Select Committee on European Scrutiny Fourth Report



EU Common Position on the fight against ballistic missile proliferation.

Legal base: Article 15 EU; unanimity
Department: Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Basis of consideration: Minister's letters of 11 and 31 October 2001
Previous Committee Report: HC 152-ii (2001-02), paragraph 9 (17 October 2001)
Adopted in Council: 23 July 2001
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Cleared


14.1  The Missile Technology (Export) Control Regime (MTCR) seeks to control exports that could contribute to the development of long-range missiles capable of carrying weapons of mass destruction. 33 countries, including all the EU Member States, participate.

The draft International Code of Conduct against ballistic missile proliferation

14.2  On the basis of a UK draft, the MTCR has developed a draft International Code of Conduct against ballistic missile proliferation (ICOC) which incorporates a set of principles, commitments and transparency measures. These establish, for the first time, norms aimed at preventing proliferation of these missiles. The MTCR is seeking to attract support for the ICOC from the rest of the international community and in September, at its Plenary meeting in Ottawa, it agreed decisions on the process and timetable for moving the ICOC towards adoption, at an international conference, as an international instrument.

The Common Position

14.3  The draft Common Position follows adoption by the Göteborg European Council on 15 - 16 June of a Declaration on the prevention of proliferation of ballistic missiles[42] and the Conclusions of the General Affairs Council of 14 May 2001.[43] In a letter and an Explanatory Memorandum of 13 July, the Minister for Europe at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr Peter Hain), writing on behalf of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr Ben Bradshaw), said that the Government played a leading role in the initiative. He commented that the Common Position formalised the strong support of the EU for the Code, which he expected would be adopted by the Council on 23 July.

14.4  We expected to consider the proposal on 18 July but at that meeting we decided that we should consider it instead on 17 October, with a view to reporting on it to the House and possibly recommending it for debate. We did not clear the document, which therefore remained under scrutiny. However, we later learnt that the draft Common Position had been adopted on 23 July as an 'A' point, that is without discussion in the Council.

14.5  On 17 October, we kept the document under scrutiny and put several questions to the Minister. He has now replied to these questions in a letter of 31 October in which he refers to a letter of 11 October explaining why the Government had not been able to maintain the scrutiny reserve. That letter, which the Minister intended should be copied to us, did not reach us.

The Minister's letter of 11 October

14.6  The Minister regrets that we were not able to fulfil our scrutiny responsibility before the Common Position was agreed. He hopes that in the circumstances, which he explains, we can understand why this did not prove possible. He says that:

    "The early expression of the EU Common Position was an important tactical component in the context of the wider EU role in helping take forward the ICOC. It sent a strong signal to others ahead of the ... meeting in Ottawa in September. Based on its Common Position the EU played a major role in the process at Ottawa of redrafting the ICOC text and getting Plenary consensus for both the revised text and procedures for multilateralising the ICOC over the coming year.

    "This is a successful outcome and one that reflects UK policy. It would have been damaging to UK interests as well as those of the EU as a whole if the UK had broken ranks."

The Minister's letter of 31 October

14.7  In response to the questions which we put to him on 17 October, the Minister says:

    "It is not easy at this stage to assess the possible effectiveness of the International Code of Conduct, which is currently still in draft form. It is likely that it will take another twelve months before we have an agreed, final version of the Code, and before we know which countries are prepared to subscribe to it. We will be working hard to ensure that a maximum number of countries subscribe, including countries which have missile programmes. The Code will be politically rather than legally binding and, if adopted, will become the first instrument to establish an international norm on missiles. Initially it is likely to be composed principally of transparency and confidence-building measures, but the aim will be to allow it to develop and strengthen over time through the efforts of the subscribing states.

    "You ask about other measures to protect the European Community or individual Member States against the proliferation of ballistic milliles and raise the issue of participation in a US planned missile defence system. As a matter of principle, the question of defence against ballistic missiles is an issue of territorial defence relevant to national governments or NATO rather than the European Union.

    "We believe that it is important to tackle the potential threat from ballistic missiles with a comprehensive strategy that includes non-proliferation and counter-proliferation, diplomacy, deterrence and defensive measures. The US has expressed its wish that friends and allies should have the protection of missile defence against potential ballistic missile threats, though specific proposals have yet to be made. Indeed, though the US is looking at a range of potential territorial missile defence systems, it has itself made no decisions on how to proceed with deployment of missile defence.

    "I should clarify that the US plans do not involve 'Nuclear' Missile Defence, though they are designed to defend against ballistic missiles which may be armed with weapons of mass destruction. The proposed systems on which the US are working involve the use of 'hit-to-kill' technology, whereby a defensive missile is used to hit and destroy an incoming missile on impact".


14.8  We thank the Minister for both letters and in particular for the clear answers he has given to the questions which we put to him on 17 October. It is unfortunate that his letter of 11 October did not reach us, but he makes a persuasive case in it for lifting the scrutiny reserve during the parliamentary recess. We note his comment that the question of defence against ballistic missiles is an issue of territorial defence relevant to national governments or NATO rather than the EU.

14.9  As the Common Position has been adopted and acted upon, we do not now wish to recommend it for debate and we clear the document.

42  Press Release No. 200/01 of 15 June, Annex I. Back

43  Press Release No. 8441/01, page 18: CFSP: Council Conclusions on missile non-proliferation. Back

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Prepared 14 November 2001