January 1995


"Ballistic Missile Proliferation"

From a global perspective, continued spread and development of ballistic missile systems and technology exacerbate the already demanding challenges of containing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, of establishing conditions conducive to the reduction and progressive dismantlement of existing nuclear arsenals, and of moving closer to the ultimate objective of a world free of weapons of mass destruction.

At the regional level, uncontained proliferation of ballistic missile capability adds to existing fears and tensions, fuels arms racing, and further diminishes stability and security. Regional issues have taken on increased importance and featured increased volatility in the wake of the end of the Cold War. The combination of weapons of mass destruction, missile delivery systems, and political instability creates an environment of great uncertainty and potential danger. The interdependence of regional and global interests with security makes developments at the regional level a matter of universal concern.

For several decades, the international community has worked to contain the spread of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. Regimes have been crafted to provide incentives and disincentives to curb proliferation, especially with regard to nuclear weapons. While the means of delivery of such weapons was never ignored, it did not have the same priority as did the acquisition of nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction themselves.

Since the mid 1980s, however, as capabilities to produce weapons of mass destruction have expanded, superpower influence has diminished, and high technology has become more easily available, attention has focussed more acutely on the issue of how such weapons might be delivered against enemy targets. Because missiles are particularly dangerous when associated with weapons of mass destruction, and in light of their use in the Iran-Iraq war, the proliferation of ballistic missile delivery systems has become a major concern, and the subject of an incipient control regime, the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).

The MTCR is a necessary mechanism to address the threat of ballistic missile proliferation, but it emphasizes only the supply side of a problem that is driven in no small measure by demand considerations. Although fully effective control of the missile proliferation problem requires a top down and bottom up approach, it is neither feasible nor prudent to wait for all the pieces to fall into place, and action must be taken to create the conditions necessary for progress in containing this dangerous aspect of proliferation. As in the case of all export/supply control strategies to contain dangerous developments, the restrictions in question delay but do not ultimately foreclose the proliferation from taking place in the absence of complementary measures that address the conditions or circumstances driving states to seek the weapons themselves.

The purpose of this paper is to provide a brief overview of the problems associated with missile proliferation; the main incentives underlying efforts to acquire missiles; the measures that have been taken thus far to address the problem; and to offer some thoughts on further steps to contain and reverse these trends with particular attention to the region of South Asia.

Missiles as referred to in this paper are ballistic missiles -- unmanned, self-propelled weapon delivery systems that are guided during the powered portion of their ascent and then follow a ballistic (unguided and unpowered) trajectory over the remainder of the flight. Longer-range missiles will partly or totally exit the atmosphere during flight. Flight times to targets range from a few minutes for short-range tactical systems to about thirty minutes for intercontinental distances. The basic components of a ballistic missile include the aerodynamic shell which houses the rocket motor stage or stages, rocket motors which may be liquid or solid fueled, and the payload, which includes everything above the final booster stage: the warheads, reentry vehicle aeroshell, and in some cases the guidance system.

Military and political incentives for missile acquisition are relatively straightforward. From a military perspective, ballistic missiles generally are credited with having certain advantages over advanced strike aircraft: Missiles strike with little notice; time from launch to target is measured in minutes, not hours; missiles are difficult to defend against; and adversaries of most states interested in ballistic missiles have virtually no defense of consequence against ballistic missiles. Missiles provide the surest means of delivery and increase credibility and threat posed by a nuclear strike force. Even if the missiles available to most countries lack the accuracy necessary to serve as precision counterforce weapons, that disadvantage may diminish over time as access to better inertial guidance systems or use of the Global Positioning System [GPS] comes into play. Missiles are cheaper in terms of infrastructure and maintenance than advanced aircraft (although a missile is only good once). And they enjoy perceived psychological value vis a vis the population and leadership of an adversary. They are viewed, rightly or wrongly, as enhancing a country's offensive capability or its ability to intimidate, and as enhancing deterrent or defensive capabilities.

Politically, missile acquisition or capability may be seen as a badge of prestige, internationally and/or domestically. Mere possession may serve as a symbol of national pride and accomplishment and this, rather than security concerns, may be the principal incentive driving national ballistic missile policy. For some states which have relatively advanced conventional delivery capabilities, acquisition of state-of-the-art weapon systems that are seen as prestigious, and as offering first class military status, may be deemed to be an important technological goal.

