The Initial Shock
When SDI was first announced in March 1983, allied reaction was almost uniformly negative. Support came from "High Frontier Europe,"
newly founded by such leading conservatives as Kai-Uwe von Hassel, former defense minister of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG); Pierre Gallois, the French air force general who was instrumental in developing the rationale for France's nuclear forces; Robert Close, a retired Belgian general; and Air Vice-Marshal Stewart Menaul of Great Britain. In London, the Institute for European Defence and Strategic Studies, a newly created organization affiliated with the Heritage Foundation, opened its offices with the aim of promoting European cooperation with SDI. Otherwise, the major political leaders and military and scientific specialists were critical. President Reagan's closest political allies in Europe, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Chancellor Helmut Kohl, were embarrassed that they were not consulted prior to the announcement of such a far-reaching departure from settled NATO policy. The United States' sudden rejection of continued reliance on nuclear deterrence struck Michael Howard, a highly regarded British writer on strategic issues, as altogether startling: "It's as if the pope announced that he no longer believed in original sin."
In general, West Europeans were troubled by the strategic and economic implications they saw in SDI. Although the president might claim that its objective was to protect the allies as well as the North American continent, West Europeans reasoned that even a successful space shield could not protect them against the kind of attack with which they would continue to be threatened—from tactical nuclear missiles, aircraft, and conventional ground forces. A U.S. space shield would have about thirty minutes in which to intercept an attack, but a Western European defense would have barely a few minutes to respond to launchings of Soviet short-range and intermediate-range missiles deployed in Eastern Europe. If the U.S. homeland were protected against Soviet ICBMs, then the United States' security would become even more "decoupled" from the defense of Europe than it had already become since the Soviets achieved strategic parity with the West. If the Soviets should respond to SDI by developing a more capable defense system of their own, the relatively small, independent nuclear deterrent forces of Great Britain and France, developed and maintained at considerable political and economic cost, might lose their credibility. As Trevor Taylor has pointed out, the governments of Great Britain and France "see nuclear weapons as the central element in their countries' defenses and allocate funds accordingly." Great Britain is currently procuring the Trident D-5 missile from the United States and building its own submarines and warheads for the system at a projected cost of almost $10 billion (in 1985–86 prices), an amount that will account for roughly 10 percent of
the budget for new military equipment for several years. France spends even more on its nuclear force de frappe , which currently accounts for 30 percent of planned spending on new military equipment. Although not a member of NATO, France coordinates its strategy and conventional deployments with NATO while maintaining an independent ground-based, long-range nuclear missile force on the Plateau d'Albion, as well as eighteen Mirage IV aircraft equipped with standoff nuclear missiles, and six submarines armed with nuclear missiles, with a seventh on the way.
A report prepared for the Assembly of the West European Union (WEU) expressed the concern of these and other West European governments: "If the idea spreads that the future depends on defensive weapons and that in the long run offensive weapons are destined to be relegated to the arsenal of obsolescent weapons, it is likely to become increasingly difficult to make an already hesitant public opinion accept the financial and other efforts necessary for the maintenance and development of nuclear weapons."
The West European left was hardly ready to accept the Reagan administration's assurance that SDI would lead to nuclear disarmament. Moderate Socialists who accept the need for offensive deterrence saw it as a blow to the ABM Treaty and therefore to prospects for détente with the Soviet Union, as well as an effort to restore U.S. superiority over the U.S.S.R. in line with a dangerous commitment to a war-fighting policy. The views of more radical advocates of nuclear disarmament were reflected in the reaction of the historian E. P. Thompson, who heaped scorn on the Atlanticists in the European defense establishment for refusing to admit that SDI had revealed the glaring weaknesses of reliance on the U.S. nuclear umbrella:
Star Wars made monkeys of the loyal NATO governments and their attendant defence experts. As Colonel Alford, of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told The New York Times: "Europeans actually tend to like nuclear weapons." By this we must suppose that the good colonel did not refer to those Europeans who demonstrate against missiles or who answer opinion polls, but to another species of loyal Europeans—Homo europus philatlanticus —who staff the military services, defence ministries and the institutes for strategic research. This species really does like the Bomb. They have persuaded themselves that "the deterrent" truly is the only thing that prevents a major European war.
