Too late for missile nonproliferation?

The international community, or a segment of it, has instituted a variety of arrangements to constrain the flow of missiles and missile technology to countries (and non-state actors) that lack them. These arrangements have achieved some success but have also demonstrated serious shortcomings. Not all supplier nations are equally committed to missile nonproliferation. Determined proliferators, if unable to gain missile technology through other means, can reverse-engineer existing missiles or—eventually—produce indigenous technology. After all, missile technology is already decades old. Below, authors from India, Japan, and Turkey debate the following questions: Can the spread of missile technology be constrained? If so, how—and if not, how should the world respond to the reality of missile proliferation?

Round 1

How to revitalize missile nonproliferation

The genie of missile technology is so far out of the bottle that getting it back in is simply unworkable, if not completely impossible. More than two dozen states have already acquired the scientific, technological, and industrial capacity to produce ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, or both. Much of the technology in question is more than 70 years old. Much missile-relevant technology, knowledge, and materials have by now become dual-use—meaning that their civilian and commercial applications are legitimate and widespread. Efforts to restrain the spread of missiles are undermined by the passage of time.

This is true in particular for export controls—a wide variety of arrangements meant to curb the flow of both finished missiles and relevant technologies and materials to nations that do not already possess them. Ever-expanding global trade is eroding, day by day, the effectiveness of export and technology controls. Easy, affordable cross-border travel is doing likewise. So are stunning advances in the storage and dissemination of data, visible in such everyday applications as the internet.

Adding to the strain, some states heretofore viewed as "good guys" on the nonproliferation scene are developing a keen interest in conventionally-tipped missiles—both ballistic missiles with relatively short ranges and cruise missiles with relatively long ranges. South Korea and Turkey are two such states. Others may join the list soon.

Why are these nations pursuing these technologies? Conventional wisdom used to maintain that ballistic missiles, unless coupled with nuclear warheads, were so inaccurate that they couldn't provide a tactically useful alternative to air power. Any state without ambitions to acquire nuclear weapons, yet with ample financial resources and the political standing needed to access advanced elements of air power, would therefore prefer combat aircraft. But not anymore. Why the shift?

In Seoul and Ankara, part of the explanation is exasperation with rivals next door—with persistent missile development in North Korea, Iran, and Russia, and with those nations' diversifying, ever-expanding missile arsenals. But equally if not more important is progress in a number of technologies that enable missile development. These include data processing and computing, miniaturization of electronics, navigation, and advanced materials. Strides in these areas are giving rise to a new generation of cruise missiles and tactical (shorter-range) ballistic missiles with greater accuracy, reliability, and affordability than their forebears of the infamous Scud generation. Shorter-range ballistic missiles, with their accuracy measured in meters, have become effective tools for taking out high-value, well-defended targets deep inside an adversary's territory. Once such a missile is fired, impact on the target is virtually guaranteed. The same can hardly be said of strike aircraft.

So if technological advances are transforming ballistic and cruise missiles into useful, affordable assets in conventional warfare, and if a strong demand-side pull results, are the days of export and technology controls over? Is it time to stop worrying about such controls altogether?

No; giving up on controls would not be wise.

Export and technology controls continue to make life difficult for existing and would-be proliferators. They increase costs, lengthen development times, and erect political and psychological barriers. But today's controls, which were devised more than three decades ago under the scope of the Missile Technology Control Regime, are in need of refocusing and readjustment. The regime's blanket restrictions are not keeping up with new developments in the field, and their impact is spread too thin. A more effective approach would be to concentrate controls on the items and sectors most critical to missile proliferation.

For example, controls could focus on longer-range missiles. The longer a missile's range, the less it depends on dual-use, widely available know-how and materials. So developing longer-range missiles presents proliferators with a number of technical and technological challenges—such as the imperative to equip missiles with a second or even a third stage. Likewise, proliferators must learn to cope with the extreme stress and heat caused by re-entry into Earth's atmosphere. These challenges saddle proliferators with increased risks and skyrocketing costs. They also demand access to a variety of specialized items and technologies—exotic materials involved in atmospheric re-entry, ingredients for propellants, and know-how for multi-staging and separation control. Export and technology controls can achieve their greatest impact if they concentrate on longer-range missiles, which already present proliferators with the greatest challenges.

Yet export controls must not be the only means to deal with missile proliferation. Another useful approach would be to limit—and ideally eliminate—all missile tests. Refining a missile's design and ensuring its reliability require multiple tests. For proliferators, therefore, the need for comprehensive flight testing constitutes an Achilles' heel; if they cannot test, their missile development and deployment will be delayed, and perhaps prevented altogether. This is especially the case for longer-range missiles. And curbing tests of long-range ballistic missiles provides a further advantage: Such missiles are the most likely candidates to carry nuclear warheads. Nascent and even established proliferators must try to confirm the reliability of their missiles. Otherwise, a malfunctioning missile launched during wartime would equate to a wasted nuclear warhead. A malfunctioning missile carrying a nuclear warhead would also create open-ended safety risks by virtue of its fissile material.