Still other factors contribute to the interest in and proliferation of missiles: For one, the technologies used in these weapons are more available and more easily absorbed by industrializing countries than ever before; they are easier and cheaper to develop than in the past. Second, some of the relevant technologies are dual-use with legitimate civilian applications as well as value in missile development for military purposes. This makes it more difficult to restrict trade for proliferation reasons. Third, individuals, companies, and in some cases countries facing stiff economic competition in legitimate business look for quick profits in illicit sales. Still others view ballistic missiles as a product to be marketed internationally. The desire for hard currency will continue to predominate over inhibitions against trade in such weapons materials and equipment.

There are, of course, strong reasons for not acquiring missiles and for seeking to ensure their exclusion from one's neighborhood. For one thing, they contribute to regional instability and insecurity. Missiles strike with little notice, and they are difficult to defend against. With no human at the controls after launch, it is impossible to recall or terminate flight, a fact which can be calamitous in a crisis situation. For another, a militarily disadvantaged nation might adopt a fire-on-warning policy, or use missiles to conduct pre-emptive strikes against threatening forces, or employ missiles as weapons of terror against civilian populations as occurred with the use of SCUD missiles in the Iran-Iraq and Gulf wars and in Afghanistan. There is also the risk that an accidental or unauthorized missile firing could trigger a massive escalation of missile attacks. Even where fundamental imbalances may not exist, faulty information or bad judgment in situations of exceptional tension could lead to the unleashing of missile attacks. This danger is exacerbated by the fact that leaders can be pressed to fire missiles before they have time to assess the threat reliably.

More disturbing still, because highly accurate guidance and control systems are not easily acquired, and because nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction are less dependent on accuracy than conventional ordnance, countries may conclude that their missiles' greatest military utility is as a delivery vehicle for weapons of mass destruction. Missiles and weapons of mass destruction thus have the pernicious quality of feeding each other: the acquisition of the one may stimulate acquisition of the other. While missiles do not have the same stigma as do the weapons of mass destruction that they can deliver, they contribute greatly to regional instability and insecurity.

It may be only a matter of time before some countries gain access to better guidance technology, yielding weapons with a militarily useful counterforce application. If large numbers of accurate, long-range and highly lethal or destructive weapons were to become more widely available, regional military balances could shift creating greater instability. As countries obtain new missile capabilities, the potentiality increases that one country might conduct a surprise attack against cities, key installations, or weapons of a rival state. None of these possibilities can be regarded as conducive to stability or security.

There are also significant domestic costs to missile acquisition. Whether involving the purchase of whole systems or the building of the requisite infrastructure for indigenous production, missiles require a large commitment of national resources. A missile program also demands a significant technological commitment in research, design and engineering, drawing these technological resources away from other national priorities. Fielding a missile system also affects a country's military budget in terms of manpower, hardware, training and logistics.

The United States and the former Soviet Union engaged in a lengthy 'missile race' before turning to the alternative of arms control. It has taken considerable effort for both to wind down a massive confrontation of forces in central Europe, and to engage in continuing reductions of strategic forces. It would have been far easier and safer never to have run the race in the first place. This is a lesson that those headed toward regional missile races ought to digest and internalize.

Over the course of the past seven years the U.S. and Russia have been making significant progress in reducing their strategic and tactical nuclear weapons beginning with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces [INF] Treaty which was signed in December, 1987. Under the INF provisions all ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5500 km, their launchers and associated support structures and support equipment were destroyed by the United States and former Soviet Union. INF did not, however, call for the elimination of their nuclear warheads. START I was able to add this important dimension.

START I is the first treaty actually to reduce strategic offensive arms, with overall reductions of 30-40 percent, and reductions of up to 50~ in the most threatening systems. Furthermore, the START Treaty and the Lisbon Protocol were critical to ensuring that no new nuclear states emerged from the territory of the former Soviet Union by requiring the elimination of all strategic offensive arms from the territories of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, and the return of the warheads located in those states to Russia for dismantlement.

Now that START I has entered into force, we look forward to the ratification and entry into force of START II. Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin recently expressed their mutual desire to exchange instruments of START II ratification at their next summit meeting. START II will reduce the overall deployments of strategic nuclear weapons on both sides to less than one-third of pre-START I levels.

Pursuant to decisions taken at the September, 1994 summit, U.S. and Russian experts are now studying what strategic arms control measures beyond START II could be identified that could contribute to furthering strategic stability and enhancing international security overall.


