"I find hope in the work of long-established groups such as the Arms Control Association...[and] I find hope in younger anti-nuclear activists and the movement around the world to formally ban the bomb."

– Vincent Intondi
Professor of History, Montgomery College
July 1, 2020
Beyond Missile Defense: Alternative Means to Address Iran’s Ballistic Missile Threat
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Miles A. Pomper and Cole J. Harvey

Since the 1980s, Iran has been actively developing a ballistic missile capability, beginning with imports of Scud missiles and leading up to its current development of the solid-fueled Sajjil-2. The Sajjil-2, which was first flight-tested in 2008, is expected to have a range of approximately 2,200 kilometers, putting targets in southeastern Europe, in Russia, and across the Arabian Peninsula within reach of Iranian missiles. An earlier liquid-fueled missile, the Ghadr-1, can reach Turkey, Israel, and southern Russia with its 1,600-kilometer range.[1]

The increasing sophistication and range of Iranian ballistic missiles have caused alarm in Washington, which has developed elaborate missile defense plans to counter the threat. Yet, the technical feasibility of ballistic missile defense is debatable, and its contribution to missile nonproliferation is questionable. Fortunately, it is not the only tool available to states concerned about Iran’s missile program.

Supplements or alternatives to missile defense include layered mechanisms designed to hamper the supply of missile-related components. National export control laws are the first line of defense, which can be augmented and coordinated through multilateral export forums such as the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). UN Security Council sanctions can expand the reach of export controls by banning the supply of certain components under international law and lending international legitimacy to the effort. When sanctions and export controls fail, legal interdictions can be used to curtail illicit shipments of contraband materials to Iran and other states of concern.

Limiting the supply of crucial missile components is an important aspect of constraining the Iranian missile program, but it is not the sole aspect. Regional defense agreements and security guarantees can mitigate the threat perceived by neighboring states and deter the use of Iran’s existing missiles. Ultimately, a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East could facilitate removal of the missiles themselves from the region. The 2002 Hague Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missile Proliferation, by providing for limited confidence-building and transparency measures, can be a useful first step in limiting ballistic missile proliferation in the Middle East. In the long term, with sufficient confidence building and verification, states could agree to eliminate medium-range ballistic missiles as the United States and Soviet Union agreed to do with intermediate-range ballistic missiles in 1987.

Curtailing Supply

Despite Iran’s growing manufacturing and technical competence, its missile program still relies on imports of essential components. Because Tehran cannot manufacture its missiles entirely indigenously, international export controls, sanctions, and interdictions can slow the development and production of Iranian missiles and limit their range and effectiveness.

Iran does not have the technical capacity to build up its ballistic missile forces based solely on domestic production. As the 2009 report to Congress by the director of national intelligence (DNI) stated, “Iran still remains dependent on foreign suppliers for some key missile components.”[2]

For example, there is no evidence that Iran possesses the technology necessary to manufacture the large-diameter, flow-formed pressure tanks and large, composite pressure vessels necessary to construct larger, long-range missiles.[3] It also appears that Iran continues to import whole engines, or at least critical engine components, for its liquid-fueled missiles.[4] Likewise, there is no evidence to suggest that Iran has the capability to develop or produce the individual components of ballistic missile guidance systems.[5]

In order to expand the size and sophistication of its ballistic missile arsenal and the range and accuracy of the missiles themselves, Iran will need to import components. These gaps in Iran’s missile-related industry provide leverage points for the international community in seeking to slow or stop the export of these goods to Iran.

Missile Technology Control Regime. Formed in 1987, the MTCR is an informal, voluntary association of states that seek to coordinate their export control efforts in order to prevent the proliferation of missile systems capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction. MTCR participant countries rely on a set of guidelines to inform decisions on the export of various components and technologies described in a common list of controlled items. As a voluntary regime, however, MTCR states retain the right to export items at their own discretion.

The MTCR technical annex divides the list of controlled items into two categories. Category I items are the most sensitive and include “complete delivery systems” that can carry a payload of more than 500 kilograms a distance of 300 kilometers or more, as well as rocket engines, engine components, fuel and fuel components, and navigation and guidance systems.[6] The guidelines state that there should be “a strong presumption to deny” export licenses for Category I items.[7] Furthermore, states should consider “the capabilities and objectives of the missile and space programs of the recipient state” and “the significance of the transfer in terms of the potential development of delivery systems…for weapons of mass destruction.”[8] MTCR states have agreed that exporters should require an end-user statement specifying the use and ultimate destination of the proposed transfer and an assurance that the transfer will not be used in a delivery vehicle for weapons of mass destruction. Lastly, MTCR states have agreed that exporters should obtain an agreement that the transferred items will not be retransferred to a third country without the consent of the original supplier.

