Text Only | Disarmament Diplomacy | Disarmament Documentation | ACRONYM Reports
back to the acronym home page
WMD Possessors
About Acronym
Disarmament Diplomacy No. 82, Cover design by Paul Aston and Calvert's Press

Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 82, Spring 2006

Two Treaties to Contain Missile Proliferation

Thomas Graham and Dinshaw Mistry

The proliferation of missiles has been a major security concern for many years. Missiles are the key delivery system for nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) weapons, and missile proliferation therefore greatly exacerbates the NBC threat. And yet, while major international treaties - the nuclear nonproliferation treaty (NPT), the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC), and the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) - limit the spread of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, respectively, there is no worldwide treaty banning missiles.

Negotiating a global missile nonproliferation treaty may be difficult because the nuclear powers will seek to retain their nuclear missiles in any such treaty. In turn, non-nuclear states are unlikely to agree to an accord where some states can retain missiles but others cannot. Though a comprehensive missile ban would be hard to attain, two other agreements may be feasible: a prohibition on intermediate range missiles and a missile test ban.

Both agreements would be nondiscriminatory, in the sense that they would apply the same provisions to all countries, and they would not distinguish between missile 'haves' and 'have-nots'. Together, they would provide strong legal barriers against the spread of missiles.

Missile Proliferation - the current tally

Several countries have short range ballistic missiles (SRBMs), a handful have intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBMs), and a very few have long range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

Over twenty five countries in the Middle East, South Asia, Central Asia, Northeast Asia, and Eastern Europe have SRBMs. A majority have 300 km range missiles such as Scud-Bs. A few have 600-700 km range missiles-these include China's DF-15, India's Agni-1, Pakistan's Shaheen-1, and Egypt, Syria, North Korea, and Iran's Scud-Cs.

Five countries - Israel, India, North Korea, Iran, and Pakistan - have built and tested IRBMs. North Korea's single-stage approximately 1,000 km range Nodong forms the basis for Iran's Shehab-3 and Pakistan's Ghauri. Two-stage IRBMs include Israel's approximately 1,400 km range Jericho-2, and 2,000 km range missiles such as Pakistan's Shaheen-2, India's Agni-2, and North Korea's Taepodong-1. Further, China fields the 1,800 km range DF-21A, and India is building the 3,000-5,000 km range Agni-3.

Finally, the five NPT-defined nuclear states have 5,000-13,000 km range ICBMs and submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs):

  • The United States has 9,000 km range Minuteman-3 ICBMs and 7,000 km range Trident-1 and Trident-2 SLBMs[1];

  • Russia has 9,000-11,000 km range ICBMs (these include older liquid fuel SS-18 and SS-19, the SS-24, SS-25, and new solid fuel Topol-M SS-27s) and 6,000-8,000 km range SLBMs;

  • France has the 6,000 km range M-45 SLBM, and is seeking a new D-51 SLBM[2];

  • Britain has Trident-2 SLBMs;

  • China has 13,000 km range DF-5s and 5,500 km range DF-4s, has tested new 8,000 km range DF-31s, and is developing the 12,000 km range DF-31A.

International Controls on Missile Proliferation

The two main global instruments against missile proliferation - the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (HCoC) - are proving to be insufficient to halt and reverse missile proliferation.[3]

The MTCR, formed in 1987, seeks to curb missile proliferation by denying regional powers the technology to build missiles. Yet many states already have the technology to build short and intermediate range missiles. During and since the 1990s, IRBM programmes were launched by India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, and Pakistan; and several other states expanded their missile programmes, which further demonstrated the MTCR's limitations. The MTCR could still delay states from developing advanced IRBMs and long range missiles, but, in time, a state determined to develop such missiles could do so despite the regime.

The Hague Code of Conduct, initiated in 2002, calls upon states to make their missile policies more transparent and to give advance notice of missile and space rocket launches. Though useful as confidence building measures, however, these missile transparency initiatives do not ban missiles and do not offer incentives to refrain from missile activity.

