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Missile Proliferation and Missile Defenses

Missile capabilities and proliferation

Since World War II, missiles have become a key component of the militaries of many countries. Most of these are short range or medium range missiles for battlefield Iuse. While these pose threats within the regions of their deployment, the development of longer range missiles and the capability to use these to deliver weapons of mass destruction, creates a greater threat to global security.

Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) have so far been developed or deployed by five countries - Russia, US, China, France and the UK. Other countries - including India, Pakistan, Israel, Iran and North Korea - have developed medium or inter-mediate range ballistic missiles and so could

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possibly develop an ICBM capability in the near future. However, this would require advanced technologies which they currently do not have.

There are a number of contrasting approaches to dealing with the threats from existing missiles and missile proliferation:
Developing missile defences; Imposing missile technology export controls; Space launch technology sharing;

The first two approaches are coercive - those with missile technology attempt to prevent those without such technology from acquiring it, or counter the acquisition of such technology by military means. The second two approaches are collaborative and require efforts by those with missile technology to assist others with non-military use of such technology, and to lesson the threat their own missiles provide to other countries.

Missile Defenses

Ballistic missile defenses (BMD) involve the development of missiles, lasers or other weapons which can intercept and destroy the missiles of an adversary in flight. The two key programs of the US and its allies are Theater Missile Defense (TMD), which involves the development and deployment of systems to intercept short and medium range missiles, and National Missile Defense (NMD) which focuses on the interception of intermediate and long range missiles. The two programs are closely linked in both the technologies they employ and the emerging deployment policies. Under current US policy, TMD and NMD are merging towards becoming one.

Ballistic Missiles and the ABM Treaty

During the Cold War the US and USSR began a program of ballistic missile defences (BMD) designed to intercept the opponent's ICBMs. However, in order to preserve the deterrence value of each other's nuclear weapons, they agreed to limit BMD under the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, to a fixed system at one location. The US and its allies have assumed that this does not apply to TMD, and such systems have been deployed.

President George W Bush made development of National Missile Defense a major goal of his presidential campaign. Upon entering office he announced that deployment would take place as soon as technically possible, and that the US would be withdrawing from the ABM Treaty.

Missile Defense: Rationale and Rebuttal

The US rationale for BMD is that there is an emerging threat from potentially hostile nations, as indicated by the Rumsfeld Commission in 1998, and that NMD would reduce the reliance on nuclear deterrence.

Opponents of BMD cite concerns that:
BMD systems are provocative in nature depending on the ability to strike at the potential enemy within minutes of a suspected launch. This would heighten nervousness and possible miscalculation and missile launch in a crisis;
BMD systems could be rendered useless by the development of decoys, missile spin and other technologies and cold thus lead to a false sense of security;
BMD systems do not address the most likely methods of delivery of weapons of mass destruction by potentially hostile countries or terrorist organisations which could be by van, ship, commercial plane.;
The deployment of BMD systems will antagonise Russia and China making it more difficult to make progress on nuclear disarmament;
BMD will move the arms race into outer space stimulating other countries to follow suit;
BMD are very expensive to develop thus siphoning funds away from cooperative security programs.

Missile Technology Control Regime and Missile Disarmament

The Missile Technology Control Regime aims to prevent the proliferation of missiles by placing export controls on missile technology to states which do not have missiles or are considered potentially hostile. A major criticism of the regime is that it is discriminatory in that it allows certain countries to have and receive missile technology but not others. As such the MTCR is not acceptable to many states. INESAP argues that missile technology control would work better if it was instead part of a non-discriminatory missile disarmament program. In 1992, expanding the proposal discussed between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev at the 1986 Reykjavik Summit, the Federation of American Scientists developed a model for the elimination of ballistic missiles. Such a regime would aim at the complete elimination of offensive ballistic missiles under international verification.

Space Launch Technology

The development of missile technology often serves a dual purpose of military and space launch capability. One way to prevent the development of ballistic missiles in states of concern is to provide assistance with space launch capability in exchange for commitments on non-development of ballistic missiles and acceptance of monitoring.

References: INESAP, Moving Beyond Missile Defence, INES Newsletter, August 2001, Germany
Krieger and Ong (editors) A Maginot Line in the Sky, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, Santa Barbara 2001
Lawyers Alliance for World Security White Paper on National Missile Defense, Washington April 2001

Prepared by Alyn Ware, Coordinator of the Parliamentary Network for Nuclear Disarmament, a project of the Middle Powers Initiative.