Thirty-four countries are participants in the MTCR, which holds an annual plenary meeting as well as ad hoc meetings of experts to exchange information. Most western and eastern European states are participants in the MTCR, along with Argentina, Brazil, Japan, Russia, and the United States. Notably absent from the rolls of the group are China, India, and Pakistan, as well as well-known missile proliferator and frequent Iranian missile supplier North Korea. Iran is also not a participant in the regime.

Since the late 1980s, China has been a major contributor to Iran’s ballistic missile program, even after making a political commitment in 2000 to abide by the original 1987 MTCR regime guidelines, although not to any subsequent revisions. In 1989, China supplied Iran with 150 to 200 short-range ballistic missiles, as well as technology to assist in the production of the indigenous Iran-130 missile, also known as the Mushak-120.[9] According to a classified CIA report detailed by The Washington Times, China and Iran reached a deal in 1996 for the sale of Chinese missile guidance technology, gyroscopes, and production equipment.[10] In the late 1990s, China was alleged to have continued to transfer missile-related equipment and assistance to Iran, including telemetry equipment, specialty steel, and training on inertial guidance.[11]

In a November 2000 commitment to the United States, China pledged that it would not assist, “in any way, any country in the development of ballistic missiles that can be used to deliver nuclear weapons (i.e., missiles capable of delivering a payload of at least 500 kg to a distance of at least 300 km).”[12] Following a series of reforms in 2002, China’s export control laws generally conform to the MTCR.[13] Nonetheless, the U.S. Department of State assesses that Chinese companies have continued to assist Iran’s ballistic missile program, in several cases earning U.S. sanctions. In 2009 the U.S. director of national intelligence reported to Congress that “Chinese entities continue to supply a variety of missile-related items to multiple customers, including recent exports to Iran and Pakistan.”[14]

China’s mixed performance has been one of the reasons it has not been invited to join the MTCR. One could argue that granting China membership would increase the possibility that Beijing would comply with MTCR rules, especially if the MTCR states were to state explicitly that they were accepting China’s application to join the organization in exchange for better implementation of existing export controls. After all, the main difficulty in preventing Chinese missile technology from reaching Iran is a lack of political will in Beijing and a failure to enforce existing law. Consistent diplomatic pressure from the United States and other concerned governments, along with the possibility of targeted sanctions, should be used to encourage China to live up to its international and domestic commitments. Such pressure is likely to be more successful the deeper and more multilateral such commitments are. This approach seems to have yielded some benefits in restricting Russian missile cooperation with Iran. Russian entities provided significant assistance to the Iranian ballistic missile program in the 1990s, despite Moscow’s decision to join the MTCR in 1995. According to a 2003 Congressional Research Service report, Russian individuals or organizations provided Iran with “training, testing equipment, and components including specialty steels and alloys, tungsten coated graphite, gyroscopes and other guidance technology, rocket engines and fuel technology, laser equipment, machine tools, and maintenance manuals.”[15] During the late 1990s and early 2000s, the United States applied sanctions and offered incentives to Russia to encourage tighter export control regulations and better implementation.[16] The 2009 DNI report to Congress described Russian entities’ support for Iran’s missile program “at least in the past”;[17] it did not state whether any such assistance continues.

One key country is not restricted by the MTCR in any way: North Korea. Pyongyang does not belong to the MTCR and has been a principal supplier of missiles and technology to Iran. In the mid-1990s, Iran received 1,500-kilometer-range No Dong missile engines from North Korea, in addition to numerous shorter-range missiles in the late 1980s and early 1990s.[18] The No Dong formed the basis for Iran’s Shahab-3 and Ghadr-1 missiles. Throughout the 1990s and recently, the United States continued to determine that North Korea was providing missile-related assistance to Iran.[19]

The North Korean and Chinese examples indicate the main flaws in the MTCR arrangement: the regime is not universal and relies heavily on political will to implement its provisions in the partner countries. Nevertheless, the MTCR is important as a guide for national export control laws and decisions, as a prod to encourage states to live up to their political obligations, and as an information-sharing venue. Moreover, it is only the first barrier against the supply of components and technologies to Iran’s missile program. International and unilateral sanctions that impose financial costs on states or organizations that contribute to Iran’s missile program form a second layer.