Recognising these limitations, United Nations First Committee Resolution L.50 of October 2004 "Welcome[d] the adoption of the Hague Code" but also "encourage[d] the exploration of further ways and means to deal effectively with the problem of the proliferation of ballistic missiles."

That same month, a Sense of Congress statement expressed the views of some Congressional representatives, "to develop, support, and strengthen international accords and other cooperative efforts to curtain the proliferation of ballistic missiles."[4] Developing international accords against IRBMs and missile tests would create stronger norms and legal barriers against missile proliferation.

Background to the INF Treaty

A global IRBM ban would build upon the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, which came about after years of tough negotiations. In late 1977, a year after Moscow began deploying a new missile (the three-warhead 5,000 kilometer range SS-20), Chancellor Helmut Schmidt of Germany called attention to the problem of missiles in Europe. Chancellor Schmidt's speech led to a two-year comprehensive study (directed by NATO's Nuclear Planning Group), which led to the NATO dual track decision of December 12, 1979.

One track called for arms control negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union to reduce and stabilise theatre nuclear forces. The second track called for deployment of 464 US single warhead ground launched cruise missiles (GLCMs) and 108 extremely accurate Pershing II ballistic missiles, which were road mobile like the SS-20.

In the spring of 1981, President Reagan proposed that the United States would not proceed with its deployment of Pershing II ballistic missiles and GLCMs in Europe if the Soviet Union would agree to dismantle its 1,200 SS-20s, SS-4s and SS-5s. This became known as the zero option. During the first two years of the INF negotiations, the United States appeared to back the zero option. The talks ended when the Soviet delegation walked out on November 23, 1983, after the first cruise and Pershing II missiles arrived in Britain and Germany.

In late 1985, the Soviet Union hinted at the possibility of an INF agreement independent of agreements on strategic and space systems. At the October 1986 Reykjavik summit, for the first time, the Soviet Union agreed in principle to intrusive verification, meaning on-site inspection. In addition, General Secretary Gorbachev proposed a freeze on shorter-range missile deployments. Agreement was nearly reached, but President Reagan's determination to pursue the Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI) scuttled agreement at the time.

The logjam had begun to move, however, and in June 1987, NATO foreign ministers announced support for the global elimination of all US and Soviet intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles systems. In July, Gorbachev agreed to a double Global Zero Treaty to eliminate all INF and shorter-range missile systems. And the final outcome was the INF Treaty, which was signed in December 1987.

The INF Treaty prohibits on a world-wide basis all US and Russian land-based cruise missile and ballistic missile systems capable of ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. It covers shorter range missiles - with ranges between 500 to 1,000 kilometers - and intermediate range missiles, with ranges between 1,000 and 5,500 kilometers. Missile systems capable of ranges in excess of 5,500 kilometers have, from the beginning of the Strategic Arms Limitation process, been considered strategic weapons and were thus not covered by the INF Treaty.

In 1988, consideration was given by some to converting the INF Treaty into a multilateral Treaty prohibiting such weapons systems on a world-wide basis for all countries.

From the beginning the Soviet Union was concerned about British and French systems that were aimed at them and were part of the Western Alliance. (Eventually, in the 1990s, Britain and France retired their land-based intermediate range missiles.) Japan was concerned, as presumably was China, about any INF Treaty that prohibited IRBMs in European Russia but permitted them East of the Ural mountains. Tokyo made its views known to the United States during the latter stages of the INF negotiations - an unusual step for Japan.

As a consequence, the INF Treaty covered US and Soviet INF systems worldwide, and not just in Europe. In 1992 after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, through negotiations, the INF Treaty became plurilateral by default, expanding to thirteen parties: the United States and the twelve successor states of the Soviet Union.

