To Compete or Retreat? The Global Diffusion of Precision Strike

29 Pages Posted: 18 Feb 2021

See all articles by Michael C. Horowitz

Michael C. Horowitz

University of Pennsylvania - Department of Political Science

Joshua A. Schwartz

Carnegie Mellon University

Date Written: December 20, 2020


After the publicized use of precision strike weapons in the First Gulf War, analysts predicted that
they would spread rapidly around the world. In fact, it has happened much slower than predicted. To explain this puzzle, this paper draws on a novel dataset tracking country-level acquisition of eight aspects of the precision strike complex from 1989 to 2017. The results show that supply-side factors—like a state’s technological capacity and defense relationships with key exporters—significantly affect the likelihood of states developing advanced precision strike capabilities. Demand-side factors like interstate security threats also play an important role, but not in the way traditionally theorized. We find an inverted-U relationship between security threats and proliferation. When states have rivals or neighbors with moderate precision strike capabilities, they have security incentives to compete with them. However, when states face highly advanced adversaries, they have a tougher time competing, and thus have incentives to shift resources to other defense strategies.

Suggested Citation

Horowitz, Michael C. and Schwartz, Joshua, To Compete or Retreat? The Global Diffusion of Precision Strike (December 20, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

Michael C. Horowitz (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania - Department of Political Science ( email )

Stiteler Hall
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

Joshua Schwartz

Carnegie Mellon University ( email )

United States


Do you have negative results from your research you’d like to share?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics