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 You are in: Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security > Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation (ISN) > Releases > Fact Sheets > 2001
Fact Sheet
Bureau of Arms Control
Washington, DC
September 1, 2001

The Emerging Ballistic Missile Threat

One of the most direct and serious threats to U.S. national security, and the security of its friends and allies, is the potential use or threat of use of nuclear, biological, or chemical (NBC) weapons delivered by ballistic or cruise missiles. Non-proliferation, counterproliferation, diplomacy, deterrence, and defense, including missile defense, are all part of a national security strategy to address these threats.

The Ballistic Missile Threat Today

The ballistic missile danger to the U.S., its forces deployed abroad, and allies and friends is real and growing. For example:

  • In August 1998, North Korea launched the three-stage Taepo Dong 1 in an unsuccessful attempt to place a satellite into orbit. The intelligence community assesses that this launch demonstrated the capability of the Taepo Dong I to deliver a small payload to the United States. North Korea is also developing a new, more capable ICBM -- the Taepo Dong 2 -- which could be tested at any time.
  • In July 1998, July 2000, and again in September 2000, Iran flight-tested the 1,300 km range Shahab 3 missile -- a version of North Korea's No Dong medium range ballistic missile (MRBM) produced with assistance from Russian entities, which can reach, for example, such countries as Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Russia. Iran has made statements that it plans to develop longer-range systems known as the Shahab 4 and Shahab 5.

Such events confirm publicly available U.S. intelligence estimates that during the next 15 years, new intercontinental ballistic missile threats will most likely emerge from North Korea, probably from Iran, and possibly from Iraq. Iranian and Libyan programs are also a threat to our European and Middle East friends and allies.

Addressing America's allies, President Bush has said that "we must prepare our nations against the dangers of a new era." America's international presence and leadership make the United States and its allies targets of choice for adversaries who may be tempted to resort to non-conventional means, such as using nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons (NBC) delivered by ballistic missiles, to coerce us, our allies, and friends. In fact, ballistic missile threats to our allies could materialize even sooner than those confronting the United States itself.

While non-missile delivery means can also be used to conduct WMD attacks -- and the United States devotes approximately $10 billion per year to address these types of potential threats -- that in no way lessens the need to develop and deploy defensive systems capable of countering ballistic missile attacks.

Potential adversaries may hope that the acquisition of NBC weapons and delivery systems such as long-range ballistic missiles would deter the U.S. from intervening in, or leading coalitions against, their efforts at regional aggression, or these states may believe that such capabilities would give them the ability to threaten allied countries in order to dissuade them from joining such coalitions.

The leaders of such states are potentially more unpredictable and prone to taking risks. They see NBC weapons and ballistic missile capabilities as tools of coercion, terror, blackmail, and aggression.

An increasing number of nations have ballistic missiles.

  • At least 27 countries now possess or are in the process of acquiring and developing ballistic missiles.
  • More than a dozen states, including several hostile to the United States, our allies and friends, are pursuing offensive biological and chemical warfare capabilities.

Some of the regimes controlling these missiles have already exhibited a willingness to employ NBC weapons. For example, Iraq and Iran have used ballistic missiles to launch chemical weapons (CW) against each other and Iraq has used CW against its own population. In addition, Iran has a nuclear program, North Korea may have enough plutonium for at least one nuclear weapon, and Iraq was on the verge of building a nuclear weapon on the eve of the Gulf War.

The Role of Foreign Assistance in Missile Technology Transfers

Foreign assistance continues to have demonstrable effects on missile advances around the world, creating further unpredictability in the development of the ballistic missile threat.

  • Missile assistance by Russian and Chinese entities continues to be significant.
  • North Korea has been a major proliferator of ballistic missile technologies to other countries.
  • Moreover, some previous recipients of assistance are now sharing these missile technologies with other states.

Proliferators are developing long-range ballistic missiles, often under the guise of peaceful space-launch programs.

The length of time required to develop a ballistic missile defense system means that the U.S., in consultation with its friends and allies, must make appropriate preparations now if it is to be in a position to respond to such threats as they arise in the future.

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