The belief in "deterrence" is not dishonorable. … But the True Believers, who were the chorus who welcomed in cruise [missiles], were utterly confounded by Star Wars. They suspected that SDI signaled a strategic retreat which could de-couple Europe from Fortress America. If America alone had
an SDI shield, and could launch its missiles with impunity, they feared this might encourage American adventurism or could lead to a "limited" nuclear war being fought in Europe. Or if the Soviet Union built a shield also, then Europe would be left as a no-man's-land between the superpowers, with the laser-zapped nukes of both sides falling on its head.
Thompson took pains, however, to distinguish his opposition to SDI from that of the Atlanticists: "The real message of Star Wars to west Europe is to get out from under America's hegemony—and umbrella—as soon as we can."
Industrialists and economic policymakers saw SDI as another "American challenge" to Western Europe—a thinly disguised effort to subsidize U.S. high-technology industry that was bound to leave its competitors at a disadvantage. They feared SDI would enable U.S. high-technology companies to extend their dominance in major areas of civil as well as military technology, including computers, aerospace, lasers, and new materials.
Even after Thatcher had become reconciled to SDI, her foreign secretary, Sir Geoffrey Howe, was particularly forthright in criticizing the program. Although he sought to present a balanced response to the initiative by highlighting certain aspects of the projects he found attractive, Howe put far more emphasis on potentially negative consequences. On the positive side, he pointed out that the announcement had been useful in calling attention to the Soviet Union's "very considerable" investments in a range of defensive activities, in view of which it was sheer hypocrisy for the Soviets to call for the "demilitarization of space." Howe also suggested that in light of Soviet ASAT testing, a matching U.S. effort in space was "logical and prudent." But he said strategic defenses were another matter because the very effort to develop them would encourage the false view that the defense of the West need no longer rely on the traditional form of deterrence, even though the necessary technologies might not prove feasible or cost-effective against offensive countermeasures. "There could be no advantage," Howe said pointedly, "in creating a new Maginot Line of the twenty-first century, liable to be outflanked by relatively simpler and demonstrably cheaper counter-measures."
Like critics in the United States, Howe noted that SDI raised new, disquieting problems for defense policy. Would the technology permit adequate political control, or would it lead to "a situation in which the peace of the world rested solely upon computers and automatic decisionmaking"? How would the costs be borne—costs that might run into
"many hundreds of billions of dollars"? This was an issue, he noted, not only of whether the West could afford the costs of designing defenses but also of whether the "enormous funds might be better employed" in maintaining a "credible, sustainable and controllable mix of conventional and nuclear forces." In view of the dependence of both sides on satellites to gather intelligence, especially heavy in the case of the West, did it make sense to put those assets in jeopardy so that in a time of crisis either side might be "faced with the loss of its strategic eyes and ears"? Because such a development would be "gravely destabilizing," the British government's view was that negotiations for mutual constraint on ASATs would be preferable. Howe's fundamental concern was that the United States might be tempted to rely too much on technology and too little on negotiations. He feared that "research may acquire an unstoppable momentum of its own, even though the case for stopping may strengthen with the passage of years. … We must take care that political decisions are not pre-empted by the march of technology, still less by premature efforts to predict the line of march." The West must convince the Soviet Union that it is serious in wanting arms control, and the alliance must be sure that "the U.S. nuclear guarantee to Europe would indeed be enhanced as a result of defensive deployments." Although any cost-effective enhancements of defense would be welcome, Howe cautioned that these might be offset by Soviet moves "if unrestrained competition in ballistic missile defenses beyond the ABM Treaty limits were to be provoked."
The reaction in France was somewhat different. President François Mitterrand accepted the idea that eventually warfare would become "spatial" and called upon Europe "to look beyond the nuclear era." But Mitterrand was as skeptical as the other European political leaders that the U.S. program would actually lead to a defense transition. A senior official in the French Foreign Ministry, requesting anonymity, told a reporter that the idea behind SDI "absolutely stood the classical concept of nuclear deterrence on its head" and therefore undermined the effort of West European political leaders to rally support for the view that "nuclear weapons were a necessary cost." For the president of the United States to say suddenly that it is possible to get rid of the weapons altogether, he said, "is a very dangerous and unsettling notion, given the fragile public opinion outside of France on the nuclear issue." On June 12, 1984, at the U.N. Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, France took a position independent of the United States, at least implicitly in opposition to SDI, by calling for an international conference
to work out a ban, for a renewable five-year period, on the testing and development of directed-energy ABM systems, also proposing steps to ban ASATs and to guarantee the inviolability of the reconnaissance satellites of other nations in addition to those of the superpowers, which were covered by the ABM Treaty.