The good news is that a basis for instituting a test ban already exists: a UN-sponsored mechanism known as the Hague Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missile Proliferation. This voluntary, non-binding agreement—adopted in 2002, with signatories now totaling more than 135—involves annual reporting of ballistic missile testing and provisions for pre-launch notification. The code's effectiveness could be reinforced and augmented in a variety of ways—for example, by expanding the code's membership, strengthening compliance mechanisms, and adding cruise missiles, hypersonic vehicles, and even missile defense to the code's purview. The code could also be revised to incorporate measures regarding transparency, confidence building, and crisis management—measures that some states have already implemented via bilateral agreements.

Finally, horizontal missile proliferation (that is, missiles spreading to a larger number of states) might be restrained through missile defense, which is rapidly maturing. To be sure, missile defense systems are extremely costly and are only available to a handful of wealthy, technologically advanced states. And missile defense umbrellas that these states extend will not reassure everyone. So perhaps an international code of conduct could be developed to provide assurances that non-missile states coming under a missile threat would automatically receive missile defense assistance from willing and able members of the international community. Such a code of conduct might be largely symbolic, and the fulfillment of its promises might depend very much on context. But a code would help establish international norms against deploying and using missiles—and would provide some peace of mind to nations that choose not to engage in missile development.

 

Missiles: The hidden force behind nuclear proliferation

In January, North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test—detonating its "first hydrogen bomb," or so Pyongyang claimed. Since then, the North has conducted a series of missile tests, the latest a June 22 launch into high altitude of an intermediate-range ballistic missile (the Hwasong-10 or, as it's known to the outside world, the Musudan). This test, after five launch failures in a row, was "successful." North Korea's missile program is advancing steadily—and Pyongyang is miniaturizing nuclear warheads successfully enough to mount them on various ballistic missiles with Musudan-type engines. This skill can be applied to the country's first intercontinental ballistic missile, the KN-08, currently under development.

Immediately after the June 22 test, the UN Security Council strongly condemned North Korea's ballistic missile launches. It was the fifth such condemnation this year. The Security Council noted that "these repeated acts are in grave violation of obligations under the relevant resolutions" and that "these activities contribute to the development of the country's nuclear weapons delivery systems and increase tension." Since 2006 the Security Council has adopted five major resolutions imposing or strengthening sanctions on North Korea because of its nuclear weapons program. The United Nations has also issued numerous condemnations of North Korea's missile, "rocket," or "satellite" launches.

The international community's harsh, persistent criticism of North Korea's missile and rocket launches highlights the basic reality that missiles are integral parts of nuclear weapons. But oddly, only North Korea's missile tests are subject to such harsh condemnation. Tests conducted by other countries, even Iran, do not draw so much attention. To be sure, North Korea's nuclear weapons program makes Pyongyang's missile development seem more threatening. But missiles are a critical component of all countries' nuclear weapons—so missile proliferation deserves as much concern, and the same efforts at prevention, as nuclear proliferation deserves.

Major nuclear powers such as the United States, Russia, and China constantly conduct missile tests to expand their offensive capabilities. In so doing they provoke a sense of insecurity among other states. Arguably, the major powers' advanced and precisely guided missiles only provide an incentive for other nations to develop nuclear weapons; nuclear weapons, meanwhile, drive the development of advanced missiles. The two together maximize a nation's potential to effect destruction, thereby—many believe—making deterrence more credible. Then again, missiles armed with conventional warheads can be regarded as a substitute for nuclear weapons. South Korea, for example, has invested great resources in developing ballistic and cruise missiles with ever longer ranges, apparently in an effort to counter or compete with North Korea's nuclear weapons program. In any event, the missile proliferation agenda shouldn't confine itself narrowly to controversial cases such as North Korea's missile program or China's missile trade with the Middle East.

Unfortunately, institutional and legal arrangements for reining in the missile trade are inadequate and in danger of losing their relevance. The Missile Technology Control Regime was established in 1987 as a voluntary mechanism to limit the spread of ballistic missiles and other unmanned delivery systems that could be used for attacks using weapons of mass destruction. The regime's 35 members include most of the world's key missile manufacturers, and members are expected to restrict their exports of missiles (and related technologies) capable of delivering a 500-kilogram payload at least 300 kilometers, or of delivering any type of WMD. While the regime is credited with having slowed or halted several missile programs, it has some weaknesses. The regime involves no commitment to restrain existing missile arsenals or to achieve missile disarmament. It entails "no international monitoring or verification measures to detect and forestall interstate transfers" of missile technology and production. Its export controls on dual-use goods are strict and rigid. This stands in the way of civilian technology cooperation and undermines the economic interests of suppliers and recipients alike. And as the regime is non-binding, its implementation tends to be arbitrary—the United States and South Korea, for example, reached a deal in 2012 extending the maximum allowable range of Seoul's ballistic missiles from 300 kilometers to 800, and their maximum payload from 500 kilograms to as much as 1.5 metric tons, far exceeding limits specified under the regime. Arbitrary enforcement undermines the regime's legitimacy—and the regime's salience seems to be fading, with missile proliferation nowadays receiving scant attention compared to security concerns such as nuclear security and terrorism.

