Limiting the Proliferation of WMD Means of Delivery
A Low-profile Approach to Bypass Diplomatic Deadlocks
HCOC RESEARCH PAPERS NO. 2
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.
“Historically, and still predominantly, ballistic missiles have been the delivery means most closely related to nuclear weapons. They provide far ranges, high payload capacity, and short line of command and relatively fast engagement rules which are well suited to strategic nuclear deterrence.”
Amongst the four military domains traditionally described as weapons of mass destruction (WMDs): nuclear, chemical, biological and their means of delivery; the latter is often considered as “parent pauvre”, (literally “neglected relative”). It is not a WMD by itself and it is not supported by a dedicated international convention. Moreover, the civilian industry involved may not be as powerful as the civilian nuclear, biological or chemical industries. Yet, it remains an important element of WMD proliferation. Historically, and still predominantly, ballistic missiles have been the delivery means most closely related to nuclear weapons. They provide far ranges, high payload capacity, and short line of command and relatively fast engagement rules which are well suited to strategic nuclear deterrence. Other types of delivery means are foreseen or already in development, in particular advanced cruise missiles. But even when they are sufficiently advanced, they seem to be mainly conceived as complementing the backbone of a ballistic missiles arsenal. One can therefore explain why the MTCR has been mainly focusing on ballistic missiles and that the HCoC is solely focusing on these.
Both international initiatives remain relevant as we see more WMD players, more instability, persisting or new regional tensions and ever more accessible dual use technologies. Both however have limitations. The MTCR, focusing on the supply side, is victim of the same birth defect as other regimes in the eyes of some non-members: a club of technology holders trying to maintain their advance or monopolies. Its limitations are also on the implementation aspects, and in particular, the numerous challenges of export controls of dual use commodities. With the HCoC, some MTCR members tried to take a pragmatic approach to gain more acceptability by focusing on the demand side and lowering the threshold of ballistic missile non-proliferation commitments. The strategy does not seem to have been entirely successful, judging from the absence of some key countries possessing ballistic missile and the lack of progress on the level of commitment. The international community must find other ways to move forward.
In that endeavour, supply side controls may offer more flexibility and will therefore be the focus of our attention. We need to carefully look at both the drivers of non-proliferation and the technical components of export controls. On both aspects, progress is possible from various angles. We propose to look at the challenges and ways to tackle them from a cost-benefit perspective. Our assumption is that if non-proliferation is seen as more necessary or more attractive and that at the same time, it is made less costly and challenging, governments will be less reluctant to effectively engage in it. This path goes through a range of initiatives which may look less noble than ambitious diplomatic breakthroughs, but would be instrumental in achieving non-proliferation collective goals. Such initiatives are within reach of governments, international bodies, regimes and increasingly, the civil society.
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. […]