Side event on the Hague Code of Conduct: existing and possible risk reduction initiatives in the field of missiles

October 18th, 2019

On 9 October 2019, a panel discussion entitled HCoC – Existing and possible risk reduction initiatives in the field of missiles was held in the margins of the First Committee on Disarmament and International Security of the 74th United Nations General Assembly in New York.

The objective of the event, which was funded by the European Union and implemented by the Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique (FRS), was to promote a permanent dialogue on ballistic missile proliferation and to highlight the importance of the Hague Code of Conduct (HCoC) in achieving that goal.



Emmanuelle Maître, Research Fellow at the FRS and moderator of the event, opened by highlighting the need for in depth-dialogue on the HCoC, especially in the current international security environment and in the context of the upcoming 2020 Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).

Ambassador Jacek Bylica, Special envoy for disarmament and non-proliferation for the European Union, stressed that ‘’the code deserves high attention” and highlighted its crucial role for global and regional Confidence- and Security-Building Measures (CSBMs). The HCoC, he said, is among the instruments available to decrease risks associated with military programmes. The objective is not to prohibit the development of ballistic missile systems but to ensure transparency, thereby decreasing the risk of misunderstanding and escalation. This could be further strengthened if countries that do not have ballistic missile technology provided official declarations to that end, he concluded.

Ambassador Kjersti Andersen, Ambassador of Norway to Austria and current HCoC Chair, praised the contribution of the HCoC to international security in the absence of a legally binding treaty regulating the means of delivery systems. She described the HCoC as a unique and effective non-proliferation tool allowing States to share information by providing notifications of planned ballistic missile and space launch vehicle launches. Ambassador Andersen said that a key objective remains the universalization of the Code.

Mr Mark Fitzpatrick, Associate Fellow, International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), described the HCoC as a useful instrument that is too often overlooked. In his view, the code’s standardization of pre-launch notifications constitutes a good start towards creating an environment conducive to disarmament. At the same time, he maintained that providing pre-launch notifications should not be used as a pretext to conduct prohibited actions. Furthermore, Mr. Fitzpatrick underlined the importance of bilateral and regional approaches to address today’s major dangers, including ballistic missile technology transfers to non-state actors and possibly region-wide limits of missile ranges. He urged States to take action to restrict supply through the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and Security Council resolutions, as well as to reduce demand through peace initiatives and confidence building measures. Finally, he encouraged concerned States to commence discussion of a replacement for the Intermediate-Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

Dr. Nikolai Sokov, Senior Fellow at the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Nonproliferation (VCDNP), declared that ‘’when something works, one should take caution when trying to change or improve it’’. He nevertheless called for efforts to harmonize the HCoC and MTCR. He emphasized that harmonization of these regimes would ultimately strengthen them. For instance, the scope of the HCoC could be extended to cruise missiles and armed drones could be added to both instruments. In addition, he underlined the importance of delinking nuclear weapon and ballistic missile non-proliferation efforts since the latter is more attractive to many States including because missiles can find utility as delivery vehicles for conventional weapons. Dr. Sokov also emphasized the need for positive incentives, analogous to those in the NPT, for effective control of missiles and to demonstrate benefits to current non-members of the HCoC. These could relate to the peaceful use of outer space. Finally, Dr. Sokov highlighted the urgent need for predictability in the international system and lamented the lack of dialogue in this regard. He thought there could be strong interest in track 1.5 and track 2 meetings on these topics in the post-INF world.

Presentations were followed by a lively Q&A with the audience where panelists and participants discussed various topics ranging from membership, predictability and the need to extend the current HCoC. Ambassador Bylica closed the event by calling for continued support of the HCoC.


Text prepared by Marie-Charlotte Aubry