First Committee Side Event on “Exploring the role of HCoC and other CBMs in the field of missiles”

October 22nd, 2021

On 13 October 2021, a side event entitled “Exploring the role of The Hague Code of Conduct (HCoC) and other confidence-building measures (CBMs) in the field of missiles” was held in the margins of the First Committee on Disarmament and International Security of the 76th United Nations General Assembly.  

The objective of the side event, organized by the Foundation for Strategic Research Foundation (FRS) with the support of the European Union, was to promote dialogue on ballistic missile non-proliferation and to highlight the importance of the Hague Code of Conduct in achieving that goal. Panellists explored linkages between the HCoC and other CBMs that deal with strategic issues and touched on opportunities to strengthen the code’s multilateral framework, as well as ways to increase transparency. 

In opening remarks, H.E. Ms. Marjolijn van Deelen, European Union Special Envoy for Non-proliferation and Disarmament, underscored that the HCoC is one of the few existing multilateral instruments aimed at preventing the proliferation of ballistic missiles. She added that to successfully tackle global challenges like disarmament and non-proliferation, it is vital that countries engage in cooperation and effective multilateralism.   

Ambassador Marjolijn van Deelen, European Union Special Envoy for Non-proliferation and Disarmament delivered opening remarks  

Ms. Tanvi Kulkarni, Policy Fellow at the Asia Pacific Leadership Network, then briefed the audience on how the HCoC came into existence. The HCoC, she said, notably addresses a gap in the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) by providing for voluntary restrictions over indigenous missile developments. The speaker also compared existing bilateral, regional, and multilateral CBMs, arguing that multilateral measures like the HCoC are better equipped for certain non-proliferation and monitoring activities, for example in the context of space-launch activities, and at attaining transparency and accountability. 

Ms. Kulkarni explained eight components that can be used to assess agreements and treaties that promote missile-related CBMs, namely: membership, legal force, transparency, communication about policies and data exchanges, notification requirements, constraints, consultative modalities that facilitate dialogue between States, and verification procedures to allow monitoring of compliance. She concluded by arguing that countries are increasingly reluctant to agree to legally binding treaties, which make CBMs such as the HCoC of even more importance. 

Ms. Almudena Azcárate Ortega, Associate Researcher at the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), drew attention to the importance of the HCoC as a CBM for regulating the peaceful use of outer space. Ms. Ortega highlighted how the HCoC’s obligation on subscribing States to not use space launch vehicles and programs to conceal ballistic missile programmes has links with existing outer space treaties, namely the Outer Space Treatythe Liability Conventionthe Rescue and Return Agreement, and the Registration Convention, all of which the HCoC encourages States to join.  

She went on to explain that the three traditional ways to ensure effective monitoring, i.e., by looking at the type of propellant, manufacturing frequency, and launch preparations, have become obsolete due to rapid technological developments which have blurred the lines between space launch vehicles and missiles. In light of this, Ms. Ortega stressed the importance of the HCoC as it provides us with less “ambiguity” about activities in both the missile field and in the space field as well as gives a series of CBMs that encourage and place emphasis on sharing of information and notification.  

In closing remarks, H.E. Mr. Gustavo Ainchil, Ambassador of the Argentine Republic to Austria and Permanent Representative to the International Organizations in Vienna and Chair of The Hague Code of Conduct, outlined the achievements of the HCoC based on national and regional security assessments namely, attaining a basic understanding among relevant actors and a membership showing a good balance of relevant actors. Ambassador Ainchil highlighted achieving universalization as the main challenge of the HCoC and concluded by stating that the HCoC could be seen as a possible greenhouse for future developments in the area of non-proliferation of ballistic missiles. 

In the discussion that followed in the Q&A segment with the audience, the speakers focused on how the HCoC deals with unmanned aerial vehicles and hypersonic weapons, the continuing importance of the Code as the international arms control architecture is under strain and comparisons between bilateral CBMs with multilateral arrangements.  

Text and photos by Zainab Rauf Tramboo