The 15th Anniversary of the Hague Code of Conduct

On Friday, October 13, the Permanent Mission of Poland to the United Nations hosted a panel to discuss the 15th anniversary of the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (HCoC). The meeting took place in Conference Room 4 of the General Assembly building as a side event to the First Committee of the 72nd Session of the General Assembly. Polish Ambassador Dr. Boguslaw Winid acted as the moderator of the hour-long panel and was joined by a panel of experts who offered remarks on the progress and future of the HCoC.

The United Nations Under-Secretary for Disarmament Affairs, Izumi Nakamitsu, spoke first and was followed by Ambassador Marek Szcygiel, who currently serves as the Chair for the Hague Code of Conduct; Didier Lenoir, the Head of the Delegation from the European Union External Action Service; and Alexandre Houdayer, Secretary-General for La Fondation pour la Recherche Strategique (FRS) or the Foundation for Strategic Research.

The HCoC was originally put into effect during a conference hosted by the Netherlands in Den Haag. The Code is a voluntary convention that encourages states to commit to some measure of restraint when it comes to developing ballistic capabilities. It does not require that states abandon all their ballistic research, it simply looks to create objectives that limit the proliferation of ballistic missiles capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction. It largely focuses on the development, testing, and deployment of such missiles as areas to create international norms that will ideally lead to non-proliferation and disarmament. [1]

The panel positioned the importance of the HCoC in an historical and contemporary context. Under-Secretary Nakamitsu noted that it was almost 55 years to the day that an American U-2 spy plane photographed ballistic missile positions being assembled in Cuba. This discovery on October 14, 1962 kicked off the Cuban Missile Crisis and nearly caused a nuclear war between Russia and the United States.[2] Secretary-General Houdayer also went over the preliminary efforts of the global community to address ballistic proliferation that preceded the HCoC. As he said, the HCoC introduced norms, cooperation, and principles to the issue where there previously were none. Additionally, since the Code was first passed, the United Nations has passed resolutions in support of it, including most recently, as Ambassador Szcygiel pointed out, Resolution 71/33 on December 5, 2016, which strengthened the nonproliferation regime and included support from 34 non-signatory nations.[3]

This reaffirmation of support for non-proliferation of ballistic weapons is still a real concern as Mr. Lenoir reminded the audience, in the light of continued nuclear testing by North Korea. Additionally, Mr. Lenoir urged the body to look for ways to move from a zero-sum approach on non-proliferation to a more balanced, win-win scenario where all states can work to ensure their national security while not impeding any one nation’s ability to join in space exploration capabilities, which is a concern when limiting ballistic research. It may be worth noting that International Space Week was just recently observed by the United Nations. In the end, it is important to remember that the Hague Code of Conduct is a voluntary endeavor meant to strengthen international norms on non-proliferation, and there are still many states with ballistic capabilities who are not signatories to the HCoC.

Actual formal obligations are fairly limited and realistically would not prevent states from continuing their efforts on space exploration. The real danger is that states continue to develop their ballistic capabilities for carrying weapons of mass destruction. The need for international norms in this non-proliferation effort is only made greater by the fact that any binding resolutions on the matter may been seen as intrusive and would be vulnerable to Security Council vetoes. Nonviolence International and many of our partners in civil society continue to stand with those working to develop international norms on nonproliferation and disarmament.

  1. “What is HCoC?” The Hague Code of Conduct. Austrian Foreign Ministry http://www.hcoc.at/.
  2. “The Cuban Missile Crisis, October 1962.” U.S. Department of State. https://history.state.gov/milestones/1961-1968/cuban-missile-crisis.
  3. “GA Resolution 71/33.” United Nations. October 27, 2016. https://gafc-vote.un.org/UNODA/vote.nsf/511260f3bf6ae9c005256705006e0a5b/64626eb59877dd9285258096004f2de3?OpenDocument.