Virtual seminar dedicated to ASEAN countries​

5-6 April 2022


A new virtual event was held on 5-6 April 2022. The FRS and delegations from 7 ASEAN countries discussed over ballistic missile proliferation in the region and the role of the Hague Code of Conduct.





  • Mr Alexandre Houdayer, Secretary General, FRS
  • Mr Thomas Markram, Director and Deputy to the High-Representative for Disarmament Affairs, UNODA (recorded video)



  • Prof. François Heisbourg, Senior Advisor, FRS
  • E. Dr Marty Natalegawa, Chair, Asia-Pacific Leadership Network for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament
  • Igor Driesmans, Ambassador to the ASEAN, EU


  • Dr Antoine Bondaz, Research Fellow, FRS
  • Dr Evi Fritiani, Senior Lecturer at the International Relations Department, Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, Universitas Indonesia
  • Evolution of the security environment in the Indo-Pacific region
  • Shared assessments and opportunities of cooperation between the EU and ASEAN





  • Dr Felix Heiduk, Senior Associate, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik


  • Dr Bernard F.W. Loo, Senior Fellow, Military Studies Programme, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University
  • Dr Chong Ja Ian, Associate Professor of Political Science, National University of Singapore



  • Arms race dynamics, especially in the field of missiles
  • Missile proliferation drivers




  • Mr Alexandre Houdayer, Secretary General, FRS


  • Gustavo Ainchil, Ambassador to Austria and Permanent Representative of Argentina to the international organisations in Vienna (HCoC Chair 2021-2022)
  • Mr George-Wilhelm Gallhofer, Representative of the HCoC Executive Secretariat, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Austria
  • Ms Emmanuelle Maitre, Research Fellow, FRS



  • Functioning of HCoC
  • Benefits of subscribing
  • Dynamics and perspectives for the Code




  • Mr Steven Humphries, Disarmament and Non-proliferation Project Manager, UNRCPD


  • Prepared statements by state officials from the region
  • Mr Alexandre Houdayer, Secretary General, FRS


  • Mr Steven Humphries, Disarmament and Non-proliferation Project Manager, UNRCPD
  • Mr Paul Wohrer, Research Fellow, FRS



  • The role of the export control mechanisms and UN multilateral initiatives
  • New space and proliferation concerns
  • Favouring space development while regulating strategic trade




  • Mr Alexandre Houdayer, Secretary General, FRS

Summary of the debates

Security challenges in the Indo-Pacific region: shared perspectives

This two-day sub-regional seminar for ASEAN countries was introduced by the first panel, an opportunity to share perspectives on the current drivers of security within Southeast Asia and the importance for relevant actors of the concept of shared security in the Indo-Pacific.

As the region remains plagued by many challenges, including flash points for conflicts in the South China Sea, a preoccupying behaviour from North Korea, border disputes in South Asia as well as inter-state rivalries, it was recalled that it is essential to find commonalities on how to define security and assess threats. This effort to redefine the concept of security has been pursued in Southeast Asia in an attempt to overcome mistrust and recognise that disagreements cannot be resolved through the use of force. All ASEAN states share a common interest in promoting strategic stability and preventing the spill-over of competing dynamics between non-regional countries within the region. The inherent interest in promoting transparency and predictability to limit the risk of miscalculation should lead them to subscribe to the HCoC principles. ASEAN states had supported the adoption of a code of conduct to avoid the emergence of unintentional conflict and non- subscribing states should therefore reconsider whether to join the HCoC, in light of their practices and support for its underlying principles on other domains.

In a context of key transformations of the region underlined by the evolution of the EU strategy in the Indo-Pacific, promoting a multilateral and concrete instrument such as the Hague Code of Conduct is very important. The EU needs to increase its capacity and its autonomy but needs sustainable and proactive partnerships in Europe and beyond, as presented in the Strategic Compass for Security and Defence, published by the EU in March 2022. The EU is therefore committed to pursuing its cooperation with ASEAN, on many issues such as NRBC threats, cyber issues, maritime security, terrorism or proliferation, especially in the framework of the EU-ASEAN meeting in the margins of the ASEAN regional forum. It was noted that the EU has been a reliable partner for ASEAN states, although its role has not always been very visible and recognised. It is essential to present its engagement as positive, presenting alternatives to countries of the region, both as an intergovernmental organisation and as individual states.

Moreover, the combination of traditional challenges with new threats was emphasised. Thus, the exacerbation of major power rivalries comprises the risk of spill-over within the region and direct encounters in the broad Indo-Pacific theatre. It is therefore important to strengthen the institutional architecture through innovating mechanisms. The focus on trust is essential to elaborate new strategies that may be adequate to manage the increasing security competition between major powers.

Are we witnessing an arms race in Southeast Asia?

This second panel assessed whether a situation of arms race can be observed in Southeast Asia. It was assessed that this is not the case at this stage. Among Southeast Asian countries, several factors are driving an increase in military spending, but they do not amount to a logic of arms racing. Some of these factors are endogenous, such as domestic pressure, the willingness to display through military equipment a level of economic or technological development or mechanically linked to economic growth as military spending are usually calculated as a proportion of domestic revenue. Also, an important factor is obsolescence— a lot of material was bought in the 1960s and needs to be replaced, which automatically leads to an increase in its efficiency. Some factors are exogenous, such as the need to guarantee interoperability with the armed forces of partners through targeted acquisition, residual regional insecurity, action-reaction dynamics and the result of supply-side economics with arms producers looking for new markets at the end of the Cold War.

