Felix Ruechardt, Researcher (firstname.lastname@example.org)
In October 2017, the UK government published a Green Paper entitled “National Security and Infrastructure Investment Review” which outlined short-term and long-term proposals to reform the nation’s Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) review system. It currently rests on limited powers granted to the government in the Enterprise Act of 2002. By expanding the scope of its FDI review system, the government seeks to counter increased foreign (especially Chinese) investments into UK infrastructure and critical technology sectors.
However, the Green Paper does not address the role that an FDI review on national security grounds will take in enhancing the export control and non-proliferation regimes of the United Kingdom. While not dismissing the valid and important security concerns regarding critical infrastructure and critical technology sectors, this report emphasises the importance of including non-proliferation as a key function of a reformed FDI review system in the UK.
Using strategic FDI transactions has in the past been a successful stratagem by proliferation actors in the cases of the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programme of Iraq and the alleged WMD programme of Iran. This is demonstrated by three case studies in this report in which proliferation actors circumvented export control and non-proliferation rules by purchasing Western companies holding technologies of proliferation concern: Matrix Churchill (UK) and H+H Metalform (GER), two companies that were purchased by an Iraqi proliferation network in the 1980s, and MCS Technologies (GER), a company secretly bought by Iran in 2003. The UK government should use its current reform efforts to close this gap that remains an issue today.
FDI review systems that have non-proliferation as one of their functions are able to address this evasion strategy. Two allies of the United Kingdom, the United States and Germany, have successfully demonstrated this in their FDI review procedures. Both countries tie the powers to scrutinize FDI transactions and potentially block them to whether businesses manufacture goods or hold technologies that are subject to export control rules. In Germany, a stricter reviewing procedure and a mandatory notification regime even apply in these cases – something that is debated in the United States currently as well.
The UK government can learn from the abovementioned cases of FDI as a proliferation strategy as well as the systems the United States and Germany have put in place to counter said strategy. This report calls for it to:
- Make non-proliferation a clearly stated function of the reformed FDI review system while not dismissing other key functions such as protecting critical infrastructure;
- Base a mandatory notification regime for mergers and tightened rules on the Strategic Export Control Lists and companies who manufacture goods on those;
- Refrain from excluding smaller companies from falling under the scope of an FDI review system as those companies are also increasingly holding proliferation-relevant technologies.
The direction of the reform process will to a certain extent of course depend on the outcome of the negotiations the UK government is currently holding with the other EU member states over their relationship after the UK leaves the EU bloc. But if the UK government strengthens the non-proliferation component of its FDI review reform proposals, those will set it on track to establish a system that is comparable to those in other countries that have national security based FDI reviews in place to date.