The Hague Code of Conduct: Tools and challenges to address ballistic missile proliferation today

October 16th, 2018

On 12 October 2018, the Permanent Mission to the United Nations of Sweden organized a side event titled, “The Hague Code of Conduct: Tools and challenges to address ballistic missile proliferation today,” which was supported by the European Union and the Foundation pour la Recherche Stratégique. The panelists were from the Swedish Office of Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, the Foundation pour la Recherche Stratégique, the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament European External Action Service, and the Center of Global Affairs at New York University. Each panelist highlighted the importance of global rules-based order and international agreements and maintained that The Hague Code of Conduct (HCoC) against the proliferation of ballistic missiles is the ultimate proof of member states’ desire for a transparent and peaceful world.

Amb. Ann-Sofie Nilsson, the Swedish Ambassador for Disarmament and Nonproliferation and the HCoC Chair, stated that the proliferation of ballistic missiles in various regions is a serious concern, as is the fact that countries that already have ballistic missiles are gaining more capabilities with advanced technologies. She maintained that preventing the proliferation of ballistic missiles is fundamental to a secure and peaceful world. This task is not easy, she argued, and the international community requires a wide and flexible set of tools in order to deal with these challenges.

Mr. Alexandre Houdayer, Secretary-General of the Foundation pour la Recherche Stratégique, stated that the General Assembly has adopted resolutions supporting the HCoC since 2004. So far, seven such resolutions have been adopted in which the number of votes in favor was substantially greater than the number of states subscribing to the HCoC. Moreover, when UN member states did not vote in favor of such resolutions, most abstained rather than voting against. These resolutions, adopted every two years, are am important way of building a relationship between the United Nations and the HCoC.

Amb. Jacek Bylica, Principal Advisor and Special Envoy for Non-Proliferation and Disarmament European External Action Service, stated that the HCoC is an instrument that provides transparency and confidence-building measures, thereby increasing trust and decreasing the risk of misinterpretation. For example, a test meant for peaceful space exploration could be misinterpreted by other countries if they were not notified beforehand. Lastly, Amb. Bylica stated that the EU has a long a long history of supporting these types of instruments both through supporting universalization and effective implementation.

Dr. Waheguru Pal Singh Sidhu, from The Center of Global Affairs at New York University discussed two approaches to strengthening global cooperation and reducing the risk of missile proliferation and building trust: the bottom-up and top-down approach.

Bottom-up approaches: 

Encourage states within and outside the HCoC to take unilateral, voluntary, confidence-building measures, such as:

  • Improving controls of missiles and missile technology transfers
  • Establishing pre-flight notifications
  • Enhancing existing bilateral agreements
  • Regionalizing bilateral agreements

Top-down approaches:

Complement the HCoC’s voluntary confidence-building and transparency measures by:

  • Encouraging reporting of missile-related activities via UN reporting mechanisms such as the UN Register on Conventional Arms
  • Building on synergies between the HCoC and the reports of the three UN panels on the issue of missiles in all its aspects
  • Initiating a new United Nations Group of Governmental Experts or Open-Ended Working Group on ballistic missiles

Dr. Sidhu argued that regional approaches to addressing missile issues seem to be more effective in the short term than a global approach and that the HCoC has the potential to be a stable instrument for global peace as it promotes and provides a forum for discussion.

The side event closed with the following remarks:

The international community needs to re-engage and give higher priority to addressing issues related to missiles, especially in the context of a disarmament process” – An Agenda for Disarmament, 2018

Written by Ester Rivarola