SPECIAL REPORT: The Hague Code of Conduct: Predicting the Future


The Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (HCoC) has completed ten years of its existence. This code was formally brought into effect on November 25, 2002, at a conference hosted by the Netherlands at The Hague. This was also known as the International Code of Conduct (ICOC). This code is voluntary and not-binding in nature and mainly expects the subscribing states to furnish annual declarations on missile policy and the pre-launch notifications (PLNs) of missile test launches. This article attempts to briefly look at the past and present trends in respect of efforts to control the missile proliferation and develops few scenarios of the plausible future of HCoC after a decade’s time. 


GENESIS OF HCoC: For the delivery of nuclear weapons on the target ballistic missiles are treated as one of the most suited platforms. An indirect way to control the spread of nuclear weapons related technologies is to control the ‘growth’ in respect of delivery platforms. Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) partly in response to the increasing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), i.e., nuclear, chemical and biological weapons came into being during 1987. This regime rests on adherence to common export policy guidelines (the MTCR Guidelines) and all decisions are made by consensus. It is expected that states party to this regime would establish National export licensing measures on technologies associated missile developments. The overall approach of the MTRC regime is to develop a second line of defence with regard to nuclear proliferation.


MTCR particularly attempts to control the rockets and unmanned aerial vehicles capable of delivering a payload of at least 500 kilogram (kg) to a range of at least 300 kilometer (km). This regime does not have a formal linkage with the United Nations (UN) but is consistent with various UN’s non-proliferation and export control efforts. Currently, 34 countries are members of the MTCR and this indicates that the MTRC lacks global creditability. However, the MTCR’s mandate was expanded in 2002 by addressing issues concerned with terrorism. The basic drawback of the MTCR is that not all the missile producing countries are members of this regime. 


Though, the HCoC essentially has a similar agenda as that of MTCR but with much diluted mandate. This mechanism  is voluntary in nature. its aim is to work on ‘lowest common denominator’. The signatory states in the HCoC intend to exercise restraint in the development, testing, and deployment of ballistic missiles. The agreement expects states to follow measures like abiding by the space treaty regime and taking adequate precautions with regard to assisting other countries in the arena of space launch vehicles. Also, member states are expected to make annual declarations in regard to their various activities related to ballistic missiles and give pre-launch notifications. The Decade of HCoC 


During last ten years there have been many efforts towards reaching the universalization of HCoC. This arrangement has received far greater acceptance than the MTRC and has presently got 134 states as members.


 The HCoC also factors in issues related to space treaties. This is essentially because there has been an argument that any act of lunching a rocket for the purposes of satellite launch indirectly demonstrates the ballistic missile capability. Hence, there is a need to read between the lines in respect of such launches and PLNs could be a good confidence building mechanism (CBM). However, it is important to remember couple of overlapping issues. First, It is difficult to test a ballistic missile of significant range or launch a satellite without detection, so PLNs would serve the purpose of only some advanced notice. Second, Some of the similar technologies are needed for long-range missiles and for space launches. However the goal of ballistic missile is to deliver a payload on the target on the earth while the rocket which puts satellite in space performs a different function. There are significant differences in flight profile of a space launch versus a ballistic missile launch. 


 Even though many Ballistic missile have's are not member of the HCoC, due its global representation of countries l it should be perceived as a mark of far greater acceptability. This is mainly because few important and responsible ballistic missile holder states are not the members of this mechanism and many of the signatory states actually do not have the capability to design and develop the ballistic missiles. During its last ten years of existence the HCoC has played an important role to keep the debate alive on missile proliferation and has succeeded in introducing few important CBMs. However, the mechanism has limitations in respect of stopping production or testing or even proliferation of ballistic missile technology. 


Apart from the multilateral efforts like MTCR and HCoC there is one noticeable effort bilateral level dealing issues related to ballistic missiles. Although South Asian countries are not member of HCoC yet, India has a treaty with its neighbor Pakistan almost matching the expatiations of the HCoC. In October 2005, India and Pakistan signed an agreement to notify each other, in advance, regarding ballistic missile flight tests. As per this pre-notification agreement, no missile test would take place within 40 km of the India-Pakistan border and each country would give at least 72 hours notice before every test. The agreement states that pre-notification applies only to tests conducted with surface-to-surface ballistic missiles launched from land or sea. This agreement indicates that states with nuclear weapons could be more comfortable in dealing with each other than on multilateral or global level. 


 In order to predict the future of what could be the nature of this arrangement, it is essentially to factor in some key strategic and technological trends directly or indirectly associated with the ballistic missiles in general. These also could be viewed as drivers which may affect nature of some of arms control and disarmament arrangements in future. 