However, nothing was done in the late 1980s about making the INF Treaty truly universal, perhaps in part because of US concerns that this might affect its sea-launched non-nuclear version of the GLCM (the nuclear version of this missile system - the SLCM - was limited by the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) in 1991 but not the conventional variant, whereas there is no such distinction in the INF Treaty).

Time for a Global INF Ban

It would appear that it is timely to reconsider this outcome. Expanding the INF Treaty to a multilateral, universal Treaty would not only be beneficial to US security, it would enhance stability world-wide. If agreement can be reached on the type of intrusive inspection called for in the START accords for countries possessing such missiles, then it should be possible to maintain the exceptions for sea-launched conventionally-armed cruise missiles, which the US wants to keep.

A global INF treaty would virtually eliminate any conceivable so-called 'rogue state' missile threat to the United States, while maintaining the status quo with regard to the long-range strategic missiles that remain in the arsenals of the United States and Russia under the START Treaty, as well as China's approximately 20 intercontinental nuclear ballistic missiles. It would, however, affect some existing missile programmes, notably: China's IRBMs, North Korea's Nodong, Iran's Shahab-3, Egypt's and Syria's Scud-Cs, and Israeli, Indian and Pakistani intermediate range nuclear delivery missiles.

Some of these states may be persuaded to join a global INF. For example, during negotiations with the Clinton administration in 2000, North Korea had agreed to eliminate its No-dong and Taepo-dong systems, and as current nuclear talks advance, North Korea may again accept such missile constraints, perhaps in return for access to civilian nuclear technology.

A similar trade-off may be considered for Iran. Further, if China, India, and Pakistan eliminated their IRBMs, these countries would face lesser missile threats from each other, and the Chinese missile threat to Japan and Taiwan would also be reduced. Still, in the short-term, these states may not grasp these security advantages and may seek to retain their intermediate range missiles.

While making every effort towards universality, it may be necessary to go forward on the basis that at the beginning, such a ban would cover a large number of states, including four of the nuclear powers (the US, Russia, France, Britain), but it may initially not be signed by China, India, Israel, Pakistan, and some other countries.

Restraints on missile advances in these countries, and in all other states, might nevertheless be instituted by a flight test ban that prohibits tests of new missiles. (As a first step, to make it more acceptable to the US, Russia, and other countries with missile forces, it could contain a provision permitting states to test existing missiles for safety and reliability.)

Flight Test Bans

The concept of a flight test ban was explored in the late 1950s during efforts to get international disarmament negotiations underway. Britain and France favoured the issue, and after initial hesitation, Washington partly supported the idea provided it would prevent the development of a Soviet ICBM counterforce capability.

Though it proved impossible during the Cold War, a flight test ban today would be even more significant: it could essentially freeze all states to their present missile capabilities and hinder them from developing new missiles. This is because flight testing is an integral part of the missile development process, and military leaders would have much less confidence in an untested missile; they typically deploy missiles only after a number of developmental tests.

It should be noted, however, that while a well-funded rocket project goes through many flight tests (early US rockets went through 30 to 50 tests before deployment, and France, Israel, and India tested missiles five to twelve times before declaring them operational) some countries may today be satisfied with little testing.[5] North Korea's No-dong missile, for example, was deployed after a single test. It is possible therefore that some states may develop and deploy short range Scud missiles and single-stage No-dong-type missiles without flight testing, since much of the basic technology for these missiles has been proven.

However, flight testing is essential for developing more powerful and multiple-stage missiles. The historical record reveals, for example, that initial tests of such missiles almost always failed. Thus, a flight test ban would thwart countries from developing new missiles, especially multiple-stage intermediate and long range missiles (unless the missiles are developed and tested in another country).

Augmenting Treaties: Verification and Space Service Incentives

Verification mechanisms can crucially augment both a global INF and a flight test ban. While verification is challenging because a determined violator can secretly build missiles in underground factories and hide them, three points suggest that verification is still feasible.

