In 1987, the United States government initiated the Missile Technology Control Regime, which was designed to stem the proliferation of ballistic and cruise missiles and technology to areas of instability. The Middle East was a primary problem area for missile proliferation, with a number of aggressive and unstable regimes and pariah states actively seeking weapons of mass destruction and long-range delivery systems.
The MTCR has expanded significantly in the past decade, formally incorporating an increasing number of states, including Russia, and in some cases has been instrumental in slowing proliferation. However, the MTCR has failed with respect to three of the most important cases
– Iran, Iraq, and Syria. Prior to the 1991 Gulf War, Iraq succeeded in obtaining a large number of Scud missiles, components, and technology to extend the range. As a result, Iraq was able to strike Israel with these weapons for a period of 6 weeks, at great cost to the Israeli economy and society. Following the war, the presence and activities of UNSCOM inspectors may have impaired the Iraqi missile production capability, but the short-range missile production facilities that Iraqi continued to operate are capable of being used to produce longer range missiles shortly after the UNSCOM regime is lifted. Iraq has also sought to import guidance systems and other components from various sources, including Russia.
The case of Iran demonstrates the continued failure of the MTCR. After joining the regime, Russia continued to be a source of advanced technology, components, and personnel for the Iranian missile program. Despite clear evidence of Russian violations of the MTCR, the US government failed to take action or invoke the sanctions for violations, as stipulated in US legislation. China is also supplying missile-related technology to Iran, and although the PRC is not formally a member of the MTCR, the government in Beijing pledged to accept the regulations. Nevertheless, the violations and transfer of missile technology have continued, but the Clinton Administration has not invoked sanctions. As a result, the Iranian missile program has made rapid progress towards development of an indigenous production capability for long-range missiles.
Other countries in the Middle East, including Syria and Egypt, have also been able to obtain missiles and related technology, despite the MTCR. Syria has extensive military links with Iran, and is cooperating with the Iranian military in the development of missile production facilities. In addition, both Syria and Egypt have close links to North Korea, and have reportedly received Scud-C missiles from this source. North Korea is not a party to the MTCR, and, in addition to Russia and China, they constitute major "holes" in the MTCR system.
The failure to enforce violations of the MTCR on suppliers such as Russia and China, and the weakness of the UNSCOM regime in Iraq, have allowed the proliferation of missile technology in the Middle East to continue and accelerate. Hopes that arms limitation and supplier regimes could prevent this process and make BMD systems such as BPI unnecessary have been proven to be unrealistic.
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