  • Serious efforts in regards to arms control and disarmament are likely to continue.
  • Missile testing by existing ballistic missile holder states would continue. Increase in the number of their arsenal in expected. Also, additional states are expected to join the ballistic missile have’s club.
  • The possibility of strategic marriage of Chemical weapons and ballistic missile would continue to exist.
  • Nuclear weapon states (NSW) are unlikely to shed their nuclear arsenal and there could be additions in the NWS club (existing eight states plus a dwarf NWS- North Korea)
  • Number of space-faring nations are likely to increase
  • Missile defence would have greater relevance with significant upgradation in existing technologies 
  • Increase in number of states having MIRV capability (Multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles).
  • Improved Missile Defence Technology could bring in change the nuclear doctrines of the NWS states
  • Presence of more advanced and lethal nuclear weapons may make the provisions in MTCR linking the weight of yield and range lethality ratio may change (500kg/300km) superfluous.
  • The HCoC has relevance for missiles (surface and submarine launched) in the Nuclear Triad. The third leg of this triad is the aerial platform which uses cruise missiles could acquire larger acceptability with major improvements in the technology. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) capable of carrying nuclear warheads could dominate the nuclear weapon complex. Also space (orbital) weapons, cyber weapons may make their presence felt which could impact the conception of delivery platform for the nuclear weapons.
  • Ballistic missiles could lose their sheen being less accurate weapons. Importance of tactical nuclear weapons may increase. Issues like collateral damage etc which are unthinkable in nuclear scenario could get debated with possibility of the induction of sub kiloton nuclear weapons.


 Based on the above mentioned possible strategic and technological trends few hypothetical scenarios are mentioned below.  It may be noted that here the aim is not to forecast the future but to provide the context to grasp various forces, factors and possibilities in respect of the future of HCoC. 




Three scenarios 

  1. Vibrant Mechanism: Retains its relevance....membership reaches to 160 states....more regular and accurate annual decelerations. Annual conferences of subscribing states helps taking the code forward and keep the debate alive. Efforts are in progress to have some form of arrangement to add PLNs in regards to cruise missiles in the code. Iran is still not a NWS and North Korea (partly) is in mainstream. Space CoC in place (non-binding) and response is encouraging. Responsible ballistic missile possessor states are still not the part of this mechanism. 
  2. Peripheral Instrument: Major developments in ballistic missile and missile defence technology have taken place. Missile defence shield is in place which can handle multiple targets simultaneously. On the lines of India-Pakistan bilateral arrangement North-South Korea and Israel-Iran bilateral agreements have been signed.  HCoC has made special provisions to accommodate such states by respecting their bilateral agreements and offers them special membership without any preconditions. As part of enhanced CBMs various annual decelerations by the subscriber states are also made available on the official website. Basically, HCoC is trying to remain relevant. 
  3. Wild Card Scenario: Iran and Saudi Arabia are NWS. No agreement on space regime in any form. Covert attempts towards developing orbital weapons (probably successful). State-of-art fighter/bomber aircrafts with extended range and jet UAVs are considered as more potent nuclear weapon delivery platforms. HCoC exists but relevance is questionable, no noticeable increase in membership. Subscribing states are less enthusiastic and internal debate begins where to discontinue the mechanism.



In the final analysis, sincere efforts are being made globally by the UN and its various member states in the field of arms control and disarmament with some amount of a success. However, issues like NPT getting eternal extension in 1995 in spite of being a discriminatory treaty would always being in trust deficit.  Unfortunately in areas other than nuclear issues also some amount of inconsistency does exist.


Despite its being regarded as the most successful mechanism, Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC remains a violated treaty. The US and Russia have failed to destroy their stockpiles in time but still there is no global outcry. This indicates that big powers still dominate the arms control and disarmament discourse.In space arena no global understating has been reached so far and current efforts indirectly imply that aim is to keep ambiguity 


However, in spite of such shortcomings genuine efforts are being made by many to control or monitor the spread of WMDs and HCoC is one such example of this. Let us hope that in coming years more states join this code and particularly responsible missile powers also become part of this.       



  1. http://www.mtcr.info/english/index.html
  2. http://cns.miis.edu/inventory/pdfs/hcoc.pdf,
  3. http://www.state.gov/t/isn/trty/101466.htm
  4. http://www.hcoc.at/
  5. “Taking the Arms Control Debate Forward: The Hague Code of Conduct and India”, Strategic Analysis, Vol. 35, No. 2, March 2011
Author Note
Ajey Lele, (Ph. D.) is a Strategic Analyst based in New Delhi.