Third-World Access To Ballistic Missiles Poses Global Threat

LONG after other memories of the Gulf war fade, the stark images of Iraqi missiles falling on Tel Aviv and Riyadh seem likely to endure. Iraq's arsenal of crude but fearsome Scud missiles was largely destroyed by coalition bombing raids. But a book published this week by the Brookings Institution says that, far from receding, the danger posed by ballistic missiles may be increasing. More than a dozen third-world nations have purchased ballistic missiles, while several have acquired the technology to produce their own, says the study, "Trappings of Power: Ballistic Missiles in the Third World." At the same time, industrial nations are losing their monopoly on advanced missile technology. This development poses an ominous threat to international stability.

"The Gulf war was a harbinger of a fundamentally altered security environment in which the third world can resort to wars of greater lethality while demonstrating independence from first-world suppliers," says Jane Nolan, author of the study.

Dangerous competition possible

The global diffusion of missile technology could limit the ability of the superpowers to reduce their own missile inventories and heighten the need for strategic defenses, the study says. At the same time it could create a third-world version of the dangerous competition in offensive and defensive missiles that was a hallmark of the cold war.

Sixteen third-world nations now possess ballistic missiles. Included are chronic adversaries in the most volatile regions of the world: Israel and Syria, Iran and Iraq, India and Pakistan, North and South Korea.

The list also includes Libya and Syria, 2 of 14 developing countries identified in a recent United States Navy intelligence report as possessing chemical weapons. Programs to develop ballistic missiles in several African nations are also "robust," says Dr. Nolan. Ballistic missiles in third-world arsenals are too primitive to be effective instruments of war, but as developing nations gain access to advanced guidance technology and satellite imagery, the threat could grow.

Altering the military calculus

The "global military calculus could be altered dramatically," the study concludes, as developing countries learn how to couple advanced delivery systems with chemical, nuclear, or biological weapons. In addition to missile technology, third-world states have acquired their theories on military deterrence from the superpowers.

"The paradoxical concept that states must develop sophisticated weapons so they may never be used has been accepted as creed by the advanced countries for decades and is now being adapted by developing states," says the 200-page book.

But Nolan warns that export controls and trade sanctions, once the principal means of containing the diffusion of missile technology, are increasingly ineffective. One reason is that many missile components, like technical data packages, have become largely intangible.

Monopoly by a few nations is over

Another is that determining the end use of many products, like integrated circuits which can be used for both military and nonmilitary purposes, has become far more difficult. "It's no longer a question of a few countries maintaining a monopoly," says Nolan. With many developing nations now arms suppliers themselves, corking missile technology has become impossible.

Any lasting solution, Nolan says, will have to address the demand-side of the equation by getting to the roots of regional tensions that lie behind the quest for advanced missile technology.

The industrial nations must take the lead in finding "more effective ways to address the causes of military antagonism," the study concludes.

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