development or enhancement of military capabilities that can undermine regional and international security and stability.
Canada was a founding member of this organization. There are now 41 participating states.
The Wassenaar Arrangement intends to enhance co-operation to prevent the acquisition of armaments and sensitive dual-use items for military end-uses.
The Wassenaar Arrangement is not directed against any state or group of states and does not seek to impede legitimate civil transactions. It also complements and reinforces, with little duplication, the other export control regimes for weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems.
Through its membership in the Wassenaar Arrangement, Canada has committed to control:
- dual-use items that have both civilian and military applications
- items which are specially designed or modified for military purposes
- items that present a strategic military concern
These items are under Groups 1 and 2 of the Export Control List.
- Human Pathogens and Toxins Act
- Export Controls Handbook
- European Union
- Nuclear Security Summits:
- International Atomic Energy Agency - Nuclear safety and security
- Nuclear substances and radiation devices - Licensing process
- Counter-proliferation and export controls
Proliferation Security Initiative
In May 2003, the United States launched the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). The PSI was established in response to the growing challenge posed by the proliferation of WMD, their delivery systems, and related materials.
The PSI is not an organization, but rather a voluntary international grouping of nations establishing a flexible, voluntary, and open mechanism aimed at enhancing interdiction capabilities.
Participation by nations is subject to the endorsement of PSI’s Statement of Interdiction Principles that includes:
- voluntary political commitments to, among other things, undertake effective measures to interdict the transport of WMD, their delivery systems and related materials to and from states and non-state actors of proliferation concern
- exchange information on suspected proliferation activity to facilitate interdictions
- work to strengthen relevant national counter-proliferation legal authorities where necessary
Canada joined PSI in December 2003. Over 100 other states also participate in the initiative. Participation in PSI is consistent with, and supportive of, Canada’s efforts to strengthen counter-proliferation mechanisms to promote regional stability and international security. Canadian participation in PSI helps us to:
- Address the threat of WMD proliferation by disrupting trafficking networks;
- Develop our domestic response capability to ensure that we can act in a timely and effective manner if/when called upon to do so; and
- Enhance information sharing with PSI partners on interdiction-related issues.
Canada’s participation in the PSI is characterized by a multi-disciplinary, whole-of-government approach. Global Affairs Canada leads on policy issues, while the Department of National Defense leads on operational issues. Canada has attended every PSI Operational Experts Group (OEG) meeting. Canada has hosted OEG meetings in Ottawa (2004, 2015) and Montreal (2006). Canada also actively participates in the PSI exercise program. The program allows states to test their operational capabilities for interdiction on land, at sea, and in the air. Through multinational exercises, PSI participants also clearly convey to would-be proliferators their collective determination to combat illicit trafficking in WMD, their means of delivery and related materials.
Capacity building and exercises
Canada takes part in capacity building exercises to help develop counter-proliferation capacities among PSI-participating countries.
The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) participates each year in Exercise TRADEWINDS. It is a training event in the Caribbean led by the U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM). The exercise brings together defence and security partners from different countries to improve security in the region.
There are four main areas of focus:
- stopping organized crime and other threats that affect people across borders;
- providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief;
- responding quickly to all events; and
- strengthening partnerships, including between militaries and civilian organizations.
The exercise has multiple phases to make sure that it can meet diverse training needs.
Canada also hosts regular technical workshops and seminars to support counter-proliferation efforts in the Caribbean. These events seek to build capacity in areas such as customs enforcement and commodity identification.
Operational Experts Group
The Operational Experts Group (OEG) of 21 countries, which includes Canada, provides an annual forum for members to share experiences and coordinate national responses to emerging threats.
