Missile proliferation is a major threat to international security. Despite a sharp reduction since 1987, the intercontinental ballistic missiles of the five nuclear powers remain a global threat and several other states are seeking to expand the range of their launchers. Some 75 countries possess cruise missiles, which number tens of thousands. Approximately 500 000 portable air defence systems (Manpads) are in circulation and they are owned by at least 27 organizations classified as terrorist. Rockets, the most rudimentary type of missiles, also have disastrous consequences. Finally, new vectors are being developed, such as unmanned aerial vehicles. Yet while nuclear, chemical or biological loads are subject to prohibitions and permanent reductions imposed by strict treaties, international mechanisms to control the missiles – potential vehicles of these loads – are not binding and only partial.
The possession of missiles involves only a limited number of countries. Therefore, the containment of their proliferation should not be insurmountable. However, only preventive measures aimed at strengthening and extending existing regimes are an adequate response to the proliferation of missiles and missile technology. Such measures may range from regional specific arrangements to an extension of the INF Treaty in order to make it multilateral and universal. However, the defensive options – ballistic missile defence weapons or civil aircraft weaponization – are proliferation factors likely to revive an arms race.