As the regime is rendered impotent, the result will be less effective control of dual-use technologies applicable to missiles—modern missiles, after all, contain various advanced technologies that also appear in space applications and elsewhere. Effective control over these technologies won't likely be exerted by complementary regulatory structures such as the Nuclear Suppliers Group or the Wassenaar Arrangement. The government of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did little to remedy the problem when in April 2014 it set aside the "Three Principles," a ban on exports of weapons, military hardware, and technology in place since 1967. As I have discussed elsewhere, Japan was already a major supplier of advanced civilian dual-use technologies with possible military applications even when the Three Principles remained in force. Japan's participation in the global arms business as a supplier of advanced military technologies and components will only exacerbate the missile proliferation problem.

Nuclear weapons consist of nuclear warheads and delivery systems. The two are inseparable. This fundamental fact, whether intentionally or unintentionally, is often left out of the discourse on nuclear disarmament. Nuclear nonproliferation efforts that neglect missile proliferation are bound to be unproductive—indeed, missile proliferation is the hidden, driving force behind nuclear proliferation. If the world is ever to be free of nuclear weapons, it is time to start addressing missile nonproliferation and nuclear disarmament as two inseparable elements of the same agenda.

 

Why missile proliferation is so hard to stop

It is a supreme irony that even if the spread of missile technology can be constrained, proliferation of missiles will likely remain unconstrained. Today, more than 30 countries possess missiles with ranges of 150 kilometers or greater. In 2016 alone, nations including China, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, and the United States have conducted a spate of missiles tests meant either to develop new missiles or improve existing ones. Most if not all of these tests have showcased missiles based primarily on indigenous technology—underlining the reality that technology denial alone will not prevent missile development.

A few factors help explain these proliferation trends. First, in the words of a UN panel of government experts, "there is still no universal norm, treaty, or agreement governing the development, testing, production, acquisition, possession, transfer, deployment, or use of missiles." To be sure, concern over missiles is a matter of broad consensus, particularly for missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. But little agreement exists about how to address the WMD missile challenge. At best, the UN Security Council has produced country-specific resolutions regarding instances of missile proliferation that threaten international peace and security, for example where Iran and North Korea are concerned.

Second, a general diffusion of information and technology from the original suppliers means that almost any country that decides to acquire WMD-capable missiles will, regardless of its economic strength and technological capability, manage to do so—despite the best efforts of the international community. Sanctions, or constraints on technology transfers, might slow a missile program. But they are unlikely to stop it if the country is determined.

Third, even if the majority of proliferating countries must beg, borrow, or steal technology and materials in the initial stages of their WMD-capable missile programs, they will eventually establish indigenous capabilities—thus insulating themselves against sanction regimes that seek to block the export of weapon-related dual-use technology.

Two paths. Missile proliferation is difficult to address partly because proliferators, motivations and capabilities for proliferation, and missiles themselves are all quite diverse. Today's missiles vary from man-portable, shoulder-fired, anti-armor missiles with ranges in the hundreds of meters—to missiles weighing some 100,000 kilograms at launch, capable of carrying multiple nuclear warheads, and with ranges exceeding 10,000 kilometers. Almost all nations possess missiles, though their holdings vary considerably in quantitative and qualitative terms. In recent years, even terrorist groups and armed non-state actors have acquired and used man-portable missiles with ranges under 150 kilometers, allowing them to threaten targets such as civilian aircraft.

Against this backdrop, two general approaches to missile proliferation have emerged. The approaches are not mutually exclusive and indeed often overlap. The first is a series of political and diplomatic initiatives at the bilateral, regional, and global levels, including the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Hague Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missile Proliferation, and three successive UN panels of government experts.

The INF Treaty, signed by the United States and the Soviet Union in 1987, successfully eliminated ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. But the treaty is now in danger of unraveling as Moscow threatens to withdraw from it, partly because of Washington's withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. The Missile Technology Control Regime has had its own limitations. The regime, established in 1987 primarily to curtail the spread of missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, has failed to garner universal appeal because of two key shortcomings. First, its scope was initially restricted to ballistic missiles (and, later, other unmanned delivery systems) capable of delivering WMD or carrying a 500-kilogram payload a distance of 300 kilometers. Conventionally armed cruise missiles were ignored. Second, the regime focuses on horizontal proliferation (the spread of missiles to newer states) rather than on vertical proliferation (qualitative and quantitative improvements in missiles by existing missile-possessing states).