First, states have acquired much technical expertise in verifying missile agreements. In particular, verification of the START and INF treaties, and the work of the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) and the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) in Iraq, have provided several techniques for verification.[6] For example, much missile activity can be detected through satellites and on-site inspections. Further, while fixed missiles can be detected by observing missile silos and facilities, mobile missiles can be monitored by observations of their factories and bases. Portal or perimeter inspections can observe these missiles when they leave the plant or base, and X-ray equipment that is not highly intrusive can determine (from some distance) the length of the transporting vehicle and the missiles in order to verify that they are not new missiles.

Second, minor verification drawbacks do not necessarily damage an arms control regime. A verification system may not detect the development of every single missile component in secret production sites, but missile components must ultimately be integrated and new missiles must be flight tested, and flight testing can be detected. Thus, for example, even if a country signed an INF ban but concealed some of its IRBMs and thereby avoided their elimination - a rather unlikely scenario - it would be impossible to somehow convert them into strategic systems threatening to the United States without flight testing, which can be detected.

This brings up the third point - flight-test bans can be fairly well verified. Particularly in their early development stage, missiles are launched from fixed complexes that include launch pads, tracking stations, and down range instrumented areas; activity at these sites can be monitored. Even if states hide their launch sites, missile launches can be observed by satellites, which detect the heat of a rocket's exhaust. Ballistic missiles can also be tracked by radar.

One potential problem for a flight test ban is that countries could develop missiles by declaring them to be satellite-launching rockets. A space service regime can overcome this drawback. Under such a regime, individual states would be dissuaded from building space rockets by giving them the incentive of having their satellites launched by an existing space consortium.

Presently, nine states or agencies have satellite launchers. Seven of these have heavy rockets (as powerful as ICBMs). In the past five years (2000-2004), the United States and Russia each launched over 100 rockets, while the European Space Agency launched 38, China launched 26, a Ukrainian-based international consortium launched 12, Japan launched 8, and India launched 6.

In addition, Israel and Brazil have lighter satellite-launching rockets (as powerful as IRBMs). Israel has launched six of these since 1988, while Brazil has made two launch attempts, both of which failed. A few other states, such as Argentina, Iran, Italy, South Korea, Spain, and North Korea, have also sought or are seeking rockets to launch satellites. Such programmes are expensive and technologically challenging, and carry the risk that the rockets could be modified with reentry vehicles and appropriate targeting systems, and so turned into ballistic missiles.

To forestall additional countries from seeking space rockets, a consortium of space-faring states could give two kinds of incentives to states that renounce space launchers (they would not necessarily have to renounce satellite programmes).

First, the consortium could launch satellites for these states at concessional prices. Second, global satellite providers could offer these states data relevant to weather forecasting, natural resource management, and communications, on competitive terms.

In 2000, the United States explored the first type of initiative with North Korea. Washington offered Pyongyang two to four launches annually if it renounced long-range rockets.[7] While talks with North Korea stalled in 2001, such an arrangement could be reviewed. It is worth trying it out with other states, and the lessons learned could be applied in building a more comprehensive space regime.

For example, one feasible and affordable initiative would be for existing space-launching agencies to provide perhaps five to eight launches annually to an international space consortium, which would then launch civilian satellites for states renouncing rocket programmes. Such a regime would involve complex negotiations to be sure, but if due account is taken of the interests of all states, in the context of eliminating the threat of missile proliferation, it could be feasible.