UN Security Council sanctions. Penalties imposed by the UN Security Council can lend the force of international law, such as it is, to efforts to constrain a state’s import or export of sensitive technologies. They also can add international legitimacy to such efforts. Enforcement of the resolutions, however, is up to national governments. Two Security Council resolutions in particular deal with Iran’s ballistic missile program.

The first UN Security Council resolution imposing sanctions on Iran for its ambiguous nuclear program, Resolution 1737, “decide[d]” that all states must prevent the transfer to Iran of complete ballistic missile systems with a range of 300 kilometers or more and a payload of 500 kilograms or more. This decision, taken under Article VII of the UN Charter, effectively extended the guidelines by making the ban on missile sales to Iran a legal obligation for all UN members instead of a voluntary effort by a subset of that group. The resolution also applied to many subsystems and components of ballistic missiles and penalized three organizations and five individuals associated with Iran’s missile program.[20]

On June 9, the Security Council approved Resolution 1929, the fourth sanctions resolution targeting Iran. While expanding the list of firms and individuals subject to sanctions, the resolution for the first time prohibited Iran from conducting activities related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons. This prohibition applies to missile tests, which are essential to the development of the program. Iran has already conducted at least one ballistic missile test since the resolution was passed, according to Iranian news outlets.[21] This may lead the Security Council or concerned states to impose further economic penalties beyond those already adopted because of Iran’s defiance of UN resolutions requiring Tehran to suspend its uranium-enrichment work.

Under Resolution 1929, states “shall take all necessary measures to prevent the transfer of technology or technical assistance to Iran related to [ballistic missile] activities.”[22] The resolution was approved by a vote of 12-2-1, with Brazil and Turkey voting nay. The support for the resolution by China and Russia, two states with a history of supplying Iran with missile technology and components, is particularly significant. The Security Council, where these countries hold considerably greater sway, seems to be a more amenable forum than the MTCR for gaining Moscow’s and Beijing’s cooperation. In attempting to slow Iran’s missile program, however, the United States and its allies have gone well beyond the UN sanctions.

U.S. sanctions. The United States has imposed a stiff sanctions regime on Iran and on third-party entities that do business with Iran’s petroleum sector. Several laws and executive orders also have been used to target entities that have aided Iranian WMD and missile programs.

The Iran-Iraq Arms Nonproliferation Act of 1992, the Iran-North Korea-Syria Nonproliferation Act of 2000, and Executive Order 13382 allow the U.S. government to impose various penalties on foreign entities that have contributed to Iranian nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs or its ballistic missile program. Also, the president may impose sanctions on foreign entities for missile-related transfers under the Arms Export Control Act of 1976 and by the presidential invocation of emergency powers under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977. Along with Iranian organizations, dozens of foreign organizations have been penalized under these laws, including those from China, Malaysia, Mexico, North Korea, Russia, and South Korea.[23] In addition, the United States has imposed economic sanctions on Iran in an attempt to penalize its nuclear and missile activities. The Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010 targets foreign persons (individuals or organizations) that invest $20 million or more in Iran’s oil and gas sector or export $1 million or more of refined petroleum products to Iran. Similarly, the legislation requires that the president sanction any person that provides Iran with “goods, services, technology, or information” with a fair market value of $1 million or more for the maintenance or expansion of Iranian production of refined petroleum products.[24] The president can choose from a menu of penalties under the law, including a prohibition on any transactions in foreign exchange under the jurisdiction of the United States, a ban on any financial transfers under the jurisdiction of the United States, and a ban on any U.S. property transactions.[25] The legislation expires once the president certifies to Congress that Iran is no longer engaged in “the pursuit, acquisition, and development of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and ballistic missiles and ballistic missile launch technology.”[26]

Unilateral sanctions can be effective in preventing foreign companies from providing missile and other technology to Iran. The U.S. Department of the Treasury lifted sanctions on China’s Great Wall Industry Corporation, for example, after that company implemented a “rigorous and thorough compliance program to prevent future dealings with Iran.”[27] The department had applied the sanctions in 2006, after finding that the company had supplied Iran with missile-related and dual-use components.[28]

The Proliferation Security Initiative. When export controls and sanctions fail, either as a result of unscrupulous companies or a state such as North Korea willfully flouting international rules, interdictions are the last means of preventing controlled items from reaching their destination. The Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), an informal, multilateral association of states originally proposed by the United States in 2003, seeks to coordinate the intelligence and interdiction activities of its participants. The PSI had 97 participant countries as of June 2010. Many European, Middle Eastern, and Asian states are participants in the PSI, although China and many South American countries are not. South Korea subscribed to the PSI in 2009, which should enhance the initiative’s effectiveness with regard to North Korea.

