NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Threat To U.S. From Ballistic Missiles Diminishing

March 11, 2002

Ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads are the most dangerous weapons ever invented. But some military analysts claim the threat they pose to the U.S. now is less than in the past and steadily declining.

Today there are many fewer ballistic missiles in the world than 15 years ago, fewer nations trying to develop them, and only four potentially hostile nations trying to develop long-range versions. Moreover, they say, the limited attack we most fear now from a rogue state would be much smaller than the nuclear holocaust we feared during the Cold War.

  • Of the more than 190 nations in the world, 35 of them, including the U.S., have ballistic missiles.
  • Moreover, almost all of the remaining missile-equipped states are friends of the U.S. -- and almost all have only short-range missiles that threaten only their neighbors.
  • Although the number of states with such missiles grew steadily during the Cold War, it is now decreasing.
  • Over the past year, for example, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic have destroyed their small arsenals of Soviet-supplied Scud missiles -- with only Bahrain joining the missile club.

Only China and Russia are able to attack the U.S. with long-range, land-based missiles. This has not changed since China and Russia deployed their first ICBMs in 1959 and 1981 respectively. Even this threat is dwindling.

Source: Joseph Cirincione (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace), "A Much Less Explosive Trend," Washington Post, March 10, 2002.


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