Mitterrand initially responded to SDI by calling for European cooperation in a new high-technology research program. The proposal for a European Research and Coordinating Agency (EUREKA) was based on an analysis prepared by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that concluded that European participation in SDI-related R & D would not have significant short-term benefits in nonmilitary applications, whereas in the longer run the inevitable favoritism of SDI contracting for U.S. firms would put Western Europe at a competitive disadvantage. EUREKA would allow for the pooling of resources in order to strengthen West European capabilities both in defense and civil technology, but the main emphasis would be in civil applications. The goal of EUREKA is to promote activities in a variety of fields, including computers, telecommunications, industrial lasers, robotics, new materials, and biotechnology. By the end of 1986, nineteen countries had agreed to participate in the venture (including four neutrals, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, and Austria), which listed more than one hundred projects with total public and private funding of $4 billion. EUREKA is designed to complement similar programs such as the European Strategic Program of Research in Information Technology (ESPRIT)—established in 1983 among universities, research institutes, and industries—and Research in Advanced Communication in Europe (RACE), established in 1985.
SDI aroused no greater enthusiasm in the Federal Republic. Chancellor Kohl was skeptical but eager above all to preserve good relations with the United States. Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the leader of Kohl's coalition partner, the Free Democratic party, was openly critical of SDI, as was Finance Minister Gerhard Stoltenberg. Defense Minister Manfred Wörner was plainly less interested in SDI than he was in promoting initiatives aimed at providing defenses for Western Europe. Hans Rühle, director of the planning staff in the Ministry of Defense, expressed a view widely held among FRG defense planners and military officers when he pointed out that even if SDI were to succeed, Western Europe would remain vulnerable to a nuclear threat and to an intensified conventional threat:
Should, as may be assumed, both superpowers follow the road charter by Reagan, their territories would become invulnerable sanctuaries, while Europe,
even if it deployed a corresponding defense system, would be rid of few of its security policy concerns. Although in such a case protection from the Soviet Ballistic missiles … [would be] guaranteed, Soviet cruise missiles, short-range missiles low-flying bombers could not be prevented from penetrating into western Europe. What is worse, all conventional arms systems would regain in importance, recalling prenuclear times—not a particularly pleasant perspective in view of the existing conventional imbalance in favor of the Soviet Union.
Some conservative West German political and military leaders—notably Franz-Josef Strauss and Alfred Dregger, both prominent in the Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union ruling coalition, along with colleagues in other West European nations—were at first more inclined to favor the pursuit of a separate "European Defense Initiative" (EDI) that would complement SDI but would be under the direct sponsorship and control of the European governments, would be solely addressed to European vulnerability, and in some versions might enable Western Europe to become "a third superpower" with its own defense strategy. Several military leaders, including Pierre Gallois, FRG Army Gen. Gerd Schmuckle, and Dutch Gen. G. C. Berkhof all supported the idea, as did France's former defense minister Charles Hernu. Von Hassel, former FRG defense minister, presented a sweeping version, ambitious even beyond President Reagan's dream, of a joint U.S.-European enterprise to develop defenses not just against threats from space and air but also on the ground: "By providing the scientific and technological prerequisites for the feasibility of SDI and EDI, a technological window is created for the first time which might neutralize both nuclear missiles in space and conventional weapons on the ground, without endangering human lives." The aim, however, was not just to provide a European adjunct to the United States' SDI project but to develop a separate European perspective, if not a separate European military-political position, altogether. This undertone of separateness from NATO, coupled with the political sensitivity of the issue, led the FRG government to avoid endorsing calls for an EDI and instead to endorse NATO efforts to develop extended air defense.
