Arms Proliferation and Control

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The U.S.-Soviet nuclear arms race ended in détente, but nuclear development efforts and WMD proliferation in India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Iran have caused geopolitical instability since the Cold War's end. RAND has applied strategic analysis to nuclear confrontation scenarios and international deterrence efforts since its earliest work on game theory, with particular focus on the roles of both diplomacy and missile defense systems in global as well as regional security.

  • Report

    South Korea Needs Greater Nuclear Assurance

    With growing nuclear threats from North Korea and China, there has been considerable interest in South Korea in developing its own nuclear weapons. But doing so could become a major disaster. The United States should bring greater strategic clarity to its nuclear umbrella commitment to South Korea.

    Oct 29, 2023

  • Commentary

    How Much Is Enough for U.S. Nuclear Forces?

    Deterrence is difficult because it's about perceptions and resolve rather than just pure numbers. Potential adversaries need to perceive that the United States has enough nuclear weapons to deter them, and also that U.S. officials believe the United States has enough that Washington's resolve will not falter in the face of provocation or coercion.

    Sep 27, 2023

Explore Arms Proliferation and Control

  • Air Force Staff Sgt. Dave Servida directs weapons cargo bound for Ukraine onto a C-17 Globemaster III at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, August 19, 2022, photo by Airman 1st Class Cydney Lee/U.S. Air Forc

    Commentary

    National Security Memorandum 20 and the Challenge of Operational End-Use Monitoring

    The U.S. Department of Defense's internal efforts to address civilian harm due to U.S. military operations should be closely integrated with the goal of increasing accountability in arms transfer decisions. Making conditions associated with the transfer of U.S. arms more explicit is an important first step in being able to enforce them.

    May 13, 2024

  • An image taken from the International Space Station shows orange swaths of airglow hovering in Earth’s atmosphere, photo by NASA

    Report

    Promoting Stability in Outer Space

    As the United States and its chief rivals, China and Russia, build capabilities in outer space, what can be done to mitigate the risk of unintended military escalation in this increasingly important domain?

    May 8, 2024

  • North Korea launches what it says is a new mid- to long-range solid-fuel hypersonic missile, at an unknown location in North Korea, April 2, 2024, photo by KCNA via Reuters

    Commentary

    Did North Korea Really Test a Hypersonic Missile?

    North Korea is working toward the deployment of hypersonic missiles that it claims could render South Korean and U.S. missile defenses useless. Still, its claims of a successful test this month appear greatly exaggerated.

    Apr 9, 2024

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivers a policy speech at the second-day sitting of the 5th Session of the 14th Supreme People's Assembly (SPA) of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) at the Mansudae Assembly Hall in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this undated photo released on September 30, 2021, photo by KCNA via Reuters

    Commentary

    The Politics of North Korea's ICBM Program

    It appears that Kim Jong-un is now practicing ICBM politics. Successful ICBM launches generate internal political support and remind South Korean citizens of reasons to question the reliability of the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

    Jan 2, 2024

  • Kim Jong-un attends the ninth session of the 14th Supreme People's Assembly and calls for exponentially increasing the production of nuclear weapons at the Mansudae Assembly Hall in Pyongyang, North Korea, September 28, 2023, photo by KCNA/Pool/Latin America News Agency via Reuters Connect

    Commentary

    Nuclear Weapons in the North Korean World View

    As Kim Jong-un's actions become more threatening, the risks of a catastrophic accidental nuclear war become more likely. The United States needs to make North Korean denuclearization a long-term objective but focus in the immediate future on limiting the size and danger of the North Korean nuclear weapon force.

    Oct 11, 2023

  • Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu meets with Iran's Defense Minister Brigadier General Mohammad-Reza Ashtiani in Tehran, Iran, September 20, 2023, photo by West Asia News Agency via Reuters

    Commentary

    The Drivers of and Outlook for Russian-Iranian Cooperation

    Russia and Iran's recent cooperation regarding Ukraine has raised concerns that the once wary partners might be moving toward a more comprehensive, strategic alliance. Such a prospect could have significant consequences for the United States' ability to safeguard its interests in the Middle East.

    Oct 4, 2023

  • U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sign the New START Treaty at Prague Castle in Prague, Czech Republic, April 8, 2010, photo by Jason Reed/Reuters

    Commentary

    Hard Times for U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control

    New START is slated to expire in February 2026 and cannot be extended. The next chapter in U.S.-Russia nuclear arms control, if there is to be one, may not be written until rulers in Moscow ease repression at home, pull troops out of Ukraine, and recognize the mutual benefits of reducing, rather than stoking, nuclear tensions.

    Aug 28, 2023

  • Chinese-built Thai Navy frigate HTMS Taksin moored at Sattahip Naval Base, Thailand, October 8, 2019, <a href=

    Commentary

    Russia's War in Ukraine Could Reshape the Global Arms Market in Favor of China

    The war in Ukraine is straining Russia's defense production, which is having downstream effects on Moscow's ability to export arms. China has the opportunity, the incentive, and the capacity to gain from Russia's losses. As Russia relinquishes more of its share of the global arms market, there is not much standing in the way of China's success.