Although states enjoy full sovereignty to conduct interdictions on their territory and in their airspace, international laws and customs establish varying rights for ships at sea depending on their location and cargo. In general, the farther a ship is from a state’s territory, the less authority a state has to detain or divert the vessel. The state whose flag the ship flies, however, has full jurisdiction over the vessel in international waters.

Within a state’s internal waters, such as in ports and bays, a state exercises full authority over foreign-flagged vessels and so can conduct an interdiction and inspection under its own national laws. A state’s territorial waters extend from its coastline to a distance of 12 nautical miles; within these waters, foreign vessels enjoy a right of innocent passage. If the ship is carrying items related to weapons of mass destruction or missiles, the right of innocent passage might not apply, and the ship could be subject to the coastal state’s jurisdiction. The same principle applies to states that border straits used for international navigation, such as Singapore.[29] The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea considers passage as innocent so long as it is “not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal State.”

Beyond this 12-mile limit, seas and oceans are considered international waters for the purposes of navigation. In general, ships cannot legally be detained or diverted under national customs laws in international waters and are only subject to the jurisdiction of the state whose flag the ship flies. There are two possible exceptions to this. First, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which has entered into force without the United States’ participation, establishes that “the high seas shall be reserved for peaceful purposes” and that, “[i]n exercising their rights…States Parties shall refrain from any threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the principles of international law embodied in the Charter of the United Nations.”

UN Security Council Resolution 1540, approved in 2004, affirms that “the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, as well as their means of delivery, constitutes a threat to international peace and security.” The resolution calls on all states, “consistent with international law, to take cooperative action to prevent illicit trafficking” in weapons of mass destruction and the means of their delivery. As a result, a state could plausibly claim that a vessel covertly carrying missiles or missile-related items in contravention of UN sanctions posed a threat to international security and thus could be stopped or diverted without violating international law. If the vessel was smuggling weapons or weapons components, it is likely that the success of the interdiction would outweigh its uncertain legality. In the case of Iran, the Security Council decided in Resolution 1929 that “[s]tates shall take all necessary measures to prevent the transfer of technology or technical assistance to Iran” related to ballistic missiles, a formulation that could conceivably include interdictions on the high seas, although the United States or other countries would be unlikely to risk such an interpretation without nearly perfect intelligence—a highly unlikely occurrence.[30]

A less politically risky and clearly legal means of stopping, diverting, or boarding a vessel on the high seas is to gain the permission of the state with jurisdiction over the ship. That government can order the vessel to return to port or to cooperate with the investigating nation. Success using this method depends on the state in question. In 2003, U.S. and British authorities had reason to suspect that the German-flagged BBC China was bound for Libya with a cargo of uranium-enrichment centrifuge components. They notified the German government, which in turn contacted the owner of the vessel, which ordered the ship to dock at a port in Italy where it was investigated by Italian authorities. The investigation found the suspected centrifuge components, which were confiscated.[31] If the BBC China had been flying a North Korean flag, it is exceedingly unlikely that Pyongyang would have granted a request on the high seas for its ship to divert to port, although a ship flying a North Korean flag could still be searched in port by a cooperating state.

To facilitate this method of interdiction, the UnitedState has concluded ship-boarding agreements with nine states.[32] Under these agreements, the United States can request its partner to confirm the nationality of a ship in question and to authorize the boarding, search, and possible detention of the vessel. The agreements also establish procedures and points of contacts to facilitate these requests. These nine states are major “flag states”; in fact, two of them, Panama and Liberia, are believed to have the highest volume of global flag-of-convenience shipping.[33] In principle, this gives the United States the authority to inspect a substantial portion of ships at sea.

