Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Proliferation: Bronze Medal Technology Is Enough

Proliferation: Bronze Medal Technology Is Enough

To acquire a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery missiles, a country does not need to take home the gold medal in the military-technology Olympics. It can strive merely for the bronze medal and obtain an arsenal that can deter its neighbors with the threat of nuclear destruction, Indeed, for a state seeking to acquire nuclear weapons, success with older, tried and proven technologies-whose names can be found in college textbooks, and which are components of commercial products-is preferable to failure in developing the most modem weapons used by the more advanced states. Thus, Iraq’s rediscovery of the electromagnetic isotope separation system (EMIS, or calutrons) as an alternate means of enriching uranium (rather than relying on imported technologies that might have been embargoed) set a precedent that others are likely to follow. The bronze medal earns a developing country a place on the winners’ podium; failure in the pursuit of a high technology does not.

The industrialized countries of the world normally view long-range guided missiles and nuclear weapons as developments requiring the best of First World technology to design and produce. In fact, neither missiles nor the weapons of mass destruction that go atop them require 1990s or even 1970s technology. Both types of weapons were fully mature before 1960; the long-range rocket entered military service in 1944, and the nuclear weapon in 1945. Understanding the implications of this history is critical to formulating and implementing successful antiproliferation policies for the 1990s.

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