Security Through Technology
An Illusory Faith
In the preceding chapters, we have tried to present a comprehensive review of the proposal for the development of strategic defenses, limiting commentary and interpretation to specific issues. Here we review the evidence and offer a general evaluation of SDI and reflections on the larger issue it raises: the proper role of science and technology in the quest for national and international security.
Both with respect to strategic defenses and other aspects of national security policy, the fundamental point we wish to emphasize is that research and development are best understood as means to a variety of ends, not as means that can or ought to determine ends. To expect advances in technology to provide security, in and by themselves, is to ask more than they can possibly provide. In touting SDI, President Reagan's science advisor (himself a reluctant convert) repeated an argument often used by promoters of new military systems: "We must start to play our trump—technological leverage." Amb. Gerard C. Smith offered a reply to this argument with which we fully agree: "In fact, we have played this card again and again in the strategic competition, with the H-bomb, with MIRVs, with the cruise missile, believing that our new weapons developments would make us secure. In every case, the Soviets matched our developments, and we ended up less secure." To adopt this illusory faith that technology alone can achieve national security is also to ignore the need to address the political sources of insecurity by diplomatic means. SDI is only the latest in a series of fundamentally misguided efforts by both superpowers to achieve security by unilateral reliance on
technological initiatives. Invariably, these efforts have only exacerbated tensions and encouraged offsetting efforts on both sides with no increase in security.
The Effects Of Politicization: Reviewing The Evidence
As we show in chapter 1, the proposal for a major effort to achieve a comprehensive strategic defense—one that would protect whole societies against nuclear attack and even make nuclear weapons "impotent and obsolete"—was not an inevitable result of scientific progress but, instead, a personal decision made by a president of the United States with the advice of a small group of nongovernmental counselors. The decision did not reflect the evolution of military technology or the judgment of what was possible or required by the "defense establishment"—the civilians responsible for advanced research, the chiefs of the military services, the leaders of the major weapons laboratories, and the research directors and other officers of the major defense contractors. It was arrived at largely by bypassing this establishment, in the belief that specialists in positions of authority would resist such a radical departure from conventional thinking.
In this respect, the decision smacked of the same mix of populism and conservatism that helped elect Ronald Reagan. Both as a candidate and in office, his stock in trade was the populistic complaint that government was "part of the problem, not the solution." The new administration pledged to "get government off the backs of the people" by curbing its intrusive role in the economy, eliminating two cabinet-level departments, reducing the size of the federal bureaucracy, and cutting taxes to curtail government spending. Although its attitude toward defense was far more positive, the disdain for bureaucracy and for the conventional wisdom of consensus-oriented foreign policy also affected its view of the defense establishment—and helped produce SDI. In keeping with its conservative leanings, this administration took office convinced that the Soviet Union would stop at nothing to fulfill the Marxist-Leninist dream of overthrowing Western capitalism and installing Soviet-style socialism throughout the world. Oblivious to the historic moves toward retrenchment and restructuring that the Soviet leadership was preparing, the new administration set out to do battle with the view that the United States should be content to contain Soviet expansionism rather than try to "roll back" and defeat communism.
This general impulse to develop U.S. military power and to use it to thwart the perceived threat of Soviet imperialism led the administration to paint Soviet progress in military technology as a grave menace and an already successful effort to achieve not just military parity with the United States but primacy. In response, the Reagan administration called for a "strategic modernization" of U.S. forces that would meet the supposed challenge. Thus, the B-1 bomber program, deferred under the Carter administration, was resurrected at considerable cost, even though many experts argued that the plane would soon become obsolete because of the development of the Stealth bomber. A vast expansion of naval power was planned, aimed at implementing a new "maritime strategy" requiring a 600-ship navy capable not just of deterring a Soviet attack but also of fighting a conventional and nuclear war. The increasingly costly Trident submarine program—already under way and designed as a key element of the strategic deterrent—was sustained at the planned pace, but a new emphasis was simultaneously placed on carrier battle groups and battleships to implement the maritime strategy. New manpower policies were adopted to help all three services to attract and train the needed personnel. Expensive high-technology projects were promoted, some of which, like the DIVAD anti-aircraft gun, turned out badly, partly because of their technological complexity but also because of an administrative failure to require that new projects be properly tested, as the General Accounting Office reported in 1988. The Reagan administration did not initiate the process by which the military services came to rely more and more on high-technology weaponry, but it encouraged the belief that the United States should compensate for Soviet quantitative advantages by using the qualitative multipliers that technological superiority could provide. Thus, a continued emphasis was also placed on precision-guided munitions, along with other "emerging technologies," as a response to Soviet emphasis on increased firepower and nuclear weapons.
With respect to strategic weapons and arms control, the administration took the view that the United States was lagging behind the Soviets and that previous arms-control agreements had only made it easier for them to press their strategic advance in heavy missiles—missiles whose throw-weight accommodated very large payloads and which, because they were launched from silos, were more accurate than SLBMs on which the United States relied most. Richard Perle, a strong critic of the SALT II agreement largely on the ground that it enabled the Soviets to retain this advantage, was accordingly appointed assistant secretary of
defense for international security affairs and was able to exert considerable influence in shaping arms-control policy. Another hard-liner, Edward L. Rowny, a retired army general who had resigned from the delegation when the SALT II agreement was negotiated, was appointed chief negotiator in the strategic arms control talks.
