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The 27 countries listed above either currently possess ballistic missiles or may possess ballistic missiles by the year 2000. Other than the five nuclear powers (U.S., Russia, Britain, France, and China), only Japan has space-launch vehicles capable of potential intercontinental ranges. India's PSLV and GSLV programs have not yet evidenced an operational capability. Similarly, Brazil's VLS/Sonda program appears to be indefinitely delayed and may have been abandoned. None of the countries with an advanced technical base is hostile to the U.S., notwithstanding disputes with China over its threats to Taiwan and alleged violation of agreements to restrict military sales to countries that are hostile to the U.S.

Although, it is possible for the political atmosphere in a particular nation to change, the Third World countries that currently motivate a concern about missile capabilities are those that Senator John McCain has termed "states that threaten world peace:" Iraq, Iran, Cuba, North Korea, Syria, Libya, and Afghanistan. McCain's indictment is an obvious gross exaggeration with respect to Cuba and Afghanistan, but these two "threats to world peace" are included for completeness.

These seven "rogue" states are on the low end of the technology spectrum and are therefore unlikely to produce indigenously a long-range WMD threat to the U.S. in the near term, 10 years, say.

Notwithstanding the possibility, or even probability, that some of Iraq's Scuds may have escaped destruction under the cease-fire agreement ending the Gulf War, its missile production capabilities have been dismantled. Iraq is prohibited indefinitely from developing or otherwise acquiring ballistic missiles with ranges greater than 150 km without payload.

Cuba, Syria, and Afghanistan are poor countries with minimal indigenous technology skills and infrastructure; they have no ability to build long-range ballistic missiles. The short-range missiles they possess were provided by the former Soviet Union, and they have received little or no continuing technical support since the end of the Cold War.

North Korea has a more developed technology base, and has produced short-range missiles indigenously, but has little potential for developing an ICBM with nuclear, chemical, or biological warheads in the next 10 years.

Iran is a relatively wealthy country but has a limited technology base, and has relied primarily on imports for its armaments. With assistance from China, Iran has produced short-range missiles, but has even less potential for developing an ICBM than does North Korea.

Libya is also relatively wealthy and clearly desires ballistic missiles, but has a low technology base and has no indigenous missile capabilities. Its short-range missiles were transferred from the former Soviet Union.

Thus a closer look at the list of 27 countries that have, or may have, ballistic missiles by the year 2000 reveals that only seven are considered hostile to the U.S. Of the seven, only three, Iran, Libya, and North Korea appear to have either the technical or economic resources to develop or acquire longer-range missiles in the next 10-15 years. The three currently have only short-range missiles, which pose no threat to U.S. territory.

With few exceptions, the missiles possessed by developing countries are short range, and very inaccurate. The motivation for most developing countries to obtain missiles results from regional tensions and the possibility of regional conflicts. Their interest, therefore, is in acquiring short-range missiles, not ICBMs. For example, the Scud missile, which was widely distributed by the Soviet Union and provides the missile capability of most of the missile states in the Third World, has a range of only about 300 km.

None of the missiles currently deployed by Third World countries is capable of reaching the United States. Of the missiles potentially under development around the world, only conversion of space launch vehicles by India, Japan, or Brazil would alter this situation and they are not likely to become military threats to the U.S. Indigenous development of an operational and reliable ICBM force requires great sophistication in multi-stage rocketry, a long period of flight testing, and a major commitment of scientific and technical skills and material resources. Importing foreign technical talent and technology might shorten the development time somewhat, but at considerable additional cost in money and in loss of program control. In any case, the 20 or more flight tests that historically have been required in successful ICBM programs would guarantee very early detection by U.S. national intelligence assets, thus giving the U.S. ample response time. We would certainly have sufficient time to deploy a limited antimissile system, if other efforts (diplomatic, economic, or military) to neutralize the threat were unavailing.

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Updated Thursday, September 12, 1996 - 9:48:47 PM