Supply Side Strategies

Concerned countries have united to form various nonproliferation regimes to control items and technologies that could contribute to the spread of weapons of mass destruction and missiles. In the case of missile proliferation, these supply side approaches are embodied in national export control policies and in the multilateral Missile Technology Control Regime [MTCR].

Controlling the transfer and acquisition of ballistic missile systems and associated technologies is a more difficult task than controlling the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Many states have the capability to produce at least first-generation ballistic missiles with little or no outside help, while others can develop more advanced systems. Unlike the nuclear case, many of the key missile production technologies and components are not unique to missiles and have legitimate commercial or other military uses.

The centerpiece of efforts to control missile proliferation is the MTCR. The MTCR was formed in April, 1987 by the United States and the governments of our six economic summit partners -- Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom. Today the MTCR has grown to a membership of 25 countries. In addition, several non-members have announced compliance with the guidelines and cooperate with the regime. The United States has entered into bilateral agreements with Russia, Ukraine and South Africa which hopefully will lead to their membership in the MTCR. The MTCR partners have worked steadily to broaden the membership of the regime, and simultaneously to increase the effectiveness of their efforts to stem the proliferation of missiles on a global basis.

The aim of the MTCR is to restrict the proliferation of missiles, unmanned air vehicles [UAVs], and related technology for those systems capable of carrying a 500 kilogram payload at least 300 kilometers. The MTCR considers 'missiles' to include: ballistic missiles, space launch vehicles and sounding rockets. Unmanned air vehicles include: cruise missiles, drones, UAVs and remotely piloted vehicles [RPVs]. Originally concerned only with nuclear capable delivery systems, the scope of the MTCR has been expanded since the Persian Gulf War to cover missiles capable of delivering all weapons of mass destruction (nuclear, chemical and biological).

The MTCR is neither a treaty nor an international agreement, but a voluntary arrangement among countries which share a common interest in arresting missile proliferation. The regime consists of common export guidelines applied to a common list of controlled items. Each member implements its commitments in the context of its own national export laws. Views differ on the effectiveness of MTCR as a mechanism to prevent missile proliferation. Its lack of the normative strength that flows from treaty based obligations or of an institutionally based comprehensive monitoring system are seen as placing real constraints on its utility. But it is also acknowledged to have had an important impact in constraining transfers and in slowing, and in some cases terminating, projects of concern. Its growing membership has also served to strengthen its relevance as a mechanism for containing the spread of ballistic missiles. The MTCR offers the basis for building a comprehensive and balanced approach to missile proliferation, but standing alone is not fully adequate to the task.

Demand Side Considerations

Even a tight export control regime addresses only the supply side of the problem. The demand side is still left open. To contain and eventually reverse the acquisition of missile capabilities, [whether regionally or globally,] requires an approach that deals with underlying incentives and motivations. This is not something that can be accomplished easily or in a single stroke. But it is possible to identify a number of approaches to the missile proliferation challenge that might be followed. One important measure is the development of confidence and security building measures (CSBMs) which can reduce mistrust, increase transparency, and decrease the chances of miscalculation and accidental war. This of course presupposes that there is a political desire to take such steps.

The United States has engaged both India and Pakistan on issues involving missile non-deployment and ways to monitor nondeployment. This issue has become critical because a ballistic missile race in South Asia would arguably constitute the greatest single threat to stability there and provide an additional motivation to deploy nuclear weapons.

In South Asia there is presently no formal government-to-government dialogue on the particular question of regional missile proliferation. But there is, and has been, such dialogue on other matters related to security. In recognition of the danger of the outbreak of war, India and Pakistan have undertaken several ad hoc confidence-building measures. The two countries have signed and ratified bilateral agreements on the avoidance of airspace violations, notification of military exercises, and the establishment of a communications link (hotline) at the senior military level. In 1991, India and Pakistan ratified an agreement not to attack each other's nuclear facilities. Lists of the facilities covered by the agreement were exchanged in 1992 and 1993. There is a rising concern in New Delhi and Islamabad about alleged noncompliance with these agreements and lack of an adequate dialogue (as well as of a monitoring apparatus), both of which could contribute to an increase in regional tension -- a situation that clearly needs and presumably will receive the close attention of both parties.