    Jul 10, 2023

  • Bolivian soldiers stand next to military vehicles received by Bolivian Armed Forces from the Chinese government in La Paz, Bolivia, July 29, 2016, photo by Bolivian Information Agency/Handout via Reuters

    Commentary

    Countries Buy Defective Chinese Military Equipment. Why?

    China's defense industry has exported malfunctioning and defective military equipment in recent years—leaving countries short of what's needed for their security while also draining military budgets. So why do countries continue to order military equipment from China?

    Jun 8, 2023

  • Russian Sukhoi Su-25 Frogfoot ground-attack planes release smoke in the colours of the Russian flag during a rehearsal for the Victory Day parade in Moscow, Russia June 20, 2020, photo by Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters

    Report

    Future U.S. Peacetime Policy Toward Russia: Exploring the Benefits and Costs of a Less-Hardline Approach

    Using four historical case studies, the authors found that limited less-hardline approaches can lead to durable but narrow gains. However, issues left unaddressed by these approaches may still undermine the relationship over the long term.

    May 17, 2023

  • Brezhnev and Nixon talk during Brezhnev's June 1973 visit to Washington during the beginning of detente between the United States and the Soviet Union, photo by World History Archive/Alamy

    Research Brief

    What Should Future U.S. Policy Toward Russia Be in Peacetime?

    Russia's invasion of Ukraine has made a constructive U.S.-Russia relationship implausible for the foreseeable future. But once the fighting stops, the United States will continue to face long-term incentives to improve the stability and predictability of its relations with Moscow.

    May 17, 2023

  • An Algerian corvette fires a Chinese-made anti-ship missile, photo by Hakim Djebbour/Wikimedia (CC by 4.0)

    Tool

    Mapping Chinese and Russian Military and Security Exports to Africa

    Military weapons exports and private military and security contractors are important tools for projecting a country's influence around the world. How have China and Russia employed these tools across Africa in recent years?

    Dec 13, 2022

  • Chinese tanks at the Army Institute in Kampong Speu province, Cambodia, March 12, 2015, photo by Pring Samrang/Reuters

    Commentary

    How China Is Building Influence Through Arms Sales

    China may be using arms sales to strengthen alliances around the South China Sea and counter the United States' regional alliances. Beijing's security relationships around the South China Sea could be a harbinger of what it might replicate in Africa and possibly Latin America.

    Dec 9, 2022

  • Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi attends a news conference in Tehran, Iran, August 29, 2022, photo by Majid Asgaripour/WANA/Reuters

    Commentary

    The Iran Nuclear Deal: Is the Juice Still Worth the Squeeze?

    The talks to reinstate the Iran nuclear deal have been dragging on for 18 months. But the negotiations are not about very much; the general contours of the original agreement still hold. As the clock keeps ticking, though, it gets harder to revive it. At some point, the juice won't be worth the squeeze.

    Oct 10, 2022

  • A Ukrainian army officer looks at a destroyed SS-24 missile silo near the town of Pervomaisk, Ukraine, October 30, 2001, photo by Gleb Garanich CVI/CLH//Reuters

    Commentary

    How Russia's Nuclear Double Cross of Ukraine Teaches Dangerous Lessons

    Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the West's support for Kyiv has been tempered by an ace up Vladimir Putin's sleeve: the potential use of nuclear weapons. But other countries are taking notice, which could imperil world stability even further.

    Aug 16, 2022

  • A suspected missile is fired, in this image released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on March 22, 2020, photo by KCNA/Reuters

    Multimedia

    North Korean Sanctions Evasion

    The United Nations imposed increasingly restrictive sanctions on North Korea after each of the six nuclear weapons tests that it conducted between 2009 and 2016. In this film, experts discuss the threats posed by North Korean proliferation and the importance of enforcing sanctions.

    Aug 15, 2022

  • Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani arrives at Palais Coburg for nuclear talks Vienna, Austria, February 28, 2022, photo by Leonhard Foeger/Reuters

    Commentary

    A Renewed Nuclear Deal With Iran: Turning Back the Clock?

    Diplomats from Europe, the United States, Russia, China, and Iran are in Vienna trying to revive the Iran nuclear agreement of 2015. But even if negotiations succeed, the post-deal environment could be much more unstable than it was seven years ago.

    Mar 4, 2022

  • An SM-3 Block IIA is launched from the USS John Paul Jones during a flight test off Hawaii resulting in the first intercept of a ballistic missile target by the SM-3IIA, February 3, 2017, photo by Missile Defense Agency

    Report

    Instability in the U.S.-Russia Deterrence Relationship

    U.S.-Russian strategic stability is based on mutual vulnerability to retaliation, which eliminates the incentive to strike first. But the United States has developed counterforce capabilities that Moscow fears could be used for a first strike. What could be done to address Russia's concerns and increase stability?

    Feb 17, 2022

  • Journal Article

    Journal Article

    Estimating Nuclear Proliferation and Security Risks in Emerging Markets Using Bayesian Belief Networks

    Estimating future nuclear proliferation risk using expert elicitation.

    Jan 21, 2022