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Aircraft threat equally serious as ballistic missiles, researchers conclude
STANFORD -- Which is more dangerous to Western powers in the hands of developing nations: a ballistic missile or a modern ground-strike combat airplane?
Conventional wisdom has held that advanced strike aircraft are less dangerous or less destabilizing in regional conflict than ballistic missiles.
That has led to a situation, a new Stanford University study indicates, in which the United States and Western European countries attempt to control rigorously the transfer of ballistic missile systems, yet have done little to curb the sales of modern ground-strike combat aircraft.
In "Assessing Ballistic Missile Proliferation and Its Control," John Harvey of Stanford's Center for International Security and Arms Control and his co-authors argue that modern combat ground-strike aircraft present an equally serious threat to regional stability. The arms export control policies of the major powers must be reassessed, and perhaps revised, in light of this fact, they say.
Principal authors of the report were Harvey, John Barker, Michael Elleman and Uzi Rubin. Harvey and Rubin co-chaired the study group that included 13 scholars affiliated with the center.
The 178-page report is indicative of how the center's research has evolved along with world events. For years, the center was most closely associated with the Cold War and the threat of a nuclear holocaust involving the superpowers.
Focus on missiles
Harvey notes that world attention, particularly since the Persian Gulf war, has been focused on the acquisition by developing countries of ballistic missile systems, such as the Scud B missile used by Iraq during the Desert Storm war and the protracted 1980s war with Iran.
"These systems are becoming increasingly prominent in Third World arsenals, and are perceived as threatening stability and regional military balances," the Stanford report states.
While Western powers attempt to control proliferation through such mechanisms as the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), he noted, the same countries continue to sell modern ground-strike combat aircraft to developing nations.
The United States has sold F-14s to Iran, F-15s to Israel and Saudi Arabia; F-16s to Pakistan, Egypt, Israel and South Korea; and F-18s to Kuwait. The Soviet Union has supplied Tu-16 "Badger" and Tu-22 "Blinder" bombers to Iraq, and Su-24 ground attack aircraft to Libya and Iraq (and, it has just been learned, possibly to Iran as well). France and the United Kingdom also have strong Third World aircraft markets.
Harvey said that many scholars fear the deteriorating economy in what was the Soviet Union may provide an "incentive" for the republics to sell arms even more indiscriminately.
The justification for continued aircraft sales, the study found, was the "widely held belief" that those planes are less dangerous than, for instance, Scud missiles.
"On the contrary, our study shows that modern combat aircraft are, indeed, very capable and cost-effective alternatives to ballistic missiles for ground-strike missions," the report states.
"The impact of missile proliferation on regional security is not as great as some have portrayed," the group found.
In addition to examining the military effectiveness of ballistic missiles in comparison with advanced strike aircraft, the Stanford report 1) identifies trends in the supply of, and demand for, ballistic missiles, 2) identifies key technologies and systems whose control is essential to a successful missile non- proliferation regime, 3) reviews the relevance and effectiveness of present control mechanisms, and 4) offers policy options for strengthening controls on the proliferation of longer-range ground-strike delivery systems, including ballistic missiles and advanced combat aircraft.
Concluding that "the issue of concern is not ballistic- missile proliferation itself but the acquisition of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction, including delivery vehicles of sufficient range, by irresponsible states," the researchers offered a number of policy recommendations:
"Above all else, the generation of a secure and stable regional peace will be achieved via negotiated agreements respecting international borders, arms control that includes all advanced weapons systems rather than just missiles, confidence- building measures, and security cooperation and guarantees."
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