Despite its size, the PSI has limits. Several key countries, including China, are absent from its rolls. It relies on intelligence gathering, an imprecise endeavor, to locate and track vessels suspected of carrying WMD- or missile-related cargo. It lacks a secretariat or coordinating body, such that participating states must rely on bilateral points of contact. Lastly, it requires political will to intercept vessels flying the flag of a known proliferator on the high seas, and the legality of such a move is questionable. If North Korea attempted to sell missile components to Iran in violation of Resolution 1929, would PSI states be willing to stop the ship on the high seas, possibly precipitating a larger crisis?

Reducing Demand

Export controls, sanctions, and interdiction address the supply side of missile proliferation by preventing crucial technologies and components from reaching missile developers. Regional diplomatic efforts to increase transparency, build confidence, and eventually develop verifiable arms control agreements can address the demand side of the issue by reducing the demand for missiles.

Regional approaches. As part of the 1995 agreement that indefinitely extended the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), the states-parties to the treaty agreed to a resolution that “[c]alls upon all States in the Middle East to take practical steps…[toward] the establishment of an effectively verifiable Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear, chemical and biological, and their delivery systems.”[34]

At the 2010 NPT Review Conference, the states-parties reaffirmed the importance of the 1995 resolution and noted that little progress had been made toward its implementation. As a result, the parties agreed that Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States (the depositaries of the NPT), along with the UN secretary-general, will convene a conference of Middle Eastern states in 2012 on the establishment of a WMD-free zone. In addition, the conveners are to appoint a facilitator with a mandate to prepare for the conference and consult with the relevant states.

A zone free of weapons of mass destruction and the means for their delivery in the Middle East would likely require states to agree not to acquire ballistic missiles with capabilities that exceeded MTCR guidelines—a range of 300 kilometers and a payload of 500 kilograms. Iran is not the only country in the region with missiles that exceed these specifications. Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Syria each have missiles that go beyond MTCR guidelines.[35] Because these states have differing levels of technical development and complex security dynamics, each considering more than one of the others a potential threat, the negotiation of an agreement that limited ballistic missiles in the region would pose a serious diplomatic challenge.

As a preliminary step, states in the region could agree to confidence-building measures that increase transparency and reduce the risk of miscommunication with regard to missile programs and intentions. Some of these steps are already listed in the Hague Code of Conduct, such as prenotifications of test launches and annual declarations of ballistic missile policies. Others were discussed under the arms control and regional security process that grew out of the 1991 Middle East Madrid conference, such as limitations on missile ranges, the capping of missile stocks, and additional transparency measures.[36] As a further step, states in the region could make annual declarations of their missile holdings, exports, and imports. States are already requested to make such declarations as part of the UN Register of Conventional Arms, but participation by Middle Eastern states in this voluntary effort is very limited.

Lastly, the utility of Iranian ballistic missiles can be diminished through regional security arrangements that rely on an outside power to guarantee the security of neighboring states. Most of the southeastern European states that Iran could threaten are already members of NATO, and their security is guaranteed by the members of the alliance. The United States, perhaps in conjunction with partners such as France and the United Kingdom, could further extend security guarantees to other Middle Eastern states, imposing a deterrence calculation on Iran. The United States would not necessarily need to refer to its nuclear capability to back up such guarantees, given its substantial advantages in the conventional military sphere.[37]

The United States already appears to be moving in this direction. Speaking at a July 2009 town hall meeting in Bangkok, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said, “We want Iran to calculate…that if the U.S. extends a defense umbrella over the region, if we do even more to support the military capacity of those in the gulf, it’s unlikely that Iran will be any stronger or safer [even if it should develop a nuclear weapon].”[38]

Clinton was referring specifically to Iran’s nuclear capability, but the same rationale applies to ballistic missiles capable of carrying not only nuclear weapons, but also other weapons of mass destruction. Furthermore, the 2010 U.S. Quadrennial Defense Review stated, “Enduring U.S. security cooperation with Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and the Gulf States continues to strengthen partner capabilities to counter extremism and other regional threats, including the proliferation of ballistic missiles.”[39]

These security assurances can range from private agreements between national leaders to public political guarantees to formal alliances.

Global norms. In the long run, a global convention or, at least, a global norm prohibiting the development and production of intermediate-range ballistic missiles would be a valuable tool for controlling the ballistic missile arsenals of Iran and other states that may follow in Iran’s footsteps. A global ban or norm would delegitimize the weapons, as well as remove some of the justification for procuring them.

Such an agreement is not infeasible. In 1987 the Soviet Union and the United States agreed to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, requiring the elimination of ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers within three years. The treaty also laid out extensive dismantlement and verification protocols.