Experts agreed that it is unlikely that an arms race among southeast Asian countries may develop in the near future, but there may be concerns about strategic stability that may involve ASEAN member states, especially linked to the growing rivalry between China and the United States in the region.

Although some projects have captured the headlines, such as the acquisition of BrahMos cruise missiles by the Philippines criticized by China, most acquisition are replacing and upgrading tactical systems and have limited reach as it does not deeply modify the strategic balance of the region. This assessment does not mean that there are no risks in the medium term, as Southeast Asian states may be embroiled in major power contestation and may find it more difficult to work in partnership to ensure their own interests. If they are less able to set their own agenda, ASEAN states might find it more difficult to resist to external pressure and to coordinate their positions. The risk of sharp division among ASEAN member states exists, and the states need to find responses to avoid being used as a buffer. So, while no arms control is observable, the region should brace itself for some instability in the coming years.

The Hague Code of Conduct: functioning and role

To launch the second day of the sub-regional seminar dedicated to ASEAN countries, the genesis of the Code was recalled, prepared in draft form in 2000 by members of the MTCR and then adopted by a group of 93 States. Today, 143 states have signed it and the Code has been linked to the UN system through the adoption of a number of United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolutions. As stated in its preamble, the HCoC expresses concern over the proliferation of ballistic system and aims at strengthening the global non-proliferation regime by fostering mutual trust. Subscription to the Code demonstrates a state’s commitment to the international regime of disarmament and the non-proliferation of WMD and their delivery systems. It enables privileged information exchange thereby enhancing trust-building and offers a platform to address issues linked to implementation and the broader dialogue on peace and security. It is also free of charge. Concretely, states have to file annual declarations on their ballistic and space policies, to send pre-launch notifications before launcher or missile tests, and can invite other subscribing states to visit their space launch sites. Austria serves as Immediate Central Contact (Executive Secretariat) of the HCoC and holds Annual Regular Meetings (ARM) for subscribing states.

The second presentation addressed the HCoC in the ASEAN context. The region is concerned by the risks of ballistic missile dissemination. In Asia more globally, the number of countries developing ballistic missile is rising and these arsenals remain motivated by the willingness to carry WMDs, for several countries, but are also developed for conventional purposes. However, only three ASEAN countries have subscribed to the Code. This low rate of participation does not translate any hostility towards the principle embedded in the Code: indeed, almost all ASEAN countries voted in favour of the latest UNGA resolution in support of the Code. Some reservations can be explained by the low priority given to this matter or the fear of a disproportionate administrative burden as well as geopolitical reservations. These hesitations could however be overcome by an analysis of the relevance for ASEAN states to join the mechanism. First, it pushes states that are testing systems that can carry WMD to implement CBMs and therefore avoid potential disastrous misinterpretation. A high level of participation in the instrument creates pressure for states to keep their commitments and keep notifying their launches. Second, the HCoC does not hamper the development of these systems but creates a framework for such developments. The HCoC can therefore serve to strengthen states’ political positions on non-proliferation, a key issue in Southeast Asia and benefit international trade. While the Code is not a perfect instrument, and while it could be improved by expanding its scope and its membership, it remains the best instrument to put some level of regulation on the development of these technologies.

Addressing the dissemination of WMD delivery vehicles while promoting space development

The second panel addressed the HcoC and its aim at bringing regulation on ballistic missiles while at the same time enabling the peaceful use of spacein the context of the multilateral non-proliferation and disarmament framework. In this session, the complementarity of the Code with other key instruments that aim at regulating dual-use items, like theMTCR and the 1540 resolution, was assessed. The inclusion of delivery vehicles in the scope of the resolution is an important sign of the key role played by missile in proliferation dynamics.

Concerning the Asia-Pacific region, these dynamics are still preoccupying, as we can witness a rapidly increasing technological expansion, including dual-use technologies in an environment where non-state actors are operating and which is characterised by the presence of many important transhipment points and shipping lanes. In this regard, the different mechanisms addressing ballistic proliferation (1540, MTCR, HCoC) have each their own added value and are mutually reinforcing to reduce horizontal and vertical proliferation.

As the 1540 resolution is implemented unequally among ASEAN countries, none having published a national implementation action plan (NIAP), subscribing to the HCoC can be a concrete step figuring in the NIAP. The logic of both instruments is similar: even for countries that do not possess or develop ballistic or CBRN technologies or dual use, taking an active role in these mechanisms improves overall strategic management and enhances the network as a whole.

Finally, the role of the Code in the peaceful use of space has been recalled. The New Space trend emerging in the space sector may lead to efforts to strongly develop access to space as the launching capacities are currently insufficient for the demand. This growing demand for launches can become an incentive for more countries and even private companies to develop small launch systems. Such initiatives are interesting as they may contribute to enabling access to space, but they could create uncertainty as to the destination of launchers, which could be confused with missiles. In this context, a transparency instrument such as the HCoC may be very useful to increase space security and make sure that the possibility to take advantage of the benefits of space is preserved for all.

Other publications

The HCoC: relevance to African states

The Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (HCoC), which came into effect on 25 November 2002, aims to strengthen efforts to curb ballistic missile proliferation worldwide, thereby supplementing the Missile Technology Control Regime, which restricts access to technologies needed to develop such systems. Ballistic missiles are the favoured delivery vehicles for weapons of mass destruction and therefore have a destabilising effect on regional and global security.

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Research Papers

The HCoC: current challenges and future possibilities

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.

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