Creating Missile Bans

Negotiating missile nonproliferation treaties would involve several steps. A first step, along the lines of the INF experience, would involve an international study group that would examine the technical aspects of verification and other issues in missile bans (in 2001-02 and 2004, UN panels of governmental experts examined the general problem of missile proliferation, but did not cover technical issues and did not endorse any specific measures to halt missile proliferation).[8] Such a technical study would give a solid understanding of what missile systems can and cannot be confidently verified. It would also suggest ways to incorporate cruise missiles (that are in some ways better-suited than ballistic missiles for delivering chemical and biological weapons) into treaties.[9]

Thus, a global IRBM ban could consider INF-treaty provisions for cruise missiles. The flight test ban itself may primarily cover ballistic missiles with a separate protocol for cruise missiles - states signing the treaty could separately sign the protocol that would bar them from testing new cruise missiles. The group could also examine ways to bridge the gap between the 300 km and 500 km range limits of existing missile control instruments, since the INF treaty covers missiles with ranges over 500 km while the MTCR is especially concerned with missiles of ranges greater than 300 km.

Another set of steps would involve international negotiations on perhaps two tracks. Washington and Moscow could invite all nations to join the global INF, thus quickly creating such a treaty. Simultaneously, a broader multilateral forum could negotiate the Flight Test Ban Treaty. To provide momentum to the process, a core group of states with missiles could announce a moratorium on testing new missiles, and could invite all countries to adhere to this moratorium. Further, to attract more states, a flight test ban could have an initial duration of perhaps ten years, with provisions for fixed-year or indefinite extension thereafter.

It has be to acknowledged that negotiating missile nonproliferation treaties could be long and difficult -the INF Treaty was signed ten years after Chancellor Schmidt first called attention to the problem of IRBMs in Europe. But a verification study would signify stronger international commitment to considering the concept of global treaties against missiles; as such this would constitute an important first step in attaining such agreements. As the historical evolution of the "zero option" demonstrated, few positive outcomes for peace and security should be considered impossible.


[1] The United States retired the MX missile in 2005, and its remaining ICBM, the Minuteman-III, would reach the end of its service in 2018; see Wade Boese, 'United States Retires MX Missile,' Arms Control Today (October 2005).

[2] David Yost, 'France's Evolving Nuclear Strategy,' Survival, vol. 47, no. 3 (Autumn 2005), pp. 117-146.

[3] Mark Smith, 'On Thin Ice: First Steps for the Ballistic Missile Code of Conduct,' Arms Control Today, July/August 2002, pp. 9-13.

[4] United States House of Representatives, 'Ronald W. Reagan National Defense Authorization Act For Fiscal Year 2005,' Conference Report to Accompany H.R. 4200, 108th Congress, Report 108-767, October 8, 2004, Sec. 1211.

[5] Aaron Karp, Ballistic Missile Proliferation: The Politics and Technics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996).

[6] See, for example, Trevor Findlay, 'Looking Back: The UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission,' Arms Control Today, September 2005, pp. 45-48; Edward Ifft, 'Verifying Nuclear Arms Control and Disarmament,' in Verification Yearbook 2001, eds. Trevor Findlay and Oliver Meier (London: Corporate & Commercial Printing, Ltd., 2001), pp. 26-27.

[7] Gary Samore, The Korean Nuclear Crisis, Survival, vol. 45, no. 1 (March 2003).

[8] See W.P.S. Sidhu and Christophe Carle, 'Managing Missiles: Blind Spot Or Blind Alley?' Disarmament Diplomacy 72, August/September 2003; and Aaron Karp, 'Going Ballistic? Reversing Missile Proliferation,' Arms Control Today, June 2005.

[9] On cruise missiles, see Dennis M. Gormley, 'New Developments in Unmanned Air Vehicles and Land-Attack Cruise Missiles,' SIPRI Yearbook 2003: Armaments, Disarmament and International Security (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), chapter 12.

Ambassador Thomas Graham was acting director of the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. As Special Representative of the President for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation from 1994-1997, he led the US delegation to the NPT Review and Extension Conference in 1995. Ambassador Graham is currently Chair of the Cypress Fund for Peace and Security.

Dinshaw Mistry is assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati and author of "Containing Missile Proliferation" (University of Washington Press, 2003).

Back to the top of page

© 2006 The Acronym Institute.