Limiting the proliferation of WMD means of delivery: a low-profile approach to bypass diplomatic deadlocks

By Renaud Chatelus, collaborator and PhD candidate at the University of Liège

Since the creation of the HCoC in 2002, the need for more collective commitment and action to fight the proliferation of ballistic missiles has certainly not decreased. The destabilizing nature of these weapons has not changed. Non-proliferation is just less about keeping the world stable and more about not adding a risk factor to an uncertain future. The HCoC was and remains a response to that need, but certainly not the end of the quest for improvement.

To a limited extent, the HCoC and the MTCR mirror what the NPT and the NSG are for each other: two legs for the same non-proliferation system. One is open and focusing on commitment and activities, and the other one more closed, more practical and focuses on international trade control. But the HCoC is also a pragmatic way to compensate some acknowledged limitations of the MTCR, lowering commitments to increase membership. Criticism of the HCoC seems to demonstrate that it failed to get over the same “birth defect” as the MTCR: the perception that it is an instrument in the hand of the haves to serve their interest against the have not. But we can take this pragmatic approach in a different direction. We may focus on practical implementation rather than diplomatic commitment. Leaving aside the diplomatic posture, we may want to improve the attractiveness of non-proliferation, and in particular supply side controls, by improving the cost-benefit ratio of engaging in non-proliferation. Actions can be undertaken to enhance the perception of the benefits of non-proliferation activities for stakeholders. Conversely, much still needs to be done to decrease the cost of non-proliferation. Activities related to trade control in particular are an area where some challenges are resilient or evolving rapidly. These challenges are technical, including coping with technology and market changes, but also economic, strategic, organisational, legal and operational. If strong diplomatic dynamics are not driving such efforts, we must look for other drivers to push these changes. Agreements between governments are only one factor in the non-proliferation equation. In recent years, States had to make room for NGOs, if not public opinion, in shaping the international disarmament and non-proliferation environment. The ATT negotiations were a good illustration of this, but it is also obvious in the tools used for the day-to-day work of strategic trade control implementers. The topic of missile proliferation may not be as “morally attractive” as fighting the proliferation of mines or small arms, but it still includes a community of experts, academics and business actors. This civilian community is well positioned to undertake concrete actions to enhance the perceived benefits and lower the cost of non-proliferation. States and international bodies currently committed, should consider and encourage such contribution.
In this paper, we will first examine what makes concrete improvements still necessary. We will then describe some of the limitations of existing instruments, especially on the supply side. In the third and fourth part, we will explore the factors driving non-proliferation and export control as well as their various components which can be the focus of our efforts. We will finally look into concrete steps to improve the cost-benefit ratio of non-proliferation and the role civil society can play in this endeavour.

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