Making the Hague Code of Conduct Relevant

Nuclear Threat Initiative

NTI Report

The Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation, the Missile Technology Control Regime and United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540 each contribute to the international regime for the nonproliferation of ballistic missiles. The three instruments aim at controlling both horizontal and vertical proliferation. However, the complementarity of the three instruments in fulfilling their roles in supply-side and demand-side non-proliferation, particularly in the areas of export controls and transparency and confidencebuilding measures, has not been sufficiently explored.
Several gaps remain in the universalisation and acceptance of the instruments, their coverage, and the comprehensiveness of the standards they establish,
which limits their degree of complementarity. The three instruments should strengthen the implementation of their provisions, institutional linkages and improve their interactions. Cross-cutting themes and challenges, such as hypersonic missiles, could help demonstrate convergences, complementarity and avenues for cooperation and synergies.

JUNE 2020 

Dennis Gormley








“The HCoC supplements the MTCR in its quest to establish broad international norms against the proliferation of ballistic missiles.”



Launched in November 2002 at a conference hosted by the Netherlands, the Hague Code of Conduct (HCoC) against the Proliferation of Ballistic Missiles is decidedly minimalist in its objectives. The HCoC, whose membership stands at 128 states, seeks to bolster efforts against the worldwide proliferation of ballistic missiles by agreeing on a set of general principles and commitments, amplified by modest confidence-building measures (CBMs). Rather than supplant the 34-nation Missile Technology Control Regime, which is a voluntary association of states whose members share certain nonproliferation goals and coordinate export licensing related to ballistic and cruise missiles capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the HCoC supplements the MTCR in its quest to establish broad international norms against the proliferation of ballistic missiles.

Given the HCoC’s provenance in the MTCR, it was not surprising to see that this first attempt at norm building for missiles deals with behavior, not missile possession. Thus, the widest consensus, not just within the MTCR membership but in the broader international community as well, turned on the notion that unbridled ballistic missile proliferation was not in the best interests of peace and regional stability. Put another way, under an ideal approximation of the HCoC, the vast majority of states would adhere to existing space treaties, restrain their ballistic missile development, testing, and deployment activities, act cautiously in regard to transferring ballistic missiles to other states and furnishing technical support to state ballistic missile and space launch programs, and become as transparent as possible—given national security restrictions—with respect to ballistic missile plans and policy.1 However limited the HCoC might be (namely, the absence of North Korea, Iran, India, and Pakistan from its signatories), the Code’s benefits would seem worth the candle needed to sustain and enhance the HCoC’s utility. As missile proliferation specialist Mark Smith puts it, “the benefits lie in the fact that subscription represents acceptance that anarchic, Hobbesian missile behavior is in nobody’s interest, and that movement towards some basic rules of behavior, common and open to all, is both necessary and feasible.”2 To that end, the quest to broaden HCoC membership has succeeded modestly by adding 35 new member states since 2002 (from the original 93 to 128 today), albeit none of the states of foremost missile proliferation concern.

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