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As states grow wealthier, they are assumed, in realist foreign policy theory, to want proliferation of their military "hard power" through the quantitative and qualitative acquisition of weapons. [1] Already well-armed states may seek counterproliferation. Nowhere is this struggle more obvious than where weapons of mass destruction (WMD) are involved.

It had long been an assumption that "quantity is its own quality", and sheer productivity could adequately proliferate conventional weapons. A German officer in the Second World War is said to have commented "we ran out of tanks before you ran out of shells." With precision-guided munitions as well as WMD, however, quantity alone may be insufficient. Before air-delivered weapons became as accurate as they are today, planners asked how many sorties (i.e., flights of single aircraft) it would take to destroy a target; today, planners ask how many targets can be destroyed by a sortie.

Given advanced technology can be a great equalizer, Samuel Huntington considers it another dimension of the "clash of civilizations:" "Weapons proliferation is where the Confucian-Islamic connection has been the most extensive and most concrete, with China playing the central role in the transfer of both conventional and nonconventional weapons to many Islamic states."[2]

Weapons of mass destruction

During the 2004 US Presidential election, both sides pointed to nuclear proliferation as the most important global threat. [3]. "The five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council - the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France - all possess nuclear weapons. India, Pakistan and Israel have them as well." North Korea is trying to get them, and it was a priority for Iraq.


Antipersonnel land mines are a cheap method of increasing power, although without much concern for long-term effects. While advanced countries possibly could build land mines that will automatically render themselves safe after a defined period, the world community will not trust that, especially when it is so simple to make unsophisticated mines. Mine proliferation is addressed by the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction.

Dual-use technologies

Dual-use technologies can be used to make swords or plowshares. Uranium enrichment programs, in and of themselves, can be used to develop nuclear weapons or nuclear power. A country that builds a space launch vehicle can build a ballistic missile. Bioengineering technologies can be useful in medicine or in creating biological weapons.


  1. Samuel P. Huntington (1996). The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Simon & Schuster. ,p. 186
  2. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations, p. 188
  3. Amy Katz (December 29, 2005), Part 1 - Nuclear, "The State Of Weapons Proliferation In 2004", Space Daily