Regime members, partly in response to the regime's shortcomings, initiated the Hague Code of Conduct, which came into effect in 2002. Unlike the regime, the code does not seek to prevent states from acquiring or possessing WMD-capable ballistic missiles. It merely seeks to promote responsible behavior, through confidence-building and transparency measures, regarding ballistic missiles (though not cruise missiles). While 138 nations have signed on to the code, several key states that possess WMD-capable missiles have not done so—among them China, North Korea, Iran, Israel, and Pakistan.

The second primary approach to missile proliferation involves military and technological initiatives—such as the 2003 invasion of Iraq (intended in part to destroy Iraq's nuclear and missile programs) and the development of missile defenses.

The Iraq invasion, of course, was meant not just to disarm Iraq but to dissuade other nations, particularly Iran and North Korea, from pursuing missile and nuclear capabilities. But Iran, far from abandoning its contentious programs, embarked on an effort to build missiles capable of delivering a one–metric ton warhead more than 2,000 kilometers away. North Korea, meanwhile, began a series of WMD-capable missile tests that has continued despite increasingly severe international sanctions. The unintended consequences of the 2003 Iraq War, still reverberating more than a decade later, make it highly unlikely that such an approach will be repeated in the near future.

Missile defense programs, meanwhile—which seek to develop the capacity to detect, intercept, and destroy ballistic missiles before they strike their targets—are maturing at a rapid pace and now threaten to undermine strategic stability among the United States, Russia, and China. The latter two countries have embarked on their own missile defense projects, even as they object to the US program. Additional nations, including India, Israel, Japan, and South Korea, will likely deploy or improve missile defense systems in the foreseeable future as a response to missile proliferation. While the effectiveness of these systems remains unproven in many cases, they are sometimes perceived as a partial panacea for the missile threat.

Political and diplomatic initiatives against missile proliferation have been somewhat limited in their effectiveness; the same can be said of military action and missile defense. Yet both approaches are likely to persist. Political and diplomatic initiatives remain crucial to building the norms and instruments that might constrain proliferation, and are also key to encouraging responsible behavior among states that already possess strategic missiles. And the chance remains that these initiatives might one day gain universal adherence.

Military action and missile defense will likely have limited appeal going forward—especially the latter, which is available only to nations that can develop missile defense capabilities on their own or gain protection from another country that possesses such capabilities. But even if missile defense represents a way to respond to missile proliferation, it isn't likely to curb proliferation. To the contrary, all indications are that missile defense will produce yet more vertical missile proliferation—as nations try to defeat missile defense systems with overwhelming numbers of missiles or other countermeasures.

 

Round 2

How an emphasis on drones harms missile controls

In Round One, Masako Ikegami explained that export controls, if strict and rigid, can impede cooperation and trade in civilian technology—and undermine the economic interests of suppliers and recipients alike. A related problem is the manipulation of export controls that technologically advanced states sometimes carry out to maintain their technological and strategic advantages. Such behavior casts a shadow over the effectiveness and legitimacy of export controls.

One arena in which manipulation occurs is drone technology: Export controls originally devised to stop the spread of WMD-capable missiles now curb international transactions involving drones. The primary state conducting and promoting such practices is the United States. Washington's European allies, along with Israel, follow suit—apparently due to pressure from the United States.

This story begins in the early 1990s when the Missile Technology Control Regime, which until then had concerned itself only with ballistic missiles, began to cover drones (and cruise missiles as well). In those days, larger drones such as the US Predator were making their debut. Some observers were concerned that high-performance drones could be used to deliver weapons of mass destruction. So controls were placed on drones capable of delivering a 500-kilogram payload a distance of 300 kilometers—the same threshold that defines nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.

In the years since, the military uses of drones have become widespread. Drones are now crucial surveillance assets. Drones armed with conventional, high-explosive bombs and rockets have begun appearing on modern battlefields. Interest in drones has therefore soared around the world—but only a limited number of states have had the know-how, the mastery of sub-systems, and the operational experience to manufacture and deploy reliable, high-performance drones (and later, weaponized drones). This monopolistic control has created anomalies in the implementation of export controls. Namely, controls originally intended to stop the spread of WMD-capable ballistic missiles have been used to stop the spread of non-WMD drone technology capable merely of carrying high-explosive munitions. Throughout this process, nations involved in technology denial have pointed toward the regime as justification for their actions.

The paradox is that Predator- or Reaper-class drones are less suited for WMD delivery than are ballistic or cruise missiles. In fact, where ability to deliver weapons of mass destruction is concerned, drones are comparable to manned combat aircraft—except that manned aircraft are significantly more capable and efficient. Yet export controls do not link manned aircraft to weapons of mass destruction. So why should such strict scrutiny and control be exerted over unmanned aircraft?