Outside the ranks of the government, the leading spokesmen on foreign and defense policy in the Social Democratic opposition, including Helmut Schmidt, Willy Brandt, Hermann Scheer, Karsten D. Voigt, and Hans-Jochen Vogel, were sharply critical of SDI. The party officially urged that the ABM Treaty be tightened to eliminate all projects that might lead to space-based weapons, including ASATs, or to the development of anti-tactical ballistic missiles (ATBMs). The smaller and more
radical Greens were even more caustic, arguing that the project was further evidence of the twin folly of allowing the United States to determine Europe's destiny and of succumbing to a delusory belief in the saving qualities of advanced technologies.
European political leaders were equally upset by what the U.S. announcement portended for arms control. The START talks had been stalled for several years, and the United States' NATO allies were as inclined to blame the United States for the failure of these talks as they were the Soviet Union—with good reason, in view of the confusion in the U.S. position. The SDI seemed to signal the United States' readiness to abandon arms control altogether in favor of reliance on advances in military technology. The SDI was a direct challenge to the ABM Treaty, which was seen as the cornerstone of the arms-control process. The United States did not propose to negotiate a revision of the treaty, and the president's assurance that, once developed, the technology might be shared with the Soviets, was greeted with derision in view of the U.S. restrictions on technology transfers from NATO Europe to the Soviet Union under the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls (COCOM). SDI seemed to confirm suspicions of a U.S. move to the right, in the sense that it reflected a revival of extreme cold war hostility toward the Soviet Union. Unlike the Reagan administration, West European governments were not convinced that the Soviets had flagrantly violated treaties, were still bent on world domination, and left the West with no choice but to develop the means to thwart their ambitions. Western Europeans, both on the right and the democratic left, were far more interested in reviving détente than the cold war. Although the governments had been anxious for the United States to reaffirm its commitment to Europe by adhering to the controversial two-track decision and deploying the Pershing II and cruise missiles as a counter to the Soviet SS-20s, they had to deal with strong reactions among European publics as these deployments were made. In addition, they had based their decision to deploy partly on the argument that the security of Europe rested on a balance of forces—a balance disturbed by the Soviet deployment of SS-20s.
But SDI was not part of this accepted strategic posture. By proposing to make nuclear weapons "impotent and obsolete," the president also threatened to make the strategic concepts on which Europe had come to depend just as impotent and obsolete. Even if the president's vision was unlikely to be realized, as the European leaders clearly believed, the effort to pursue it could well be destabilizing in several respects.
One concern was for the accepted NATO policy of "flexible response,"
or selective options. The West Europeans had been reluctant to accept flexible response in place of the previous commitment to threaten massive attack by nuclear weapons in the event a conventional defense in Europe were breached. But they finally came to accept it as a policy that would be more credible to the Soviets, even though it was never clearly understood exactly how such a policy would be implemented, in view of the enormous havoc that would be caused both by collateral damage and by retaliatory strikes. The allies had accepted it as one element of a formula that also included a continuing U.S. commitment to station significant ground forces in Europe and a willingness to pursue dialogue and détente as well as military preparedness—as enshrined in the 1967 Harmel Report. To the extent that SDI led to defensive deployments on both sides (which, while not leakproof, could provide an indefinite degree of protection, especially to military targets), the possibility of flexible response would be removed. Any U.S. retaliatory attack would therefore have to be massive and very likely be concentrated against cities. Thus, the major NATO strategy, over which a hard-won and fragile consensus had been achieved, was being put in serious doubt.