The Group plays a vital role to make sure the PSI is effective by:
- leveraging related efforts
- sharing experts and assets for customs, law enforcement and military exercises
- hosting PSI meetings, workshops and exercises
- working with partner countries to improve their capacity to fight the spread of WMDs
The OEG is composed of:
- Republic of Korea
- The Netherlands
- New Zealand
- United Kingdom
- United States
Critical capabilities and practices
The Critical Capabilities and Practices effort began in 2010 to provide practical resources for the effective implementation of the PSI Statement of Interdiction Principles. The Review Team supports the effort. It maintains a library of tools and resources for participating countries to use. These include: model legislation; commodity identification guides; legal analysis of United Nations Security Council resolutions; and best practices for sharing information.
United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540
The possibility of terrorist use of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) is one of the gravest threats to international peace and security. Many countries do not have adequate legislation, regulations, or controls to prevent the acquisition of WMDs and related materials by non-state actors, including terrorists, within their borders.
To respond to these threats, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1540 (UNSCR 1540) in 2004. This resolution places legally-binding obligations on all UN Member States to prevent the proliferation of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons, their means of delivery, and related materials to non-state actors, including terrorists and traffickers of such materials. Obligations under this resolution include the following:
- refraining from providing support to non-state actors seeking WMD and their means of delivery
- the adoption and enforcement of effective laws prohibiting activities involving the proliferation of WMD and their means of delivery to non-state actors
- the enforcement of effective measures and domestic controls to prevent WMD proliferation
As a strong and longstanding advocate of non-proliferation, Canada supports the full and universal implementation of UNSCR 1540 as an important means to reduce WMD proliferation and security risks.
To achieve this goal, Canada works with its partners to advance its implementation, including by encouraging the submission of reports and action plans by all UN Member States to the 1540 Committee. To date, Canada has submitted 3 three national reports and two national action plans. In 2016, following a comprehensive review of UNSCR 1540, Canada co-sponsored UNSCR 2325. This resolution calls on all States to strengthen national anti-proliferation regimes in implementation of resolution 1540, to submit timely reports on their efforts, and to enhance assistance for building State capacity in that regard.
Canada is a strong supporter of UNSCR 1540 and 2325 and is actively engaged in initiatives that promote universal implementation of these resolutions, including:
- the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)
- the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI)
- the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT)
- the Global Health Security Agenda
Canada also supports the UNSCR 1540 through several multilateral export control regimes, including:
- the Wassenaar Arrangement
- the Nuclear Suppliers Group
- the Australia Group
- the Missile Technology Control Regime
Offering assistance to other countries
Importantly, UNSCR 1540 encourages international cooperation and invites States to assist other countries who may need technical, legal, or capacity-building support to fulfil their obligations under the Resolution.
To assist with this, the Resolution established the 1540 Committee, which is supported by a Group of Experts appointed by the Secretary General. The committee receives reports on 1540 implementation produced by States, and matches technical assistance requests and offers. It also raises awareness of the risk of WMD proliferation and conducts outreach.
Strengthening global non-proliferation security
The UNSCR 1540 implementation programming is part of Canada’s Weapons Threat Reduction Program (WTRP) supports countries’ capabilities to fulfil the resolution’s requirements.
As examples of this, the WTRP coordinates training of first responders in priority countries by members of Canada's National Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear Explosives (CBRNE) Response Team.
For example, in 2017, the Canadian team assisted the Malaysian police and the Atomic Energy Licensing Board in response to two incidents:
- An airport sweep at Kuala Lumpur International Airport that led to the detection of traces VX elements, following the February 13 death of a North Korean national at the airport
- The discovery of projectors containing stolen category-2 radioactive material Iridium-192. Following arrests, police and experts used radiation detectors to sweep and seize all radioactive materials in the area
Canada also provides funding to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the World Custom Organization (WCO). The funding helps the joint Container Control Program, which aims to strengthen detection capabilities at key seaports.
- Canada implemented a $5.9M multi-year initiative to strengthen export controls and border security in Latin America and Caribbean
- Canada is committed to strengthening the effectiveness and implementation of UNSCR 1540, including through a $1.1M contribution to better align potential donors and requestors of assistance
- Canada has supported efforts in southeast Asia and eastern Europe through $6.2M of funding, to prevent the illicit trafficking and proliferation of strategic goods transhipped through vulnerable maritime routes
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