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Weapons o f Mass Destruction What Is the Threat? What Should be Done? Iraqi missile attacks against cities in Israel and Saudi Arabia have focused attention on the continuing proliferation of ballistic missile technology throughout the third world. ’ According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 25 countries have acquired or are trying to acquire ballistic missiles, either through purchase or indigenous production.* All but a few are developing countries, and the list encompasses some of the most volatile regions of the world. The greatest concentration is in the Middle East, where nine nations have missile programs. Missiles have also spread to other hot spots, including India and Pakistan, North and South Korea, Brazil and Argentina, Taiwan, and South Africa. What are these missiles for, and why do countries want them? In particular, what types of warheads are emerging missile forces likely to be armed with? What capabilities will these missiles provide to their possessors, and what threats to international security will they pose? How should the United States and its allies respond to minimize these threats? Since their invention in the 1930s, guided ballistic missiles have been used extensively in war only four times: the Germans launched over 2000 V-2 Stew Fetter is an Assistant Professor in the School of Public Affairs at the University of Maryland, College Park. I would like to thank Elisa Harris, Milton Leitenberg, Janne Nolan, Julian Perry Robinson, and Stephen Van Evera for their helpful comments, and the Federation of American Scientists for its generous support. 1. The proliferation of ballistic missile technology is well chronicled. See, for example, Janne E. Nolan, Trappings of Power: Ballistic Missiles in the Third World (Washington, D.C.: Brookings, 1991); Aaron Karp, ”Ballistic Missile Proliferation,” in Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), SlPRl Yearbook 1990: World Ar~narnentsand Disarmament (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990); Robert D. Shuey, Warren W. Lenhart, Rodney A. Snyder, Warren H. Donnelly, James E. Mielke, and John D. Moteff, Missile Proliferation: Survey of Emerging Missile Forces (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, February 9, 1989); and Martin S. Navias, “Ballistic Missile Proliferation in the Middle East,” Survival, Vol. 31, No. 3 (May/June 1989), pp. 225-239. 2. Karp, “Ballistic Missile Proliferation,” pp. 382-390. See Table 2 for a list of countries with missile programs. International Security, Summer 1991 (Vol. 16, NO. 1) 01991 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 5 lnfernational Security 16:l I 6 missiles against urban British and European targets during World War 11; Iraq and Iran together launched nearly 1000 missiles against each other’s cities during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war; the Kabul government fired over 1000 Soviet-made Scud missiles against Mujuhideen guerrillas in the Afghanistan civil war; and Iraq launched about 80 modified Scud missiles against cities in Israel and Saudi Arabia in the 1991Persian Gulf war. Three of these four cases occurred in the last decade, and in all four cases the missiles were armed solely with conventional (i.e., high-explosive) warheads. Moreover, these missiles were used mainly for strategic attacks against cities, perhaps because they lacked the accuracy necessary to strike even soft military targets such as airfields. Ballistic missiles with ranges greater than a few hundred kilometers are, however, an exceptionally inefficient vehicle for the delivery of conventional munitions. This has long been recognized by the nuclear powers, which rely on ballistic missiles almost exclusively for the delivery of nuclear warheads. The inefficiency of conventionally armed missiles seems to be well understood by the new missile states as well, since most of them are also actively seeking nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. A missile armed with a Hiroshima-sized nuclear weapon is roughly 10,000 times more deadly than the same missile armed with high explosives. Fortunately, the development of nuclear weapons is expensive, easy to detect, and relatively easy to thwart with export controls. Chemical warheads, on the other hand, are far easier to acquire, and while they may be far less deadly than nuclear warheads, they could kill as many people as dozens or even hundreds of conventionally armed missiles. Even worse, biological warheads that disperse anthrax spores...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1531-4804
Print ISSN
0162-2889
Pages
pp. 5-42
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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