The anomaly becomes even more pronounced when one examines drones' sub-systems—laser designators, for example, which are used to guide laser-homing munitions to their targets. If you are building manned aircraft, it's relatively easy to purchase electro-optic sensors fitted with laser designators. But if the intended platform is a drone, the same laser designators are off limits. This is true even for drones that cannot carry weapons, and drones whose ranges and payloads fall below regime thresholds. What this means, in effect, is that manned aircraft are allowed to fire and guide lethal munitions but drones are not. Unarmed manned aircraft, even very light craft, can illuminate targets using onboard laser designators, thus enabling munitions fired from other platforms to strike targets—but armed or unarmed drones are prohibited from doing the same. This represents a gross deviation from regime objectives.

Efforts to stop the spread of missiles are only undermined when the regime is misused to control technology intended for drones that are not capable of, or not suitable for, delivering weapons of mass destruction. Controls over drones provide an excellent example of the negative impact that rigid, blanket, or outdated restrictions can have on export controls and their effectiveness. Above all, the drone example highlights the detrimental effects of bringing nations' ulterior agendas into missile-related export controls—whose primary purpose, after all, is to curb the spread of WMD-capable missiles.

 

How to prevent theater nuclear warfare

My colleagues W.P.S. Sidhu and Sitki Egeli stress the importance of establishing international norms for missile nonproliferation, for example by expanding and strengthening the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation. But norms must apply to all parties equally if they are to be effective. If norms and regimes are imposed in a one-sided way, as is the case with the Missile Technology Control Regime, they can't mitigate the sense of insecurity that drives proliferation. The same is true of instruments built on double standards, such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Double standards only exacerbate insecurity, inviting further proliferation.

Indeed, proliferators' motivations to proliferate deserve more attention than they usually receive. Among the 31 countries that possess ballistic missiles, nine are nuclear-armed nations that continue to strengthen their missile capabilities as an element of their nuclear arsenals. The other 22 either possess ballistic missiles as a legacy of the Cold War—or are involved in extreme regional tensions that involve at least one nuclear-armed state.

East Asia, for example, is locked in a vicious cycle of missile proliferation. South Korea and the nuclear-armed North have competed in ballistic missile acquisition and development since the 1970s. Recently, in response to North Korea’s fourth nuclear test and a test of an intermediate-range missile, Seoul agreed to deploy a US missile defense system, known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense. Japan began joint development with the United States of a ballistic missile defense system after North Korea’s 1998 test of a Taepodong missile. And Taiwan, reacting to a massive deployment of short- and medium-range ballistic missiles by nuclear-armed China, has developed intermediate-range ballistic missiles capable of hitting valuable targets such as Shanghai.

Nations locked in tense situations such as these, and facing adversaries equipped with ballistic missiles, naturally perceive themselves as threatened (especially if their adversaries' missiles are armed with nuclear warheads). So they seek ballistic missiles of their own, both to gain a near-certain retaliatory ability in the event of a missile attack and to deter ground-based interventions. More to the point, they acquire ballistic missiles to defend themselves against weapons of terror—which is what missiles armed with nuclear warheads really are.

Making matters worse, nuclear-armed states are now developing "smart" nuclear weapons—more accurate, with lower yields, and thus more "usable." This is an extremely dangerous trend. If "smart" nuclear weapons in combination with short- and medium-range ballistic missiles were deployed amid a tense regional conflict, one could easily envision a contemporary Cuban Missile Crisis developing. Urgent action—and a new approach—are required to address the very real risk of theater nuclear warfare.

Mechanisms such as the Missile Technology Control Regime and the Wassenaar Arrangement have constrained and delayed ballistic missile proliferation, but they have failed to stop determined proliferators—especially non-regime members such as China, North Korea, Israel, India, and Pakistan. Any approach to missile proliferation that is merely technical and institutional may be doomed to fail. A new political approach is required—one that addresses proliferators' motives for proliferating.

Nearly 30 years after the Soviet Union and the United States concluded the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, it's easy to forget how dramatic the treaty's impact was. Negotiations toward the treaty succeeded because they replaced the previous decades' spirit of confrontation with a spirit of mutual trust. Trust enabled comprehensive verification, on-site inspections, and actual reductions in nuclear weapons—and also fundamentally disrupted the Cold War. Within a few years the Berlin Wall had come down and the Soviet Union had collapsed. Arguably, the treaty played a key role in it all.

What's urgently needed now is a universal INF-style treaty that would eliminate the twin threats of missiles and non-strategic nuclear weapons. To be sure, negotiations toward such a treaty would be challenging. They would lack several advantages enjoyed during INF negotiations—the close balance between US and Soviet nuclear forces, for example, and the presence of a powerful antinuclear movement in Europe at the time. Today's world is far different, not least because it contains so many asymmetrical missile confrontations. But what really made the INF Treaty possible was bold political vision and a willingness to eliminate entire classes of weapons all at once. With a similar boldness of vision, non-strategic nuclear weapons and the missiles to carry them could disappear from Earth—just as surely as US and Soviet intermediate-range nuclear weapons once did.

