The Impact of Missile Proliferation on U.S. Power Projection Capabilities

by David Rubenson, Anna Slomovic

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The growth in the numbers and capabilities of ballistic missiles outside Central Europe implies that non-nuclear ballistic missile threats, especially in combination with the growing capacity to produce chemical weapons, may pose an increasing threat to fixed U.S. overseas facilities and U.S. forces on rapid deployment missions. This Note addresses the proliferation of ballistic missiles with conventional warheads, including chemical warheads. Examining current ballistic missile arsenals reveals that they consist largely of inaccurate, short-range missiles, located mostly in North Africa and the Middle East. However, a geographically diverse set of countries are developing new missiles with improved ranges and capabilities, and this Note discusses the damage that can be inflicted by ballistic missiles armed with conventional munitions. Finally, the Note considers the chemical threat, demonstrating a correlation between countries that own ballistic missiles and countries seeking to develop a chemical weapons capability. The analysis shows that using even today's ballistic missile systems with chemical weapons could represent a major military threat for which the United States is relatively unprepared. Furthermore, the approaches for counteracting the chemical threat that are effective in Central Europe must be reevaluated and adjusted for the environment faced by U.S. forces in other areas of the world.

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