More generally, if it has proven possible to work out confidence building measures with respect to past tensions, it should be possible to build on that experience and to apply that technique to dealing with a dangerous incipient problem, the spread of ballistic missiles. The time for seeking to do this is now, before missiles have been deployed. Certainly it would be less difficult to pursue such a strategy at this stage than endeavoring to do so after the fact. Freezing a developing situation that has not yet matured is less costly and less destabilizing than walking back from the precipice after economic and technological investments have been made and political/military commitments locked into place.

The issue of compliance is a serious one and, in light of what has been said about the difficulties of defending against a missile attack, would be especially sensitive with respect to implementing CSBMs aimed at foreclosing missile deployment. With a view to contributing to efforts to constrain regional missile development and deployment generally, Sandia National Laboratory and the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency have developed provisions for a hypothetical missile monitoring agreement which considers questions the parties would have to address if they were to negotiate a missile non-deployment regime. We believe that this represents a potentially important contribution to assisting states that are interested in averting the destabilizing effects of regional missile development and deployment in achieving that objective.(1)

Establishing a regional missile non-deployment regime in South Asia in which China participated by constraining its own missile deployments of concern to India might be one possible way to deter Pakistan and India from following the regrettable path the United States and Soviet Union travelled during the missile race of the Cold War. It has the added advantage of engaging another dimension of the missile proliferation problem with the possibility of broadening the zone of stability and security beyond the specifically South Asian theatre.

In 1989 a Joint Working Group was established between India and China to resolve border disputes and to reduce military tensions, and in 1993 the two countries signed a Peace and Tranquility Agreement. This established respect for the Line of Actual Control (LOAC) and committed both sides to seek to clarify disagreement over disputes areas along the LOAC. This agreement is intended not only to resolve border questions, but also to achieve force reductions along the border, including relocating forces further from the LOAC. India and China will also consider agreements for prior notification and prevention of air space violations.

To date, neither country has gone as far as to propose the negotiation of a missile non-deployment regime, but such an initiative obviously could have a major impact on regional stability and security. Agreement along these lines could not only deter missile deployment but create the opportunity to clarify Indian concerns over the alleged presence of missiles in Tibet.

Missile Ban Strategies

CSBMs along the lines discussed represent intermediate steps that can be taken to ameliorate tension, arrest a process, and facilitate the building of trust and confidence enabling other and more far reaching and permanent measures to be considered and enacted. Missile bans figure prominently among these more far-reaching measures.

These can have a regional or global dimension, or both. The demand for global solutions to regional problems can be a convenient way to avoid facing the problem head on. The following discussion reaches beyond regional boundaries but should not be taken as a signal that global approaches can fully embrace and accommodate regional issues. Therefore, regional CSBMs and other arms control measures must be a central aspect of more inclusive steps.

As we have seen, supply-side policies against proliferation mainly consist of export-control measures on weapons, and on materials, technology and expertise to develop those weapons applied by supplier states. Many analysts have argued that, in the long run, supplier cartels will become ineffective, and that demand-side measures should also be examined.(2) Demand-side policies use incentives and disincentives, and include security assurances and confidence-building measures to encourage economic and political development. For the sake of brevity we will discuss two demand side strategies that have been proposed by various analysts. The first is the idea of a Global INF, that is, expanding the bilateral U.S.-Russian Treaty on Intermediate-range forces (INF) to include other countries.(3) The second entails endorsing a world-wide ban on ballistic missiles of all ranges, thus creating a Zero Ballistic Missile [ZBM] regime. (4) Related to both approaches is the concept of multilateral space consortia that would ensure full access to the peaceful benefits of space exploration and activity without increasing the risk of missile proliferation.

The first approach, a Global INF, would provide for a ban on all ground launched missiles with ranges between 500 and 5500 km. Advocates of this approach argue that a global INF would cover the most sought-after missiles and that such a treaty would be effectively verifiable. However, there are many missile systems that would not be captured by such a regime because they came under the 500 km threshold, and as the Persian Gulf war demonstrated, it is precisely these lower range missiles that may be most significant in terms of regional threat and security. Hence, it would make sense to consider extending the lower end of the range to include at least those missiles now covered by the MTCR (300 km) as well as the possibility of regional arrangements designed to cover missiles of even more limited range. An attractive feature of a global INF is the fact that the provisions of this treaty have already been negotiated, and even if not simply extended without adjustment or fine tuning, it provides a very useful template or precedent for how such a treaty could fairly quickly be put together.