 

Missile proliferation—and ideas that might work

It's not so hard to agree that missiles pose significant challenges to international peace and security. Agreeing on how to address those challenges is more difficult.

Missiles, as my roundtable colleagues Masako Ikegami and Sitki Egeli eloquently concur, pose at least three sets of challenges. First, the actual use of nuclear-tipped missiles would be devastating for international peace and security; any threat to use nuclear-tipped missiles would seriously undermine stability; and the actual use of advanced, precisely guided, conventional missiles is also perceived to be a threat, especially by states that are targeted by such attacks. Second, missiles are not banned—and, with a few notable exceptions, missile proliferation has never been reversed. Third, existing arrangements to rein in missile technology and trade, notably the Missile Technology Control Regime, are inadequate or ineffective.

So what can be done?

Ikegami focuses on the links between missiles and nuclear weapons. She urges that "missile nonproliferation and nuclear disarmament [be addressed] as two inseparable elements of the same agenda." There is, of course, a direct correlation between missiles and nuclear weapons: All nine nuclear weapon states possess missiles. All possess nuclear-armed or nuclear-capable ballistic missiles. And almost all possess or are now acquiring nuclear-capable cruise missiles. But not all states that possess ballistic and cruise missile also have nuclear weapons. Indeed, given the growing accuracy and lethality of conventionally armed missiles, many states that lack nuclear weapons would like to have long-range missiles. This presents a tough question: If a state has missiles, particularly ballistic missiles, does it aspire to acquire nuclear weapons? The answer has to be a qualified "maybe." To be sure, nations such as North Korea, Iraq, Libya, and Iran, which possess missiles, also sought nuclear weapons. (And all these nations were signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty when they began seeking nuclear weapons.) But, on the other hand, is it likely that Armenia, which has ballistic missiles, will make a push for nuclear weapons?

In any event, creating a global regime to control or eliminate nuclear-capable missiles is easier said than done. The rare instances in which arms control or disarmament measures have been applied to nuclear-capable missiles—the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or the UN-led disarmament of Iraq, South Africa, and Libya—resulted from very specific circumstances, and involved no global norm or regime. And even the case-by-case approach to missile proliferation appears to be failing where North Korea and Iran are concerned—despite the engagement of the UN Security Council's permanent members.

Egeli's proposal to focus on longer-range missiles when crafting export and technology controls seems similarly unlikely to achieve its aims. Just as civilian and military nuclear technologies overlap to a large extent, multi-stage missiles and multi-stage civilian space launch vehicles have a significant overlap. Thus countries that have or seek to develop legitimate civilian space launch programs—and some of these countries are members of the Missile Technology Control Regime—might be reluctant to sign on to such a proposal. Moreover, countries such as Israel see greater danger in shorter-range, conventionally-armed missiles in the hands of non-state actors than in longer-range missiles.

Egeli's proposal to limit and ideally eliminate missile tests would encounter similar problems. Such a regime would require universal compliance—an improbable outcome because established missile states such as the United States and Russia would likely resist. So would recalcitrant states such as North Korea, which is already in open defiance of a missile test ban imposed by the UN Security Council.

Instead of pursuing ambitious recommendations that are unlikely ever to succeed, it is better to consider the less imaginative suggestions advanced by the 2008 UN Panel of Governmental Experts on "the issue of missiles in all its aspects." To be sure, these ideas might be criticized for lacking ambition—but they do enjoy consensus agreement among almost all the significant missile powers (the panel's 23 members having included experts from, among other nations, China, Iran, India, Israel, Russia, and the United States, though not North Korea). The panel, for example, called on nations to improve their controls over the transfer and export of missiles and related technology. It encouraged states to report missile-related information through UN reporting mechanisms. It called for enhancing global and regional security through, for example, the peaceful settlement of disputes. Additionally, the panel encouraged nations to adopt "voluntary transparency and confidence-building measures … [to enhance] predictability." Again, these ideas offer little excitement or boldness of vision. But in addressing the difficult security problems posed by missile proliferation, they might be a good place to begin.

 

Round 3

Missile proliferation: Treat the disease

In discussions of export controls, proliferators are usually the focus. But maybe the focus should fall instead on the hypocrisy of states that set the rules.

My roundtable colleague Masako Ikegami has rightly pointed out that double standards in arms control instruments, by exacerbating insecurity, actually invite proliferation. And I have discussed, taking drones as an example, the way that export controls can be misused to serve ulterior agendas.

Members of the nuclear club, both recognized and de facto, feel little compunction about furthering their own nuclear weapon delivery capabilities. Hypersonic missiles offer a contemporary case in point. An arms race is coming in hypersonic vehicles and it will be wasteful and destabilizing; on this point, there is broad consensus. But the United States, Russia, China, and India—all nations with hypersonic programs—show little inclination to limit their "post-ballistic" capabilities in WMD delivery. It's clearly hypocritical for these nuclear weapon states to demand that others show restraint in their ballistic and cruise missile activity. Meanwhile, certain proliferators that possess both nuclear weapons and advanced missiles—Israel, for example—are allowed comparatively unhindered access to missile know-how and hardware. Under such circumstances, it becomes difficult to defend the strict export controls that are imposed on many states.

