Third World Missile Proliferation Poses New Threats

By Cunningham, John | The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies, Summer 1994 | Go to article overview

Third World Missile Proliferation Poses New Threats


Cunningham, John, The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies


With the world community focused on North Korea's nuclear program, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles to the Third World has become a major concern. The proliferation threat is real and it is growing. Over the last twenty years the nuclear "club" has more than doubled, from six nations to thirteen. Nearly thirty nations possess ballistic missiles of varying ranges, and twenty five have chemical and/or biological weapons programs.

Contrary to what the world might wish, the end of the Cold War has actually served to spur proliferation efforts rather than dampen them. More and more nations are acquiring mass destruction and ballistic missile technology, spurred by regional rivalries and heightened senses of nationalism. Other nations may desire the prestige accorded ballistic missiles and nuclear capable nations, or feel that such weapons may be a way to buy security on the cheap. India, for example, has declared that its own nuclear program is its only means of staving off "American hegemonism."

The collapse of the Soviet Union has lead to a dangerous "brain drain" of highly skilled scientists and technicians from the Former Soviet States to the Third World. Nations such as Iran, North Korea and Libya have been using the promise of high wages in attempts to lure ex-Soviet scientists away from the FSU to work on their own weapons programs. Russian law enforcement agencies recently stopped 60 Russian ballistic missile scientists and technicians at Moscow's Shermyetovo-2 airport as they prepared to fly off to North Korea. Over the last few years dozens of other scientists and technicians have been prevented from seeking employment in Third World weapons programs, but dozens more have managed to leave Russia.

The January 1993 Arms Control Today reported that several scientists have contracted to work in Algeria, four have left Russia to take service in India, 50 missile and weapons specialists remain in Iraq, 14 nuclear scientists are working in Iran, and "many" Russian scientists are participating in projects in Libya. The Russian Security Ministry admits that it cannot keep tabs on every scientist with nuclear secrets and that this may represent only a fraction of the FSU scientists and technicians who have taken service abroad.

The "brain drain" is not the only proliferation factor added into the equation from the collapse of the USSR. The Russian Mafia has been increasingly active in trying to steal and sell nuclear technology on the black market. The problem has become so serious that the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation has opened a branch office in Moscow to help Russian law enforcement agencies stop black market nuclear sales. The going price for a kilogram of enriched Uranium on the black market is $2.2 million--a hefty incentive for nuclear smuggling. But the Russian Mafia may not content itself with selling bits and pieces of nuclear material, and the danger of nuclear weapons theft is also on the rise. U.S. FBI Director Louis Freeh has said he is worried of "the dreadful possibilities" that Russian organized crime organizations may steal nuclear weapons and sell them to terrorist organizations.

While Mr. Freeh believes the U.S. has been lucky that no illegal diversions of nuclear weapons have occurred, the sad reality is that a number of Russian nuclear weapons may already have found their way to the Third World. Two years ago Russian General Victor Samoilov told U.S. military visitors that they discovered that "three more nuclear warheads were missing." When pressed by the U.S. delegation, headed by Air Force General John Piotrowski, General Samoilov admitted that they had had at least three tactical nuclear weapons disappear from storage sites and as many as six altogether. As many as 23 nuclear warheads have vanished out of the Komsomolsk-on-Amur nuclear weapons depot near Khabarovsk, believed to be Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile and SS-20 warheads. …

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