The second approach to the current missile predicament could involve a non-discriminatory ban on ballistic missiles of all ranges, thereby creating a ZBM world. A ZBM could improve the security environment of many countries by eliminating costly and destabilizing missile races, but could, as discussed below, allow for one or more space consortia. Verifying compliance could be done by early warning satellites and aircraft reconnaissance. As most new missiles must be tested, and flight testing is easily observable, monitoring should not be a problem.

Negotiating a zero ballistic missile regime on a global basis presents a formidable challenge. While many states may consider such a regime to be a desirable goal, it seems clear that such a major change from current missile deployments in several states cannot be expected to be achieved quickly.

Perhaps the most pragmatic way to address this problem is to work toward global and regional missile constraints in parallel, seeking the fastest feasible progress on each track. The global and regional efforts would be mutually supportive, but progress on one track would not have to wait for, or be contingent on, progress on the other. Thus it may be possible to reduce dangerous regional security instabilities by preventing missile deployment races in one or more regions in the near term, while achieving similar constraints worldwide would take considerably longer. At the same time, the regional agreements would greatly facilitate progress toward the global goal.

The two preceding scenarios embrace the idea of a ballistic missile ban in one degree or another, but could provide countries access to outer space in a manner intended not to contribute to missile proliferation. This could be achieved through some sort of space launch consortium or consortia that allowed member states to benefit from a joint SLV program while forswearing independent space launch vehicle (SLV) development. Consortia could be fashioned along regional lines or consist of states from different regions brought together by common interest.

A variety of institutional arrangements could be imagined that would provide for equitable participation in, and effective control of, the enterprise.(5) The principle idea would be to make access to space launch assistance available in return for commitment to constrain national missile development. This strategy would not drain a country's economic resources as do independent space launch programs while nevertheless ensuring access to the peaceful uses of space launch technology. It is clear that for at least the next decade the world faces an oversupply of space launch capabilities. In an oversupplied market, the profit is driven down, not up. Therefore there would be little likelihood of profit in the expansion of existing services. A country would be better off seeking a limited number of capabilities where regional and global approaches converge.

In the end, the multilateralization of space launches and the development of consortia in place of increasing numbers of competing national programs may be viewed as a conceptually attractive but politically distant idea. In order to achieve any demand-side nonproliferation goals, there must be a political prerequisite of a shared will to reverse the missile race, enhance stability, and reduce the risk of war. The necessary scientific and manpower resources must and can be obtained or created. The military requisites include the absence of a perceived military need for missiles; assurance that the other side is not gaining an advantage (cheating); and the assurance that verification, while effective, does not become a liability in terms of exposing uncovered military assets or security deficiencies that other states might seek to exploit.

Different approaches to constraining missile proliferation have different advantages, but all have limitations. Countries considering the options need to confront a few questions very directly: Does the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction actually enhance national security? Or do increased military capabilities in weapons of mass destruction make the country more vulnerable? A cost/benefit analysis may prove useful and lead a country to discover that the addition of WMD actually increases instability, thereby increasing the risk of conflict and of unintended reaction to perceived threats.


More can be done to reduce and reverse missile proliferation. The United States is doing its part, including reducing its own missile arsenal. But countries pursuing missile and WMD capabilities must have the interest and perhaps even the need to decrease the danger of war. To believe that such countries will likely change through international example or through persuasion alone is short-sighted. Those who live in the region ultimately hold the solution to the problem, and must decide themselves to move toward regional peace and stability. But the United States and other outsiders can assist the process. In the end, it is hoped that secure and stable peace will be forged through respect for each others' borders, negotiated agreements, arms control and confidence-building measures, and security cooperation.


1. See George Perkovich, "A Nuclear Third Way in South Asia", Foreign Policy, (Summer, 1993)

2. Kathleen Bailey, "Missile Proliferation: Demand-Side Policies are Needed," in F. Rioux, Limiting the Proliferation of Weapons, 1992.

3. For further discussion see Kenneth Adelman, "Curing Missile Measles," Washington Times, April 17, 1990 (p. Dl), and Kathleen Bailey, "Rushing to Build Missiles" Washington Post,

April 6, 1990 (p.A15)

4. Laura Lumpe, "Zero Ballistic Missiles in the Third World," Project on Rethinking Arms Control, Center for International Security Studies, University of Maryland. (1993)

5. For a discussion and analysis of alternative approaches to institutional arrangements see Lawrence Scheinman, "Multilateral Alternatives and Nuclear Nonproliferation," in George H. Quester, Nuclear Proliferation: Breaking the Chain, (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1981).