ISS: Africa must pull its weight in stopping ballistic missile proliferation


On 1 June, India became the 138th state to subscribe to the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation; an international instrument aimed at regulating activities related to ballistic missiles.

This positive news contrasts with frequent announcements of ballistic missile launches by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Such launches are a strong reminder for the whole international community, including African states, that the matter of ballistic missile proliferation is an important component of international security.

The African continent is almost free of ballistic missile activities. In the 1970s, building on activities it had undertaken on short-range missiles, South Africa clandestinely developed a longer-range missile capacity as a means of delivery for nuclear warheads. The programme was successful, resulting in a missile system that could have delivered a small nuclear payload over a long range. In 1993, the decision was taken to halt and fully dismantle the programme.

Libya, under Muammar Gaddafi, imported and also locally developed ballistic missiles. On 19 December 2003, Libya announced that it would get rid of its weapons of mass destruction and any missile with a range of more than 300 kilometres. While the exact status of Libya’s remaining ballistic missile capability is unknown, it is doubtful whether any such missiles are still operational.

Today, on the African continent, only Egypt is considered as having operational ballistic missiles capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction. Egypt, which is not a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention and is only a signatory to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, is unlikely to renounce its ballistic missiles in the foreseeable future.

While ballistic missiles are virtually absent from the African continent, the proliferation of such missiles represents a continued threat to international peace and, as such, affects the security of all states.

For African states – especially those that rely on maritime transportation as a way to boost development – there is a risk that weaknesses in export, re-export and trans-shipment controls could facilitate the illicit shipping of sensitive equipment related to ballistic missile programmes. This could compromise the reputation of the freight carrier concerned and the industry on the whole, with unwanted economic consequences.

The most recent report of the United Nations (UN) Panel of Experts on North Korea highlights this concern. The report sheds light on the interdiction of a shipment of Scud missile spare parts. Produced in North Korea, the shipment was en route to Egypt. While the Panel concluded that none of the items met the criteria in the list of prohibited items, it also found that, as arms and related material, their export by North Korea was prohibited under UN Security Council resolutions. This is a clear illustration of the reality of proliferation flows related to ballistic missiles.

So far, the matter of ballistic missile proliferation has not been high on the political agenda of African states. There have been no official reactions from African states to the flight-testing of ballistic missiles; and the African Union (AU), which has recently strengthened its role in the prevention of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, is relatively absent on the matter of ballistic missiles.

The AU’s Common African Defense and Security Policy, adopted in 2004, identifies ‘the accumulation, stockpiling, proliferation and manufacturing of weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, chemical and biological weapons, unconventional long-range and ballistic missiles’ as a common external threat to continental security in Africa. This provides the policy framework to deal with matters related to ballistic missiles, but in practice, not much attention is given to such missiles. This is also noted in the recent report of the Chairperson of the AU Commission on Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-Proliferation.

African states stand to gain strong political benefits from positioning themselves more assertively on the matter of ballistic missiles. This would be consistent with the continent’s ambition to rise as a global power. It would also give more strength to African views and claims related to general and complete disarmament, since ballistic missiles capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction are part of the equation.

The Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation is an important avenue for African states to raise their profile on issues related to ballistic missiles. Open to all states, it is the only multilateral instrument dealing specifically with ballistic missiles.

It calls for restraint in the deployment and use of such systems, and relies on an information-sharing mechanism aimed at establishing transparency, confidence and predictability in related activities. Thirty-six African states have already subscribed to the Hague Code of Conduct. With the exception of Algeria, Egypt and South Sudan, all African UN member states that have not subscribed have nonetheless expressed their support for it in the context of the UN General Assembly.

At an experts’ meeting hosted by the Foundation for Strategic Research and the Institute for Security Studies in Cape Town on 11 April 2016, representatives of states that have not joined the Hague Code of Conduct expressed their intent to discuss the possibility to subscribe in their capitals. Progress in this area will reflect the will to constrain the proliferation of ballistic missiles globally, but also on the African continent.

Written by Nicolas Kasprzyk, Consultant, Transnational Threats and International Crime division, ISS Pretoria

Republished with permission from ISS Africa. The original article can be found here.