The French and British governments, as noted earlier, were particularly concerned about the possible effects of SDI on their independent deterrents. French defense policy, then Minister of Defense Paul Quilès emphasized, "is based on the nuclear deterrent." France had built its deterrent forces in a deliberate effort to achieve and preserve great-power status and independence. Although the British had not done so in order to avoid reliance on the United States and were active NATO allies of the United States, they too had undertaken at considerable expense to develop and maintain a retaliatory force (relying mainly on Polaris submarines) that would deter a Soviet attack by itself. In order to preserve its independence and its security in the event the United States did not honor its commitments, Britain's established policy was that its own forces should be "able to hold at risk critical elements of Soviet state power," a deliberately ambiguous phrase that may "embrace a range of targets lying between hitting a large city and hitting a silo." Similarly, the French, although they recognized they could not hope to match the firepower of the Soviet Union, could at least protect Paris by threatening Moscow and could even hold at risk the "vital works" of the Soviet Union. Both countries had begun to modernize their forces to make them capable of penetrating any defenses the Soviets might erect in the foreseeable future. The British had made a commitment to
acquire Trident D-5 missiles and submarines, a commitment that was sharply challenged by the Labour opposition. Even a partial Soviet defensive deployment of a significant new type, such as was suggested by the U.S. proposal of a layered defense, could have the effect of degrading and even nullifying the independent deterrents of Great Britain and France. SDI in effect put both Britain's Trident program and France's force de frappe in jeopardy.
Compounding these apprehensions was the concern for the economic harm that SDI might do to Europe. European leaders were already concerned about a growing "technology gap" between Europe and the United States and Japan. If the United States infused $26 billion into the high-technology sector of the U.S. economy over five years, Europe might find itself even further behind. Also the notion that the United States would allow the Europeans to participate as full partners was greeted with skepticism. Europeans knew from experience that U.S. firms would keep the lion's share of such contracts for themselves and treat the European firms as subcontractors. In the key technologies—computers, lasers, satellites—U.S. firms had significant advantages over their European counterparts, and security considerations would prevent the United States from sharing sensitive technology. Already, embarrassing technology transfers from the FRG had led to efforts to tighten the restrictions. Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle, in particular, was leading an effort within the Pentagon and in Congress to tighten the existing restrictions. In addition, the ABM Treaty imposed restrictions on the transfer of ABM technology (and a later understanding included plans and blueprints in these restrictions), which would affect SDI cooperation.
In view of this skepticism, the French, who were officially opposed in principle to cooperating, attempted to develop support for EUREKA while quietly allowing their companies to compete for SDI contracts. French defense firms were uneasy about being excluded from the SDI, especially as it seemed more and more likely that other major European contractors would take part. As a result, while the French government did not abandon its official opposition, French firms, notably Thomson-CSF, Matra, and Aerospatiale, were permitted to take part in the program, and EUREKA began to take shape as a program in civil technology with military applications, that is, the reverse of SDI. A government study, the Delpech Report, concluded that by upgrading its offenses France could be assured for the indefinite future that its nuclear weapons carriers could penetrate any foreseeable Soviet defenses. Eventually,
more effective defenses might be achieved, the report observed, but they were of no immediate concern: "Over a much longer period of time, the hypothetical realization of a sufficiently effective and not very vulnerable system could have strategic consequences for France, but this eventuality is remote and uncertain and a satisfactory modification of our strategic forces is not at all excluded."
As Pierre Lellouche has explained, the French government found that by rejecting SDI, it had backed itself into a corner. The United States was not going to drop the program simply because the allies did not like it, and meanwhile, in the revived INF talks, the Soviets were demanding that France's strategic forces be constrained as part of a deal to reduce or eliminate U.S. and Soviet intermediate weapons. The French could not expect U.S. support for the exclusion of France's independent deterrent in the INF negotiation if France appeared to be siding with the U.S.S.R. on the SDI issue. "Given these realities," Lellouche observes, "France gradually moved to a more pragmatic attitude based on a clear-cut distinction between the strategic and technological sides of the SDI issue."
On strategic grounds, France remained opposed to SDI, arguing that it would destabilize European security and the superpower balance in nuclear weapons, in addition to undermining "what was left of Western consensus on deterrence after the Euromissile battle." On technological grounds, however, the French wanted to cooperate with the United States in order to make sure that their nuclear force retained its credibility in a rapidly changing technological environment. As a result, in the fall of 1985, Prime Minister Laurent Fabius and Defense Minister Quilès announced that France's opposition to SDI would not preclude French firms from entering into joint ventures with U.S. firms or from accepting contracts from the U.S. Defense Department. Thus, as Lellouche has noted, "France found itself in the somewhat bizarre position (its critics would call it hypocritical) of opposing SDI in principle while letting its firms—including the nationalized ones—run to Washington to secure contracts." The vacillation was considerably reduced when Jacques Chirac became prime minister in 1986 and announced in his inaugural address that France would cooperate in European efforts to achieve tactical defenses in association with the U.S. program:
Technological progress is leading to the emergence of defensive systems utilizing space. Their birth will not upset for many years to come, and may never upset, the fundamental basis of nuclear deterrence. Our American allies are actively working on this project, and important changes may thereby occur in the world balance, in the dialogue between the great powers,
as in the defense of Europe. We must watch this evolution carefully, as well as the technological gaps that may result therefrom, proceed to the necessary adaptations and avoid missing the opportunities to strengthen European solidarity in this field as well.
