Module 3:

Proliferation Challenges

Select an Instrument

  • Ratified
  • Required for Entry into Force
  • Hague Code of Conduct
  • Conference on Disarmament
  • IAEA member states
  • Withdrawn
  • Missile Technology Control Regime
  • Mongolian Nuclear-Weapons Free Status
  • Treaty of Bangkok — Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free
  • Treaty of Pelindaba — African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty
  • Treaty of Rarotonga — South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty
  • Treaty of Tlatelolco — Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean
  • Treaty on a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in Central Asia
  • European Union
  • League of Arab States
  • New Agenda Coalition
  • Non-Aligned Movement
  • Nonproliferation and Disarmament Initiative
  • Observer States to NAM
  • Vienna Group of 10
  • Proliferation Security Initiative
  • Countries with voluntarily terminated nuclear weapons research or production programs
  • Non-Members
  • Non-Nuclear Weapon State Members
  • Nuclear sharing states
  • Nuclear Weapon State (NWS) members
  • Other nuclear-weapon possessing states
  • Withdrawn

The map above outlines countries with ballistic and/or cruise missiles as well as participation in the three major cooperative instruments designed to control the spread of ballistic and cruise missiles and related technology. [1]

Which countries have ballistic and/or cruise missiles?

  • Currently, over 30 countries possess one or more types of ballistic missiles.
  • Iran, Iraq, Libya, Russia, Syria and Yemen have all used ballistic missiles during military operations in recent international conflicts.
  • More than 20 countries possess land-attack cruise missiles, though they have spread more slowly than ballistic missiles. At least ten countries will be involved in the production of land-attack cruise missiles over the next decade, with several making their missiles available for export. [2]

How do countries acquire missile technology?

  • The U.S. and Soviet missile programs were based on technologies and expertise from Germany following the Second World War.
  • Most countries begin missile programs with simple liquid-fueled rockets similar to North Korea’s Scud-based missile programs. These states master technologies and techniques, such as staging and clustering engines, along the way toward more sophisticated, longer-range missiles.
  • Many states start by purchasing Scud-based ballistic missiles, supplied either directly by the Soviet Union or indirectly by third parties, such as North Korea, which reverse-engineered the Soviet Union’s missiles.
  • Other countries, including Iraq, South Korea and Taiwan, acquired surface-to-air missiles and modified them to serve as surface-to-surface ballistic missiles.

How do countries develop indigenous missile design and production capabilities?

  • Every national program to develop ballistic or cruise missiles derives, in some part, from past programs.
  • States that purchase ballistic missiles or surface-to-air missiles may attempt to reverse-engineer them. In some cases, states have acquired technologies from the wreckage of ballistic or cruise missiles used in combat.
  • Other states have imported foreign production lines. The degree to which one country relies on another’s technology and associated production methods varies. The United States intelligence community believes that Pakistan’s Ghauri is an indigenous copy of North Korea’s Nodong missile, while Iran’s Shahab-3 incorporates Nodong technologies, as well as technologies acquired from Russian and Chinese entities.
  • States may also gain missile expertise through espionage. In 2006, the FBI arrested a U.S. engineer for selling to China classified U.S. information about reducing the infrared signature of cruise missiles. [3]
  • Rocket programs are often presented as space launch programs, and most countries initially use the same rockets as both space launchers and ballistic missiles.

How is the spread of missile technology managed?

  • There are a number of voluntary arrangements that limit the spread of missile technologies, but these are relatively weak. They are supported by diplomatic efforts to discourage the spread of sensitive technology and block cash from flowing to would-be proliferators.
  • The Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) is a voluntary association of supplier states established in 1987. Members adhere to export policy guidelines based on a common list of controlled items that can be used to develop missiles. MTCR partners also exchange information about licensing issues, including denial decisions.
  • More than 130 states have signed the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (HCOC) since 2002, which contains politically binding commitments to curb the proliferation of WMD-capable ballistic missiles and to exercise maximum restraint in developing, testing, and deploying such missiles.
  • The United States began the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) in 2003 to strengthen existing treaties and regimes prohibiting the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery. PSI activities including interdiction through shipboarding agreements as well as exercises to improve the capacity of states to enforce existing measures against missile proliferation.
  • The United States and Russia are party to two bilateral treaties that limit the number and type of ballistic and cruise missiles they possess, including the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and the 2010 New START agreement. These arms control treaties prohibit the possession of certain types of missiles and limit the quantity of others. They contain verification measures, as well as mechanisms for dispute resolution.
North Korean Vessel Being Boarded

The So San, a North Korean vessel, being stopped and boarded in December 2002 while en route to Yemen and carrying 15 Scud missiles. Photo Credit: U.S. Navy

How can the international community verify missile arms control agreements?

  • Verification measures depend on what is being verified in a particular agreement. Some agreements may prohibit the production, testing or deployment of missiles of certain types. Other agreements may limit the number or location of deployed missiles or prohibit the transfer of missiles or certain technologies.
  • On-site monitoring and inspections of missile production facilities are methods used for gathering information relevant to assessing treaty compliance. The New START treaty provides for each missile limited under the treaty to be assigned a “unique identifier” to enable inspectors to track the missiles. On-site inspections can also help verify the number or location of missiles.
  • Space and ground-based sensors can be used to monitor missile tests. Infrared and infrasound sensors can see and hear missile launches, while radars can track missiles in flight.
  • Open source information may also be useful. After Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down in Ukraine, Russian-backed separatists denied possessing surface-to-air missiles capable of shooting down an airliner. Soon, open source analysts were able to identify and geo-locate images of such a system, the SA-11, in areas controlled by the separatists on the day of the shoot-down and near the crash site. [4]
  • It can be difficult to determine the range and payload of specific missiles, making it complicated to figure out whether a missile is covered under an agreement. The United States, for example, recently stated that it believes Russia is violating the 1987 INF treaty by testing a new ground-launched cruise missile, and also has concerns about a Russian ballistic missile called the RS-26. Russia denies that these missiles violate the INF treaty.
[1] Data on missile holdings detailed in this interactive map was collected from: National Air and Space Intelligence Center, Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat, NASIC-1031-0985-13, 2013; James C. O’Halloran, IHS Jane’s Weapons: Strategic 2013-2014, (IHS Jane’s Global Limited, 2013); Pieter D. Wezeman, “Transfers of long-range guided missiles,” in SIPRI Yearbook 2014: Armaments, Disarmament and International Security, (Oxford University Press, 2014), p. 274.
[2] National Air and Space Intelligence Center, Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat, 2013, p. 27.
[3] Federal Bureau of Investigation, Office of Public Affairs, “Hawaii Man Sentenced to 32 Years in Prison for Providing Defense Information and Services to People’s Republic of China,” U.S. Department of Justice, January 25, 2011,
[4] Jeffrey Lewis and Aaron Stein, “Open Source and the MH17 Shootdown,” Arms Control Wonk Blog, July 24, 2014,
*Note: Header Image Credit: DOE, 2003,