Two events pushed the proliferation question to the fore during the early 1990s. One was alarm that the fragmentation of the Soviet state would lead to the fragmentation of its nuclear arsenal. The other was the set of revelations at the time of the 1991 Gulf War and its aftermath concerning Iraq's actual acquisitions of both chemical weapons and ballistic missiles and, most seriously, its prospective acquisition of nuclear weapons. Western states were given a jolt. In contrast with earlier proliferation scares-- such as, for example, those involving the Indian subcontinent-- Western states could see direct security implications for themselves in both these developments. They did not simply complicate regional politics or set a bad example to others, but threatened the management of the international system--just at the point when other developments appeared to have made this management much easier.
Proliferation is often discussed simply in terms of being undesirable in its own right rather than in relation to its effects on the international system as a whole or, more narrowly, on Western interests. The problem is seen as stemming from a dangerous combination of technical opportunity, as a function of the diffusion of the relevant technology, with mischievous motivations--hence those numerous edited collections which combine essays on the nuclear- fuel cycle and proposals for tightening the non-proliferation