Choosing the right tool. My roundtable colleague WPS Sidhu has argued that "missile proliferation is difficult to address partly because proliferators, motivations and capabilities for proliferation, and missiles themselves are all quite diverse." He is correct—and indeed, when proliferators' geostrategic, political, technological, and financial circumstances vary so widely, no single nonproliferation instrument has much chance of addressing every proliferation challenge. That's why, compared to a fixed nonproliferation menu, an a la carte approach is more likely to succeed. So a variety of instruments and measures should be available to constrain proliferation, each making an impact when it is relevant and can be effective.

Roundtable participants have identified a number of promising measures and instruments. Sidhu, for instance, has mentioned political and diplomatic initiatives at the bilateral, regional, and global levels. Existing examples of such initiatives include the Hague Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missile Proliferation and the work of UN panels of government experts. These approaches, Sidhu writes, are "crucial to building the norms and instruments that might constrain proliferation, and are also key to encouraging responsible behavior among states that already possess strategic weapons." I couldn't agree more. Still, such initiatives are methodical undertakings that are usually very slow to produce concrete results. Their success requires that most, if not all, states with a stake in missile technology demonstrate goodwill and responsible behavior—a tall order. By all means, political and diplomatic initiatives should proceed. But for nations that are not willing to comply or cooperate, approaches are still needed that can dissuade, contain, or coerce.

That is why export controls, no matter how ineffective they sometimes are, will retain an important place in the missile nonproliferation toolkit. In my opening essay, I argued that export controls most effectively complicate proliferators' lives when they are narrowly focused on critical technology sectors—longer-range missiles, for example. Sidhu is not convinced that focusing on longer-range missiles can work. He points out, correctly, that differentiating multi-stage civilian space launch vehicles from multi-stage missiles can be difficult. Difficult, but not impossible. Some analysts argue, contrary to widely held belief, that certain aspects of programs for satellite launch vehicles do not overlap with ballistic missile development. In fact, quite a few technologies and hardware types are specific to ballistic missiles. Examples include particular types of propellants, and also technologies related to atmospheric re-entry.

A deeper ailment. Missile proliferation is a complex problem whose most worrying aspect, as Ikegami has argued, is the strong link between missiles and WMD. Missile proliferation is really a symptom of a much deeper ailment—nations' keen interest in weapons of mass destruction, which in turn is a ramification of the maladies that characterize inter-state relations. Efforts to curb missile proliferation—as is always the case when treatments address symptoms and not underlying diseases—can hope to achieve no more than limited success.

 

Half-measures won’t stop missile proliferation

Could the threats posed by missiles be reduced, as my roundtable colleague WPS Sidhu suggests, if nuclear-armed nations adopted no-first-use policies and de-alerted their missile forces? Certainly. If, for example, the Obama administration actually declares the no-first-use policy that it's reported to be considering, nations such as China would have less incentive to strengthen their nuclear second-strike capability. Moreover, as Sidhu points out, the steps he proposes would be in accordance with the principles underlying the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty)—an instrument that, in my view, could form a basis for "eliminat[ing] the twin threats of missiles and non-strategic nuclear weapons."

But the steps Sidhu proposes wouldn't stop missile proliferation. Why? To begin with, though de-alerting weapons and establishing no-first-use policies would reduce the risk of accidental nuclear war, they would not necessarily reduce nuclear arsenals—and nuclear arsenals are among the main drivers of missile proliferation. Nuclear doctrine and alert status are separate issues from the size of arsenals, and nuclear-armed nations could de-alert their missile forces and adopt no-first-use policies on a universal basis while leaving their actual arsenals untouched. No-first-use and de-alerting have little to do with the founding principle underlying the INF Treaty—the idea that nuclear arsenals should be reduced or eliminated, and that this is the best way to prevent missile proliferation.

Moreover, de-alerting and broad adoption of no-first-use might not even prevent nuclear war in tense situations that involve severely asymmetrical force concentrations. Pakistan maintains a nuclear first-use policy as a counterweight to India's superiority in conventional forces. China has become ambiguous about the long-term future of its no-first-use policy. It's easy to imagine these nations using nuclear weapons first if they were losing a major conventional conflict.

It's also worth recalling that both Beijing and Pyongyang, when they conducted their first nuclear tests, claimed that US nuclear threats and blackmail had compelled them to go nuclear. Nuclear threats trigger severe insecurity in the nations that are threatened—and insecurity has driven some non-nuclear nations to develop nuclear weapons, while others have engaged in missile proliferation. Indeed, the essential issues in missile proliferation are threats, blackmail, and psychological insecurity. These issues cannot be adequately addressed by technical measures such as missile technology controls, de-alerting, or no-first-use policies.

