To Compete or Retreat? The Global Diffusion of Precision Strike
29 Pages Posted: 18 Feb 2021
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.
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