States Hold Second Missile Code of Conduct Meeting

July/August 2002

By Alex Wagner

Nearly 100 countries met in Madrid June 17-19 to continue discussions on a revised draft missile “code of conduct” intended to discourage states from developing or acquiring ballistic missiles.

According to a State Department official, there was widespread agreement that the meeting was “useful and productive.” The official emphasized the importance of the endeavor, saying the code would represent the “first broadly subscribed to, multilateral mechanism in the missile area.”

Although the 33-member Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) is designed to limit ballistic missile exports, there is no formal international prohibition against developing, acquiring, or selling ballistic missiles. The code attempts to address this gap.

By setting out general, voluntary political commitments, the code calls on states to restrain their development, testing, and deployment of ballistic missiles and to curb missile assistance to states illegally developing weapons of mass destruction. The code also asks its signatories to exercise “vigilance” in aiding other countries’ space-launch programs, which use technology almost identical to that used in missile programs. To promote transparency, the code establishes a series of confidence-building measures, such as having members submit annual declarations on their missile systems and launch sites.

MTCR members initially conceived of the code in 2000. After internal MTCR deliberations finalized a draft code in September 2001, the European Union took the lead in advancing the draft. France, while president of the EU, offered to host a meeting this February in Paris to present the draft to non-MTCR states. After this conference, France incorporated the meeting’s suggestions and ideas into a subsequent draft. (See ACT, March 2002.)

At the Madrid conference, countries provided additional comments and suggestions on the revised text transmitted by France. The number of countries attending the meeting surpassed that of the Paris convention and included states with well-developed missile programs such as China, India, Israel, and Pakistan. However, Iran—which actively participated at the Paris meeting—decided at the last minute not to attend.

In an interview, a Danish official highlighted that at the latest meeting no state had questioned the code’s fundamental purpose. But the official said that there were some questions regarding confidence-building measures and whether the code’s obligations go too far or not far enough. “The key is to find the right balance, and the text on the table comes close to achieving that balance; however, careful consideration of the comments and amendments put forward by delegations in Madrid remains,” the official said.

Spain turns over the EU presidency to Denmark July 1, after which Copenhagen will assume responsibility for advancing the process and incorporating the Spanish chairman’s summary of the Madrid meeting into a new draft. The Danish official indicated that the EU hopes “to facilitate a successful launch” of the code this fall in The Hague.