A multilateral response to ballistic proliferation

14 January 2021


The FRS organised on 14 January 2021 a webinar with the support of the EU dedicated to the integration of the HCoC within multilateral mechanism and further avenues to curb ballistic proliferation.

As a new United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution on the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (HCoC) was adopted in December 2020, the current HCoC Chair, Immediate Central Contact (ICC), UNODA and FRS experts addressed the role the United Nations plays in the struggle against the proliferation of ballistic missiles. Previous initiatives were evoked, as well as the gradual integration of the Hague Code of Conduct in UN multilateralism. Propositions were made to discuss to renew the conversation on the threat posed by missiles in UN forums.




  • Emmanuelle MAITRE, Research Fellow, FRS



  • Amb. Benno LAGGNER, Resident Representative to the IAEA, Permanent Representative to the CTBTO PrepCom, Permanent Mission of Switzerland, Vienna, Austria, Current Chair of the HCoC
  • George-Wilhelm GALLHOFER, Minister, Representative of the HCoC Immediate Central Contact (ICC), Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Austria
  • Michael SPIES, Acting Head of Science and Technology Unit, UNODA
  • Alexandre HOUDAYER, Secretary General, FRS



  • Amb. Marjolijn VAN DEELEN, Special Envoy for Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, European External Action Service, European Union

Summary of the debates 

This conversation dealt with the multilateral responses to ballistic proliferation and the integration of the HCoC within the UN framework. The speakers developed a number of points that can be grouped under the following headings:

Recent vote on the UNGA/RES/75/60

Everybody expressed satisfaction over the vote on 7 December 2020 on UNGA/RES/75/60 in support of the Hague Code of Conduct and congratulated the Swiss HCoC Chair for this success. The resolution was adopted with a record number of “Yes” votes (176), and only 10 abstentions and one vote against. Only six states did not participate in the vote. The priority of Chairs since the first resolution in 2008 has been to increase the level of support and the 2020 result bears the fruits of outreach efforts conducted by Chairs but also the EU project implemented by FRS.

Importance of the resolutions

All panellists agreed on the importance of the UNGA resolutions in support of the Code, especially to strengthen the place of the Code among multilateral mechanisms. This is an important demarche, which answers the criticism that the Code was born outside the UN system. Secondly, the resolutions are useful to show the broad support behind the HCoC, which goes well beyond the scope of subscribing states. It also gives a possibility to States that are not yet ready to join to show their agreement with the principles of the Code. The biennial resolutions are an opportunity to keep the Code on the international agenda, display outreach efforts but also call for a better implementation of the agreement by its subscribing states.

Lessons learnt from previous UNGA resolutions

Since 2008, each resolution has gathered a higher number of positive votes and the number of abstentions has slowly decreased. Interestingly, 75% of non-subscribing states supported the latest resolution, while a majority of them voted for more than 5 resolutions, and a third for all of them. This support gives a clear sense of legitimacy to the Code. It is therefore important to remain focused on the outreach efforts from states and other actors, in a coordinated effort, to raise the importance of this issue.

Complementarity of HCoC and legally-binding multilateral instruments

Various instruments have different roles: while some instruments are adopted in a prohibition logic, the HCoC is unique as it focuses on delivery vehicles and starts from a different starting point. The complementarity of such approaches is clear as confidence-building measures (CBMs) create the trust necessary for treaties such as the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) to gather momentum. As missiles remain a very sensitive topic at the multilateral level, the more flexible format offered by CBMs is especially relevant.

The HCoC and other multilateral initiatives dealing with missiles

Thanks to the biennial resolutions, the UN is able to engage with the Code and make reference to it in other parts of its work. Its logic is followed in the current work supported by UNODA on the peaceful use of outer space, but also the discussions around the WMD free zone in the Middle East, or the transparency created on the transfers of small arms by the UN Register of Conventional Arms.

On the other side, the HCoC is also referring to other multilateral instruments, in particular the UN charter and the treaties governing outer space. It therefore created a link with the multilateral system from the outset.

Future challenges for addressing missile proliferation

Addressing missile proliferation at the multilateral level remains a challenge and requires a variety of approaches. The UN High Representative on Disarmament Affairs proposed in September 2020 to work on a common lexicon on ballistic missiles, which would be a very important first step given the lack of agreed definition on what constitute a ballistic missile today. The urgency of the state of proliferation today necessitates more efforts to consider the best approach to deal with these issues globally, as no good solution has been found for a comprehensive response yet. The Hague Code of Conduct is a useful forum to discuss some of these issues while some others can only been considered at the UN level and involve all stakeholders.

Issue Briefs

The HCoC and Southeast Asian States

Only three out of ten Southeast Asian states have joined the HCoC to date (the Philippines, Cambodia and Singapore). This limited rate is noteworthy as Southeast Asia is increasingly concerned by the ongoing ballistic missile competition in broader Asia. Moreover, the region is actively investing to benefit from space technologies.

Read More »