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Missile Contagion: Cruise Missile Proliferation and the Threat to International Security

Missile Contagion: Cruise Missile Proliferation and the Threat to International Security by Dennis M. Gormley. Praeger Security International, 2008, 272 pp.

A leading expert on cruise missile proliferation, Dennis Gormley has written a highly readable volume that presents clearly and concisely his concern that cruise missiles are on the edge of becoming a primary threat to international stability. Gormley has considerable experience in this area. In fact, Missile Contagion is his second exploration of the cruise missile—and it is more than just an update. Rather, it is a cry for the world to wake up and recognize the new menace.

Ballistic and cruise missiles date to World War II, the notorious V-1 and V-2 representing the earliest military iterations. At that time, the V-1, a primitive cruise missile, was slow, noisy, and easily destroyed. The V-2 ballistic missile, having longer range and greater speed, posed much more of a danger. Since World War II, the powers have focused on ballistic missile technology and have attempted to counter enemy ballistic technology. Finally, a semblance of defense seems to be developing. Problem solved.

In the 1980s, cruise missiles belonged only to Russia and the United States. In the first Iraq war, the United States handled Iraq’s primitive cruise missiles readily. Between the two wars against Iraq, however, the technology blossomed and simplified, and the United States found itself defenseless against that country’s cruise missiles in the second war.

Cruise missiles are small, fast, low-flying, retargetable, and nearly impossible for radar to detect, particularly when it is seeking high-flying ballistic missiles. The relatively simple technology costs considerably less than ballistics and defenses. Launched in large numbers, the missiles can overwhelm modern defenses, and they are easily outfitted to carry chemical or biological agents. They present a fearsome threat that the US government and others ignore, still treating them as low-risk export items.

While the United States busily negotiates treaties involving ballistic missiles and develops defenses against them, technology makes both the treaties and the defenses largely meaningless. The cruise missile offers a more immediate threat, and the technology is proliferating—in part due to American absentmindedness, in part because America allows business to sell technology and provide technical expertise to nations that otherwise would only slowly develop the technology without major assistance.

Gormley says it is time to wake up. He documents his case by detailing the performance of cruise missiles and defenses against them in the two Iraq wars, citing the characteristics by model and nation, and dealing with the geopolitical rivalries in Asia and the Middle East. He even talks of the Bush Doctrine of preemption as a green light to regional rivals as well as to countries such as North Korea who represent a potential threat to the United States. In less than a decade after the invasion of Iraq, already Pakistan, India, China, Japan, North Korea, Israel, and Iran are busily developing cruise missile capabilities.

Because of the ongoing concern about missile proliferation and because the situation changes rapidly, Gormley is developing a website to offer current information after the release of the paperback version of this work (see http://missilecontagion.com/Missile/Home.html). In the meantime, the hardcover edition of Missile Contagion will provide a sufficient primer on the danger that widespread ownership of cruise missiles presents.

Dr. John H. Barnhill

Houston, Texas

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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