The European Union has endorsed a French proposal calling for “the start of consultations on a treaty banning short- and intermediate-range ground-to-ground missiles.”[40] A serious diplomatic effort to universalize the INF Treaty could put pressure on Iran from middle powers. Russia has proposed this step, and the United States several years ago endorsed this effort.

Such a treaty is likely to face many obstacles from states, such as India and Pakistan, that rely on missiles within the INF threshold, but regional limitations on testing or operations of missiles could be explored at the 2012 conference on the Middle East. States could consider limiting the range of ballistic missiles to less than 1,000 kilometers, the distance between the Iranian border and Tel Aviv, or the somewhat longer distance between Tehran and Tel Aviv. Ground-to-ground missiles, which can be destabilizing in a crisis, should be the focus of this limitation. Such missiles, when not protected by hardened silos, are vulnerable to an enemy’s first strike. This puts pressure on national commanders to use the missiles quickly rather than risk losing them in a first strike.

The Hague Code of Conduct contributes to a global norm against the spread of ballistic missiles, although in a very limited way. The code, signed in November 2002, is a political agreement incorporating “general principles, modest commitments, and limited confidence-building measures.” This lukewarm but accurate description comes from a Web site of the Austrian government, which agreed to serve as the “central contact,” or secretariat, of the framework.[41] Participants in the code, which is not legally binding, pledge to adhere to various principles recognizing the importance of curbing the spread of ballistic missiles. States pledge to “exercise maximum possible restraint” in the development and production of such missiles and to prevent their proliferation through multilateral, bilateral, and national means. In addition, they resolve to put into practice a few transparency measures, such as annual accounting of ballistic missile policies and prelaunch notifications of test flights and space launches. Lastly, the participating states hold regular meetings to exchange information and review the implementation of the code. One hundred and thirty states subscribe to the code, but in the Middle East, only Jordan and Turkey are represented.


The supplements or alternatives to missile defense described here can be implemented sequentially or in tandem. Some are necessarily short-term approaches to the problem of missile proliferation, while others will take serious, long-term diplomatic effort to achieve. In the short term, a combination of export controls, international sanctions, and legal interdictions offers the best prospect of limiting Iranian development and production of new missiles, owing to Tehran’s continuing dependence on imports. The threat of Iran’s existing missiles can be countered through security arrangements with nearby states.

To reduce the demand for these weapons, states could voluntarily renounce medium- and longer-range missiles through the implementation of a Middle Eastern zone free of weapons of mass destruction, an expansion of the INF Treaty, or the creation of a similar agreement for the Middle East. The Hague Code of Conduct offers confidence-building and transparency measures that could be the first step in this long-term effort.

Missile defense should not be seen as the only or even the most important means to contain and minimize Iran’s missile program. Economic penalties, forward-thinking diplomacy, and cooperative international efforts to prevent the export of missile components are crucial elements of that effort.

Miles A. Pomper is a senior research associate at the JamesMartinCenter for Nonproliferation Studies. Cole J. Harvey is a research associate at the center.


1. International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), “Iran’s Ballistic Missile Capabilities: A Net Assessment,” 2010, p. 118.

2. Office of the Director of National Intelligence, “Unclassified Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions,” 2009, p. 4, www.dni.gov/reports/2009_721_Report.pdf (hereinafter DNI WMD report).

3. IISS, “Iran’s Ballistic Missile Capabilities,” p. 93.

4. Ibid., p. 95.

5. Ibid., p. 98.

6. Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), “Missile Technology Control Regime (M.T.C.R.) Equipment, Software, and Technology Annex,” November 10, 2009, www.mtcr.info/english/MTCR-TEM-2009-Annex-002.pdf.

7. Richard Speier, “Missile Nonproliferation and Missile Defense: Fitting Them Together,” Arms Control Today, November 2007.

8. MTCR, “Guidelines for Sensitive Missile-Relevant Transfers,” n.d., www.mtcr.info/english/guidetext.htm.

9. Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), “China’s Missile Exports and Assistance to Iran,” September 25, 2003, www.nti.org/db/china/miranpos.htm.

10. Bill Gertz, “China Sold Iran Missile Technology,” The Washington Times, November 21, 1996.

11. Shirley A. Kan, “China and Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and Missiles: Policy Issues,” CRS Report for Congress, RL31555, December 23, 2009, pp. 17-18, http://assets.opencrs.com/rpts/RL31555_20091223.pdf.