In Britain, Thatcher virtually ordered her cabinet colleagues to muffle their criticisms. She herself won considerable respect in Europe and at the same time mollified her colleagues by flying to Washington in December 1984 to secure President Reagan's agreement at Camp David to four points involving SDI: (1) it was to be a research program, and no decision to deploy defenses would be undertaken without an effort to negotiate the issue with the Soviets; (2) it was to be undertaken in conformity with the ABM Treaty in an effort to maintain strategic parity, not to achieve superiority; (3) efforts were to continue to negotiate arms reductions with the Soviets; and (4) SDI was to be undertaken to enhance deterrence, not to replace it. This agreement has sometimes been interpreted as a revision of the original plans for the SDI, especially insofar as it is formally described as an effort to enhance deterrence. In this way, Thatcher's supporters could claim that she forced a change in the program, away from the commitment to a leakproof area defense and toward a defense of retaliatory capacities.
From the perspective of the Reagan administration, this agreement was a small price to pay for claiming European apprehensions, inasmuch as the program called for a long-term defense transition that might well result initially in enhancing deterrence by adding defense to offense. Both sides could interpret the agreement as they chose. In any event, given that deployment decisions could be deferred, any differences in interpretation would remain below the surface. A report of the House of Commons Defence Committee in 1985 sought to remove any apprehensions caused by SDI for the Trident program by emphasizing the improbable prospects for defenses: "After our discussions with representatives of the U.S. administration in March and April this year we were left in no doubt that the new era of strategic defenses that has been advocated is unlikely to arrive while Trident is in service—which suggests that the current excitement is being generated about a project unlikely to reach fruition before 2020." Having thus determined at least to its own satisfaction that SDI was merely a long-range research program that would not interfere with its own strategic commitments, the British cabinet agreed to sign the memorandum of understanding with the United States on December 6, 1985, by which the two countries undertook to cooperate in the research.
In the Federal Republic, where, as one specialist put it, "attitudes toward
SDI range from actual opposition to reluctant acceptance," Kohl succeeded in persuading his cabinet that there was more to be gained by negotiating terms of cooperation than by refusing to follow the British example. He argued that the FRG would have more influence over the course of events by proving itself a loyal ally and cooperating with the Reagan administration's program, especially inasmuch as SDI was unlikely to produce any dramatically transforming technologies in the short run. By refusing, the government would play into the hands of both domestic critics of the alliance and the Soviets, who would take advantage of the split to brand the United States as an aggressive power and thereby undermine public support for NATO. On April 18, 1985, Kohl endorsed SDI "in principle." As U.S. officials emphasized that SDI was a research program whose benefits might redound to the civilian economy, FRG adherence to the U.S. program was made easier for the government to endorse. Even so, Kohl's cabinet feared that cooperation would be a one-way street and therefore developed a series of demands that would have to be satisfied in any negotiation. Pointedly, the Kohl government sent its economics minister, Martin Bangemann, to Washington to negotiate the terms of a joint agreement of principles committing West Germany to participate in SDI research. The United States made few concessions, but the West Germans agreed anyhow on March 27, 1986, opening the way for such major West German firms as Siemens and Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm to participate in R&D contracts.
