The uncontrolled proliferation of missile technology creates global risks

Tensions have risen elsewhere in the Middle East, particularly in Yemen, as the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza escalated following the October 7 attack. Since November, Houthi rebels (an Iranian-backed armed group operating from western Yemen) have launched an extensive campaign using advanced missile technology to attack targets in the Red Sea and elsewhere.

The organization said the attacks were carried out in solidarity with Palestinians in the Israeli bombing of Gaza. The fact that a non-state armed group has such a strike capability marks a new era in the proliferation of this advanced missile technology.

The Houthi rebels were the first fighters to deploy anti-ship missiles in the conflict. Although the initial missile strikes did not hit any ships (perhaps intentionally), US Central Command (CENTCOM) later claimed that the Liberian-flagged container ship MV Platinum 3 had been hit by one of these missiles.

In another episode that marks the Houthis' current missile capabilities, Israel shot down a ballistic missile in November using its new Arrow-3 interceptor for the first time. A ballistic missile launched from Yemen indicates a strong presumption that it was launched by Houthi rebels.

In December, a Houthi spokesman claimed responsibility for an attack on a Norwegian-owned ship after French and US warships shelled several structures off the coast of Yemen. Finally, this week, a coalition led by the United States and the United Kingdom launched strikes against Houthi bases in Yemen to halt their missile attacks. The retaliatory strikes came a day after the Houthi rebels launched a major attack on ships in the Red Sea, in which US and British warships intercepted 21 drones and missiles launched from Yemen.

The use of long-range ballistic and cruise missiles in the Middle East has increased in recent weeks, a trend years in the making. Non-state armed groups in many conflict zones have acquired new missile systems with long-range capabilities, leading to a shift in strategic thinking. These new proliferation pathways to achieving advanced missile capabilities raise challenges for how states should respond to non-state armed groups.

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Strategic implications.

Since at least 2018, experts appointed by the United Nations to monitor the conflict in Yemen have documented the use of various missiles by Houthi forces. They identified the use of old stockpiles of Chinese-supplied C-802 anti-ship missiles to attack ships in the Red Sea and other unconfirmed cruise missiles to attack oil storage facilities in Saudi Arabia.

The UN panel on Yemen also identified a modified ballistic missile, the Borgon-2H, which it said was built with a package of components from Iranian manufacturers. These components may have been smuggled into Yemen in pieces and then assembled locally.

The range and accuracy of these systems are remarkable. If properly aimed, C-802 anti-ship missiles can hit targets up to 120 kilometers away. The same report states that the Borkan-2H, which incorporates modified components to reduce its weight and increase its range, has been used to attack targets above 800 kilometers and up to 1,000 kilometers.

Disruptive technologies

In Libya, forces aligned with General Haftar in the east of the country have taken possession of an arsenal of old Gaddafi-era SCUD missiles and conducted demonstration missiles, indicating that they were able to reactivate some of them. While the missiles' battlefield use may be minor compared to the drones seen in recent conflicts between Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia with Ukraine, the long-range, high-payload missile systems pose a threat to airports, civilian infrastructure and large troop formations. In territory controlled by the Libyan government.

Although all conventionally armed, the accuracy and range of these systems are highly relevant to strategic considerations due to their ability to threaten national infrastructure such as oil refineries or nuclear reactors, maritime trade routes and close airspace.

Let's not forget that a Russian-made BUK missile was used to shoot down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014, with all 298 people on board.

In both Libya and Yemen, non-state armed groups can acquire these unstable weapons systems in a number of ways: missiles can be retrofitted from captured stockpiles, transferred from sponsoring states, or assembled in artisanal factories with parts purchased abroad. Today, these pathways pose significant non-proliferation challenges to states as increasing numbers of people learn the skills and tactics necessary to develop, manufacture, and use these weapons.

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Another disruptive aspect of the proliferation of these long-range missile systems to non-state actors relates to the status of these actors on the political scene. Possessing such capabilities may give non-state actors more leverage internationally, be less willing or able to negotiate than state actors, or be strongly pressured to use their new capabilities in an “all-in” strategy. or nothing”

States sponsoring such proxy forces may be less able to control the future transfer of missile technology or may be indifferent to the fate of that new tacit knowledge. Either way, negotiating with these non-governmental groups is a complicated prospect.

Export restrictions

Current international measures such as the Missile Technology Control System restricting the transfer or sale of weapons with ranges greater than 300 kilometers and payloads greater than 500 kilograms range from effective equipment for their production. Attempts to curtail the expansion of already advanced missile capabilities. (The Missile Technology Control Regime was established by the Group of Seven (G7) in 1987 with the aim of limiting the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. It is currently signed by 35 member states.)

However, as the global economy has developed, new supply chains have opened up for potential missile manufacturers.

Facilities will increase

Many of the missile components selected by UN expert groups or groups conducting research on the ground (such as Conflict Weapons Research or the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies) indicate that current missile threats are no longer necessary. Addressed.

A range of components required for guidance systems, flight control systems or engine components are obtained through complex supply channels and paid for by financial institutions that play their part in facilitating the development of unauthorized missile threats.

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As non-governmental organizations acquire sophisticated missile capabilities, barriers to entry into the missile force are falling dramatically. As states accept the strategic implications of these new weapons programs, financial institutions that facilitate the flow of funds to acquire components found in such systems must be aware of the increased level of analysis and deterrence.

Financial inquiries.

Under the Financial Action Task Force (another international body established by the Group of Seven to promote international financial standards to combat money laundering and terrorist financing), states are now required to conduct risk assessments on proliferation financing. But to make these assessments, national officials must better understand the intersection between nuclear proliferation threats and new missile threats. Indeed, classifications of illicit acquisition of missile technology share many of the characteristics of illicit trade associated with nuclear programs: circumventing export controls and seeking technology from willing suppliers or unwilling partners.

States can reduce the risks of further disruption to the proliferation of high-end missile systems by raising awareness among export control agencies and financial authorities about how they are used in missile technology. In particular, both component manufacturers and financial institutions would do well to begin exposing the risk of supply chains involved in missile proliferation. Because high demand brings great benefits.

As the market for components for missile capabilities is expected to grow in the coming years, the profit incentive for brokers and resellers will be high. Financial institutions should focus on this market by screening their clients for possible links to armed groups with these organizations. They may also review logistics companies involved in the unconventional delivery of missile-related technology to the micro-border regions of neighboring states.

Countering the proliferation of strategically disruptive missile systems requires greater international public-private cooperation. Countering the proliferation of such armed organizations or eliminating them through non-violent action will certainly be difficult, but it is a challenge that must be met.

(with information from agencies)

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