Launching Nukes: The Spread of Ballistic Missile Technology and Nuclear Weapons Proliferation
34 Pages Posted: 14 Jul 2012 Last revised: 21 Apr 2014
Date Written: 2012
Ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons are complementary technologies that dramatically enhance each other’s strategic utility. To date, explanations of how these military technologies proliferate have largely considered their developmental paths as separate from one another. In this study, we argue that mastering missile technology provides states with significant advantages in acquiring nuclear weapons. Both missile programs and nuclear weapons programs are costly, scientifically challenging endeavors that require the mastery of a significant body of tacit knowledge. However, missile programs are less expensive, less risky, and pose lower scientific entry barriers compared to nuclear programs. By investing in the mastery of rocket technology, states cultivate scientific-military industrial complexes (SMICs) that increase the research infrastructure and scientific and technical human capital within their countries that can also aid in nuclear weapons acquisition efforts. Furthermore, such programs provide governments with cross-applicable experience in managing expansive, interdisciplinary weapons acquisition projects. Lastly, military rocketry SMICs have significant incentives to lobby on behalf of acquiring nuclear weapons, which could spur significant additional investments in their own programs. We test our theory with a large-n analysis of the factors affecting the acquisition of nuclear weapons in 154 countries from 1945-2000. Our results provide strong support for our theory, demonstrating that mature military rocketry programs substantially contribute to countries’ ability to acquire nuclear weapons.
Keywords: Nuclear Weapons, Proliferation, Missiles, Ballistic Missiles, Technology
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