Other U.S. allies displayed varying degrees of receptivity toward the program. Only Israel was unabashedly enthusiastic, both out of an interest in benefiting from U.S. subsidies for military high-technology and out of a more specific need to counter the conventionally armed Soviet SS-21 missiles provided to the Syrians by their Soviet patrons—weapons the Israelis viewed as upsetting the balance of power in the region by threatening their airfields and marshaling points. In June 1988 Israel and the United States formally announced their cooperation in the Arrow project to develop an interceptor against tactical missiles. Israel would pay 20 percent of the cost, the United States 80 percent, out of SDI funds. In Italy, at the urging of Foreign Minister Giulio Andreotti, the government followed the lead of other European governments, waiting until April 1986 to agree to take part. Canada, Belgium, Portugal, and the Netherlands allowed their industries to take part. The Japanese government watched the moves in Europe toward cooperation and decided to join in. The Danes, Norwegians, and Australians, who had little to gain or to offer, chose not to participate.
From 1983 through the middle of 1986, the SDI issue loomed larger and larger in European debates. To some extent it became a left-right issue. In the Federal Republic the Social Democrats denounced it as inevitably destabilizing and a final blow to the prospects for détente with the Soviets. In Great Britain, although SDI did not revive the fortunes of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (perhaps because, unlike cruise missiles, there were no deployments against which to rally opposition), it nevertheless reinforced the view of many on the left that the United States under Reagan was embarked on a highly dangerous course that could provoke a new phase of the arms race, both defensive and offensive, and that Europe needed to develop a position of its own, independently of the United States. Especially once the furor over INF deployments had died down, SDI served as a convenient stalking horse for a renewed assault on U.S. cold war policies and on conservative governments for their supposed willingness to remain dependent on the United States.
SDI was also grist for the mills of FRG leftists who were advocating a European "alternative defense," or "defensive defense," strategy to replace NATO and reliance on nuclear weapons. As Jonathan Dean has pointed out, however, most of these proposals will probably not be adopted largely because they eliminate a front-line role for the United States and other European allies, thus weakening the deterrent effect and raising political difficulties. SDI served to revive the traditional themes of the left-right dispute in foreign policy, with those on the left arguing that Western Europe should pursue accommodation with the U.S.S.R. rather than confrontation and adopt a new Europeanism instead of remaining stuck in the middle of the superpower conflict. Alongside these themes there was also a more widely shared fear that European economic difficulties would be exacerbated by a new U.S. challenge. The disputes within the ruling conservative coalitions were of a narrower character, based on skepticism about the validity of the Reagan administration's technological hopes, as well as on fears of the consequences for NATO unity and the economic burdens that would be imposed in an effort to develop defenses while seeking to maintain nuclear deterrents and to modernize conventional forces. The European governments were much more inclined to want to see arms-reduction agreements that would relieve some of the burden of armament and promote a lessening of tensions, allowing increased trade between East and West and encouraging tendencies toward reform in the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc.
Public opinion in Europe, while tending to mirror the uneasiness of
the political elites, nevertheless did not react with marked hostility to the U.S. initiative. At least one poll, taken in Britain, showed that most respondents thought SDI was aimed to protect the United States rather than the alliance as a whole. Like ordinary Americans, many West Europeans assumed that one way or another space would continue to be militarized, but they worried, more than Americans, that such a defense might increase the prospects of a conventional war fought in Europe with weapons even more destructive than those used in World War II. Europeans were not comforted by assurances that the "astrodome" would protect them as well as the United States, but they could take some comfort from the fact that the program was being promoted as nonnuclear, and at least some were aware that the Soviets had themselves made elaborate efforts to erect defenses against strategic nuclear attack. In the end, attitudes toward SDI were colored by more general attitudes toward the United States and the Soviet Union. There is some evidence to suggest, however, that SDI helped weaken confidence in the U.S. commitment to Europe and promote a desire to pursue an independent course, a trend that may well have been encouraged by the abruptness with which SDI was announced and the skepticism expressed by European leaders. In the same British poll, most respondents thought the United States would go ahead with SDI even over European opposition, and a substantial number thought SDI had been created in order to induce the Soviets to negotiate about other matters.
On the whole, then, the initial reaction to the SDI in the allied nations was unfavorable and might have led to serious ruptures had the administration not mounted a major effort to soothe European feelings and relieve fears that SDI portended either an immediate lessening in the U.S. commitment to its allies or an unwillingness to negotiate arms reductions with the Soviets. As Wolfram F. Hanrieder perceptively noted: "Political costs have to be paid in advance, as it were, before the anticipated strategic benefits are realized in a distant future."