The HCoC: current challenges and future possibilities

By Dr Mark Smith, Defence & Security Programme, Wilton Park

The Hague Code of Conduct (HCoC), currently the only game in town on its topic, marked its 10th anniversary in 2012. It has generated membership comfortably into three figures, and its supporters have tried valiantly to help it make progress. However, even its most enthusiastic admirers would concede that has not fulfilled the hopes and expectations of its founders when they gathered for the opening ceremony in November 2002. Those hopes were for expanded membership and for further development of its substance: the membership has indeed expanded but not to the most pertinent states, and the substance of the Code remains exactly as it was when it was founded.

The principal reasons are problems during the Code’s drafting process, which were not properly resolved at the time and have festered ever since; the partial nature of the Code’s provisions, which cover ballistic missiles but no other kind; and the inherent difficulty of demand-side controls on missiles, something that is often under-analysed and under-appreciated.

Why has the HCoC come up short of the founders’ ambitions? Is it possible for the challenges to be overcome, and for the HCoC to become something more akin to the aspirations of its founders? This paper attempts to answer these questions and to offer some prescription for how progress might be made. Some of the challenges can be overcome with enough imagination and willingness to change; others, and in particular those arising from the Code’s roots and drafting process, cannot be changed and progress will depend on a readiness to let bygones be bygones.

Download the paper