Satellites and ballistic missiles: why Africa must not fall behind


Pretoria, South Africa – Ballistic missiles have been making headlines this year, with North Korea repeatedly test-firing missiles and Iran boldly pursuing its own ballistic missile programme.

These events raise serious concerns for global peace and security; not least because some long-range missiles are capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction.

At a time when terrorist activity worldwide poses an imminent threat, reports of extremist groups acquiring such missiles underscore the need for greater regulation in this domain.

The good news is that an international code exists to build trust and transparency in the development, testing and deployment of ballistic missiles. Signed in November 2002, the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (HCoC) is the only multilateral instrument that specifically deals with ballistic missiles.

The code of conduct is the focus of a closed seminar taking place in Cape Town on 11 April. The event is hosted by the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research (FRS), in partnership with the Institute for Security Studies, with financial support from the European Union.

‘Holding this event in Cape Town provides a unique opportunity for discussing strategic issues with African countries, and explaining the importance of this international effort for collective security,’ says Xavier Pasco, a senior research fellow at FRS.

The Hague Code of Conduct is open to all countries, and some 36 African countries have subscribed. By signing it, members recognise the need to curb ballistic-missile systems that are capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction. Subscribing states commit to providing advance notification of any ballistic missile and space-launch vehicle flights, tests and launches.

Although Libya and Egypt are the only African countries that are currently believed to have ballistic-missile capacities, the code is equally relevant to states without such capabilities. ‘Subscribing to the code points to a strong commitment to regional and international stability, and gives African decision-makers access to information about the activities and programmes of other members,’ says Nicolas Kasprzyk, an international consultant with the Institute for Security Studies.

The code of conduct pertains to peaceful space-launch activities as well. These activities and ballistic-missile programmes rely on the same fundamental technology; a space-launch of a satellite could, for example, be wrongly interpreted as the firing of a missile, with potentially dramatic reactions.

The space-launch landscape is rapidly growing and developing. With technologies becoming increasingly affordable and accessible, Africa should not allow itself to fall behind. In the face of challenges like climate change and drought, the continent can benefit from applications such as long-term weather monitoring. Countries on the equator are ideally positioned for the launch of geostationary satellites.

The Hague Code of Conduct is one way for African states to stay informed of developments in a field that presents many opportunities for entrepreneurs and the private sector. Mark Shuttleworth is one African pioneer who has embraced this, and others ought to follow.

The Foundation for Strategic Research (FRS) is the leading independent French think tank on defence and security issues. The following experts from the FRS and the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) will be available for media interviews on 11 and 12 April:

For media queries or to arrange an interview, contact:

Jacqueline Cochrane, ISS Communication, [email protected] | +27 82 586 0602

Join us on Twitter: follow @issafrica


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