Democratic Principles And The Cold War
In democratic theory, a nation's commitment to shift to a radically new and exceedingly costly defensive strategy ought to rest on a widespread
consensus that the change is desirable and feasible. In the United States, decisions are often made and sustained without such a consensus. Acquisition programs develop a momentum that makes them hard to stop, even when they are not justifiable in military terms. In very complex R & D programs, it is often difficult to know with a high degree of certainty whether what is envisioned in the program will be beneficial. Much depends on whether enough of those with influence believe in the desirability of a new weapons system strongly enough to press for its continuation and then, finally, for acquisition and deployment. Some of the will to believe comes from self-interest, some from conviction. The domestic politics of defense is to a large extent a struggle among forces motivated by a combination of self-interest and public interest—a struggle fought out in the budgetary process, in the press, in public-opinion polls, and during elections. The struggle is also influenced by changing perceptions of the international environment. If the Soviet Union is perceived to be mounting some new threat, and a particular program seems to be a plausible response, it is likely to gain adherents. If the Soviet Union does not appear to be mounting such a new threat, the quest for a technological fix becomes less appealing. The mistrust of the Soviets, and thus the competition for advantage, has been hard to overcome, so promoters of the continuing development of new military technologies have usually won out over resisters.
Whether or not the deployment of strategic defenses makes sense, therefore, there is some danger that the expenditure of considerable sums of money in developing them could lead to a point of no return, at which partial deployments would be made in the hope that they will eventually lead to a comprehensive system, even though there is no reason to believe that it will ever become a practical prospect. SDI has been restrained so far out of concern for its technical uncertainties and the high projected costs of development and deployment. Many also view it as unnecessary and unwise in view of the changes in Soviet foreign and military policy introduced under Gorbachev. The domestic struggle over the direction of SDI will be influenced, as it already has been, by the interplay of these international considerations with domestic politics.