Fighting the proliferation of ballistic missiles


The proliferation of ballistic missiles, potential vectors of weapons of mass destruction, poses a risk of destabilization for peace and security, as recalled by the United Nations Security Council in Resolution 1540 (2004).

We are currently witnessing the development, modernization and acceleration of ballistic missile programmes, particularly by States that are a source of deep concern for the international community. The growing use of ballistic missiles by non-State actors is a particularly significant contributor to destabilization on a regional and international level.

The increase in missile tests and technological progress (increased range of ballistic missions, development of missile tiering and focus on solid propulsion) are worrying trends for international peace and security. Furthermore, the development of other vectors, which can also carry weapons of mass destruction (drones and cruise missiles) continues.

France’s action to manage the proliferation of vectors of weapons of mass destruction.

France actively participates in the Missile Technology Control Regime, set up in 1987, for which it is permanent secretary (“point of contact”). This regime, which currently has 35 Member States, aims to provide a framework for technological exports and equipment which may be used to build vectors for weapons of mass destruction.

From the outset, France has also supported the idea of a code of conduct aimed at fighting the proliferation of such vectors. The Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation has become the leading global multilateral instrument to fight against the proliferation of ballistic missiles. The Code of Conduct is the result of work carried out within the Missile Technology Control Regime, followed by a declaration proposed by France from the European Council in Gothenburg in 2001. The definitive text was adopted in The Hague on 26 November 2002 by 93 States.

In the absence of a binding multilateral treaty aimed at limited the possession and development of missiles or certain categories of such missiles, the HCOC is a unique instrument enabling the control of ballistic missile proliferation through a flexible and non-prescriptive approach based on transparency and mutual confidence. Today it is made up of 143 Signatory States. The subscription process remains open, all States with ballistic capacities have not joined the Code.

The HCOC also sets out the general commitment to show restraint in design, testing and deployment of ballistic missiles, including by reducing national stocks and not contributing to proliferation. The Code also sets out a strong political commitment aimed at implementing and respecting transparency measures in the form of an annual declaration on ballistic and space programmes and pre-warnings of missile launches and space launchers. Lastly, while it recognizes that States should not be prevented from using space for pacific means, it affirms that space programmes should not be used for hidden ballistic programmes.

France took strong steps to support the instrument during the French presidency of the European Union in 2008 and then its HCOC presidency in 2010 and 2011. It gives prior warning of all its missile launches and space launchers. The European Union reaffirmed its support for the implementation, reinforcement and universalization of the HCOC by adopting Council decisions, the last of which was adopted in 2017. The Code also received significant support from the United Nations General Assembly through the regular adoption of resolutions which were supported by many States (171 votes in 2018).

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Updated: March 2020