Preventing Catastrophe: The Use and Misuse of Intelligence in Efforts to Halt the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction

By Thomas Graham Jr.; Keith A. Hansen | Go to book overview

1 Motivations of Countries and
Terrorists to Acquire WMD

Countries and terrorist groups seek weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear weapons, for various reasons. According to Sidney Drell and James Goodby (The Gravest Danger), the cases of North Korea, Iran, and Iraq suggest that prestige and national security—through parity or regional dominance— has been the driver behind efforts to acquire nuclear weapon capabilities. To assert that a state is interested in nuclear weapons for security reasons usually means for strategic parity or deterrent purposes; for example, with Pakistan, to offset the superior forces of India, or with Israel, initially to nullify the numerical advantages of its Arab neighbors' conventional military forces. Some states believe that just by possessing nuclear weapons they will be perceived as the dominant state in their region. Iran is a case in point. The possession of nuclear weapons might enable Tehran to dominate at least its part of the Middle East. For purposes of prestige, nuclear weapons also have political value: a state in possession of nuclear weapons can be perceived as a great power. India is a case in point, while Japanese diplomats have complained that Japan is treated like a second-class nation in the international arena and is excluded from important diplomatic meetings because Japan does not have nuclear weapons.1

One can argue that it was Saddam's WMD effort that ultimately led to Iran's decision to pursue nuclear weapons, although we believe that Iran probably has had other motives, such as prestige under the Shah, hostility with Israel after the 1979 revolution, and possibly deterrence against US military action. The defense of national sovereignty is a powerful motivation, and both Iran and North Korea appear to have pursued nuclear weapons for that reason.2

While the term weapons of mass destruction normally includes chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, the principal attention should be on nuclear weapons (see Appendix B). Chemical and biological weapons should more properly be considered weapons of mass casualties; they do not have the same

-7-

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