Yesterday, 93 countries adopted an International Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (ICOC). The ceremony took place in The Hague, under the chairmanship of the Dutch minister of foreign affairs, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, and in the presence of a representative of the United Nations.
This is the first global agreement on ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. The Code does not forbid the possession of missiles, but serves to counter their proliferation. It includes a number of confidence building measures in this field, such as pre-launch-notifications of ballistic missiles.
The world faces a growing threat from the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, especially ballistic missiles. The greater the number of countries with these weapons, the greater the threat to regional stability and ultimately world peace and security. The threat is made worse, as has been clear since 11 September 2001, by the danger that these weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists.
Yet there is still no multilateral instrument for preventing the proliferation of ballistic missiles.
In 1999, when the Netherlands chaired the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), it took the initiative to prepare a politically binding international code of conduct to achieve this goal.
At the Gothenburg summit in June 2001, the European Union gave itself until the end of 2002 to get as many states as possible to adopt such a code. This deadline was reaffirmed by the EU foreign ministers in a Common Position of July 2001.
To speed up the process, the EU and its member states organised several international meetings to negotiate a draft code for adoption by the deadline. The first meeting was held in Paris in February 2002, and the second attended by delegates from 96 countries in Madrid in June 2002. Both meetings were productive, and the delegates broadly supported the goal of establishing a multilateral instrument to prevent the proliferation of ballistic missiles.
Since the Madrid meeting, Denmark (the current EU president) has been consulting with countries that put forward strong proposals in Paris and Madrid. Denmark is seeking the broadest possible common ground to accommodate all the views expressed at the meetings.
The fruit of these consultations is the present International Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (ICOC), which calls for greater restraint in developing, testing, using, and spreading ballistic missiles. It does not prohibit states from owning ballistic missiles nor from benefiting from the peaceful use of outer space. But to increase transparency and reduce mistrust among subscribing states, it introduces confidence-building measures such as the obligation to announce missile launches in advance.
The ICOC is neither the first nor the only initiative ever taken to prevent the continuing proliferation of ballistic missiles. But it is the first of many steps that the international community, including the UN, will have to take in order to achieve this goal. And of all the initiatives taken so far, it is the most concrete and advanced.
The Netherlands hosted the ICOC's ceremonial inauguration at the Launching Conference of the International Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation in The Hague on 25 and 26 November 2002. On Tuesday the 26th, the subscribing states met to discuss how the ICOC is to be implemented.
All the UN member states except Iraq were invited to subscribe to the ICOC and attend the Launching Conference. The conference marks a new chapter in the worldwide drive against the proliferation of ballistic missiles. Every country in the world could eventually adopt ICOC, a multilateral instrument that will make us all more secure.
-ends- New International Instrument Against the Proliferation of Ballistic Missiles