Thomas Schelling, when accepting the 2005 Nobel Prize in economics, said that a "nearly universal revulsion against nuclear weapons" had since 1945 "been cultivated through universal abstinence." But he questioned "whether the widespread taboo against nuclear weapons"—"an asset to be treasured"—would continue to survive. Missile proliferation has the potential to lower the threshold for using nuclear weapons.

Indeed, a "Cuban Missile Crisis of the 21st century" could easily be triggered as nuclear-armed states in tense regions engage in missile proliferation—particularly if those regions lack solid platforms for confidence-building. In the Middle East and Northeast Asia, areas of prime concern, robust efforts to establish confidence are urgently needed. Remember, the INF Treaty was preceded by a decades-long confidence-building effort during the depths of the Cold War, often implemented through the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (which has more recently been credited for its conflict prevention efforts in Ukraine). It is through persistent, long-term efforts at regional confidence-building that Asian or Middle Eastern versions of the INF treaty might eventually be realized.

 

To reduce missile threats, think outside the silo

Establishing international norms and instruments to prevent missile proliferation is unlikely to succeed as long as such efforts are seen as discriminatory and lack near-universal adherence. Attempts will also fail as long as missiles, whether conventional or armed with weapons of mass destruction, remain integral to the security of nations.

On these points, contributors to this roundtable exhibit broad consensus. Yet my colleague Masako Ikegami argues in Round Two for a treaty, styled after the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), "that would eliminate the twin threats of missiles and non-strategic nuclear weapons." Clearly, the desire to address missile proliferation through a universal treaty or regime is enduring, no matter how many obstacles stand in the way of achieving this aim.

Ikegami herself spells out some of the reasons that a globalized INF Treaty—or an agreement to eliminate ballistic missiles, or even regional variations on these ideas—would be extremely challenging to establish. Nonetheless, the principles that underlay the INF might be globalized. Those principles included a commitment to reducing the dangers presented by forward-deployed missiles, with very short flight times, on hair-trigger alert. They included recognition of the need to reduce tensions and build trust. And they incorporated a desire to address, at the regional and global levels, the root causes of insecurity among nations.

So for nations with WMD-tipped ballistic missiles, are steps available that—whether undertaken on a unilateral, bilateral, regional, or global level—would accord with these principles and reduce the threats posed by all missiles? The answer is a qualified yes.

One step would be for all nine nuclear-armed states to adopt a nuclear no-first use policy. Two countries—China and India—already maintain such a policy. Now Barack Obama is reportedly contemplating US adoption of a no-first-use policy before he leaves office. Some observers are skeptical of this shift, especially considering its implications for Washington's alliance commitments in Northeast Asia. But no-first-use policies could make a real contribution to global security, particularly if all nine states signed on.

Another step might be to reduce the alert status of missile forces—especially nuclear-tipped missiles—so that they could not be launched instantaneously. De-alerting would provide decision makers more time to react to events and, perhaps, seek diplomatic solutions. A US-Russia de-alerting agreement (also involving China and India, which reportedly do not keep their nuclear forces on alert today), could create momentum to establish a global regime guaranteeing that the nuclear forces of all nine nuclear-armed states are kept off alert.

Yet another idea might be to verifiably eliminate nuclear-capable tactical missiles with ranges of less than 150 kilometers, especially in regions where the flight times are extremely short. Such weapons are invariably forward-deployed and on high alert, with launch authority delegated to local commanders, making them highly dangerous and destabilizing. Since only two nuclear-armed states—North Korea and Pakistan—possess such missiles, the other seven nuclear states could seek to establish a global "no tactical nuclear missile" regime—among themselves, to begin with.

Other ideas were proposed by a 2008 UN Panel of Governmental Experts. The panel suggested, for example, specific efforts to "enhance global and regional security, including peaceful settlement of disputes." This approach could be especially useful in Northeast Asia, a region that has recently witnessed the world's largest number of missile tests, as well as rising tensions. But because a one-size-fits-all approach to missiles is unlikely to work in every region, each regional arrangement would have to be tailor-made, taking into account the historical, geographical, technological, and political context of the area.

In Northeast Asia, for instance, the forum most conducive to reducing missile threats is perhaps the suspended mechanism for six-party talks. If the talks were to resume, their agenda could include a multi-stage "model road map for building a regional missile limitation regime," as proposed by Rikkyo University researcher Akira Kurosaki. This model would inevitably require, early in the process, establishing "a regional organization for missile technology control, the prior notice of missile flight test[s], the exchange of data on missile armaments, and inspections and verification." But for the talks to be revived at all, China and the United States would have to play crucial diplomatic roles.

This point in conclusion: Authors in this roundtable share an understanding that the best way to address missile proliferation is through political and diplomatic means, not through military approaches. Technological efforts such as missile defense will doubtless continue. But their ability to prevent missile proliferation—or missile attacks—remains unproven.

 


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