12. U.S. Department of State, “Adherence to, and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments,” July 2010, p. 89, www.state.gov/documents/organization/145181.pdf.

13. NTI, “China’s Export Controls,” n.d., www.nti.org/db/china/excon.htm.

14. DNI WMD report, pp. 8, 90.

15. Kenneth Katzman, “Iran: Arms and Weapons of Mass Destruction Suppliers,” CRS Report for Congress, RL30551, January 3, 2003, p. 9.

16. Ibid., pp. 9-11.

17. DNI WMD report, p. 4.

18. IISS, “Iran’s Ballistic Missile Capabilities,” pp. 14-21.

19. Katzman, “Iran,” p. 21.

20. UN Security Council, Resolution 1737, S/RES/1737, December 23, 2006.

21. “Iran Test-Fires New Surface-to-Surface Missile,” Fars News Agency, August 20, 2010, http://english.farsnews.com/newstext.php?nn=8905290734.

22. UN Security Council, Resolution 1929, S/RES/1929, June 9, 2010.

23. U.S. Department of State, “Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000,” February 7, 2008, www.state.gov/t/isn/c15234.htm; Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, U.S. Department of State, “Iran and Syria Nonproliferation Act,” February 13, 2009, www.state.gov/t/isn/c20760.htm; U.S. Department of State, “Missile Sanctions Laws,” December 4, 2009, www.state.gov/t/isn/c15232.htm.

24. Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act of 2010, HR 2194, 111 Cong., 2d sess., pp. 18-19, http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=111_cong_bills&docid=f:h2194enr.txt.pdf.

25. Ibid., pp. 29-30.

26. Ibid., p. 39.

27. U.S. Department of the Treasury, “Treasury Lifts Sanctions on Chinese Firm,” HP-1042, June 19, 2008, www.treasury.gov/press/releases/hp1042.htm.

28. U.S. Department of the Treasury, “Treasury Designates U.S. and Chinese Companies Supporting Iranian Missile Proliferation,” JS-4317, June 13, 2006, www.treas.gov/press/releases/js4317.htm.

29. Yann-Huei Song, “The U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative and UNCLOS: Legality, Implementation, and an Assessment,” Ocean Development and International Law, Vol. 38 (2007), p. 116.

30. UN Security Council, Resolution 1929.

31. Song, “U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative and UNCLOS,” p. 121.

32. U.S. Department of State, “Ship Boarding Agreements,” n.d., www.state.gov/t/isn/c27733.htm.

33. Mary Beth Nikitin, “Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI),” Congressional Research Service, January 16, 2008, p. 5.

34. Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, “Resolution on the Middle East,” NPT/CONF.1995/32 (Part I), Annex, May 12, 1995.

35. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “World Missile Chart,” n.d., www.carnegieendowment.org/npp/resources/ballisticmissilechart.htm; NTI, “Country Profiles,” n.d., www.nti.org/e_research/profiles/index.html.

36. Waheguru Pal Singh Sidhu, “Lessons From Regional Approaches to Managing Missiles,” Disarmament Forum, No. 1 (2007), p. 25, www.unidir.org/pdf/articles/pdf-art2597.pdf.

37. U.S. nuclear weapons would still be part of the calculation. The report on the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review permits the use of nuclear weapons against nuclear-armed states, as well as states that are “not in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations.” U.S. Department of Defense, “Nuclear Posture Review Report,” April 2010, p. viii, www.defense.gov/npr/docs/20nuclear%20posture%20review%20report.pdf.

38. Mark Landler and David E. Sanger, “Clinton Speaks of Shielding Mideast From Iran,” The New York Times, July 22, 2009, www.nytimes.com/2009/07/23/world/asia/23diplo.html.

39. U.S. Department of Defense, “Quadrennial Defense Review Report,” February 2010, p. 60, www.defense.gov/qdr/images/QDR_as_of_12Feb10_1000.pdf.

40. Preparatory Committee for the 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, “Working Paper on Forward-looking Proposals of the European Union on All Three Pillars of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons to Be Part of an Action Plan Adopted by the 2010 Review Conference,” NPT/CONF.2010/PC.III/WP.26, May 6, 2009, p. 2, www.reachingcriticalwill.org/legal/npt/prepcom09/papers/WP26.pdf.

41. Austrian Foreign Ministry, “Hague Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (HCOC),” n.d., www.bmeia.gv.at/index.php?id=64664&L=1.