States Meet to Discuss Ballistic Missile Code of Conduct

Alex Wagner

In an effort to stem further missile proliferation, 86 countries met in Paris February 7-8 to discuss a proposed draft “code of conduct” that would offer confidence-building measures to states willing to restrain their ballistic missiles programs.

Currently, there is no international prohibition against development or deployment of ballistic missiles. When finalized, the code would create a series of general, voluntary political commitments under which states would agree to exercise restraint in developing, testing, and deploying ballistic missiles and would also pledge “necessary vigilance” in curbing assistance to space-launch programs that could advance missile development.

In return, the code, which would be open to all countries, would offer adherents increased transparency in missile systems and programs and other confidence-building measures. If subscribing states also pledged to eliminate their ballistic missile programs and commit to forgo future missile development efforts, the code would “provide on a voluntary and case-by-case basis” unspecified incentives, “as appropriate.”

Many experts have questioned how the code will be able to attract key subscribers absent specific incentives to undertake such a commitment. However, a European diplomat expressed other ambitions, saying that it is hoped that the code, which he termed a “modest initiative,” would create “a norm against missile proliferation.”

Members of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR)—a voluntary regime that seeks to restrict proliferation by limiting its members’ missile exports—conceived of the code in 1999 as a means to address the demand for missiles. MTCR adherents finished a draft code at a September 2001 plenary session, where France offered to chair a future conference to discuss and unveil the proposal.

The Paris meeting offered states a forum to review the code and to discuss the broader issue of missile proliferation in a multilateral forum. Those attending included almost all the world’s possessors of ballistic missile systems, including the United States, all EU member states, Russia, China, Iran, India, and Pakistan. Of those countries invited, only North Korea and Syria declined; Iraq was not invited.

Calling the meeting a success in a February 8 Foreign Ministry statement, France emphasized the conference’s widespread attendance and noted the “high level of debate” and that “all the participants adopted a constructive approach.” However, one source familiar with the conference said the proceedings were not without contention. Some participants reportedly wanted the code to ban all military ballistic missile systems, while others thought that the code did not offer enough incentives for states to join and questioned whether MTCR members should offer adhering states space-launch technology. The code was not made public at the conference’s end.

Several sources familiar with the conference said that the U.S. delegation did not participate in the discussions, a claim denied by a State Department official during an interview. In a February 11 press release, the State Department said that the United States helped initiate the draft code with France and the other MTCR countries and supports the code as a way “to create a widely subscribed international predisposition against ballistic missile proliferation.” The draft code is “intended to supplement, not supplant” the MTCR’s work, the State Department noted.

France recently completed a chairman’s summary of the meeting and distributed it to participating capitals. According to a French diplomat, France is currently working on a second draft of the code that “aims to reflect points of view put forward in Paris.” Revisions can only be made by consensus.

Spain, which currently holds the EU presidency, offered to host a follow-up meeting this summer. Official presentation of the code is expected before the end of 2002 at a conference hosted by the Netherlands.