Meanwhile, the administration pressed for the deployment of the MX missile, a weapons system developed by the Carter administration as part of its effort to gain support for SALT II. The Reagan administration argued that the Soviets were capable of destroying more than 80 percent of the fixed, land-based Minuteman force in a first strike, and that the only way to close this "window of vulnerability" was to install MX in some shelter mode that would enable it to ride out a first strike. Although the administration was no more successful than its predecessor in winning support for a basing scheme for MX, it nevertheless persisted in campaigning for the construction of a large number of the new missiles, even though they were to be deployed in existing silos only marginally modified to resist blast pressures. The president's own Scowcroft Commission supported his policy of proceeding with the MX emplacement, but only as an intermediate step before the development and deployment of the smaller, single-warhead mobile Midgetman. The administration was never of one mind on the Midgetman proposal and even made the unexpected demand (before the meeting with Gorbachev at Reykjavík) that the Soviets agree to dismantle hard-to-target mobile missiles. This position ran directly contrary to the advice of the Scowcroft Commission, whose view was that mobile missiles promote stability because they lessen the chances of a successful first strike and could carry fewer warheads of lower explosive power than heavier fixed missiles.
To these efforts at promoting the adoption of new military systems while treading water on arms control, the administration added some venturesome new thoughts on military doctrine. U.S. forces, Secretary Weinberger suggested, should be configured so that the United States could "prevail" in an extended nuclear exchange in the event deterrence failed. Although he did not go so far as to claim that either side could win a nuclear war, he did suggest that the United States should regard nuclear weapons not merely as instruments with which to deter war, but as weapons to be used like other weapons if it became necessary to fight a war. The expectation was that the side best prepared for battle would have the best chance of surviving or of being able to recover afterward. Other high-ranking officials revived the belief in the desirability of civil
defense as a way of improving prospects for prevailing. One was imprudent enough to suggest that "with enough shovels," the population could save itself from nuclear attack by digging shelters against fallout.
These moves appeared to many observers—particularly foreigners inclined to take bellicose statements by a president of the United States as more than domestic propaganda—to signal a far-reaching new aggressiveness in U.S. foreign policy. The new administration, it seemed, was once again changing the course of U.S. strategic and foreign policy, this time away from any belief in combining détente and deterrence (as enshrined, especially for West Germans, in the 1967 Harmel Report) toward a much more adventurous policy aimed at restoring U.S. military superiority in the cold war that had been lost in the 1970s. This new superiority would certainly be used, critics suggested, to intimidate the U.S.S.R. and to extend U.S. hegemony.
Although the rhetorical flourishes did herald a commitment to increased defense spending, none of the Reagan administration initiatives had a fundamental effect on the strategic foundations of the superpower conflict. Modernization efforts begun earlier and carried forward in the Reagan years have significantly diminished the numerical size and the megatonnage of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. In this reduction, the biggest single factor has been the arming of bombers with standoff weapons rather than gravity bombs in order to assure penetration of Soviet air defenses—a point worth emphasizing because it suggests that U.S. efforts to achieve strategic defenses would be met by corresponding Soviet efforts to assure penetration. In addition, the adoption of the ABM Treaty and voluntary adherence to the SALT II limits on offensive weapons restrained both sides from expanding nuclear arsenals to the maximum made possible by the MIRVing of warheads. Otherwise, the Reagan administration's "strategic modernization" program resulted in increased appropriations, both for strategic and conventional forces, but did not change the strategic situation or remove any of its dangers.
For the future, however, SDI will remain problematic insofar as it arouses expectations of a fundamental change in the status quo. Its supporters will continue to paint it in the visionary colors Reagan used when he first introduced SDI in 1983. Skeptics will continue to say that the population defense central to the president's vision is not feasible and that SDI will only destabilize an already precarious balance of power. But those who cling to Reagan's vision will continue to expect strategic defenses to make nuclear weapons obsolete. To its most faithful advocates, SDI promises something far better than a freeze, something
much more productive than the tedious and partial arms-control negotiations.
That promise, as has become clear in SDI, is to be realized by building a shield in space to intercept nuclear weapons. Would such a shield be used only to protect Americans? In his March 1983 speech, Reagan declared that his intention was to protect the United States and its allies but not to threaten the Soviet Union. He was prepared, he claimed, to share the technology with the Soviets, provided they would agree to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons in exchange for defenses. Again, critics scoffed and agreed with the Soviets themselves that so long as the United States refused to sell the Soviets more conventional products—on the ground that they would somehow enhance the Soviet's war-making abilities—the United States was scarcely likely to provide them with the secrets of its most advanced weapons systems—secrets that might well be used to develop countermeasures effective enough to defeat the system. Nevertheless, Reagan insisted that he was sincere and proposed that both sides cooperate in a defense transition. During this transition they would agree to radical reductions in offensive arsenals while they both developed defenses. If and when it became feasible to deploy defenses, they would try to negotiate a joint deployment of some sort, failing which the United States would feel free to deploy defenses on its own. They would proceed in the expectation that defenses would promote the abolition of nuclear weapons, if only by demonstrating that they were no longer useful or as economical a form of deterrence as a space shield. However unrealistic the goal, its supporters are likely to cling to this vision so long as they continue to suppose that there must be a technological answer to the anxieties of the nuclear age.
Experience has not shaken this faith in technology since 1983. As we have seen, the president ran into difficulties at the outset in his attempt to persuade the U.S.S.R. that his intention was benign, but his insistence on pursuing the SDI did not prevent resumption of arms-control negotiations. Although the Soviet Union contended that SDI was a transparent U.S. effort to achieve "space-strike weapons" with which to militarize space and to enable the United States to intimidate the Soviet Union by threatening to develop a credible first strike, it nevertheless agreed to resume arms-control negotiations, provided space weapons were discussed. The Soviet leaders evidently concluded that in view of the president's reelection, he would be in a position to pursue his plans. They regarded these plans as threatening not necessarily because they
promised to create an effective space-based defense—Soviet scientific authorities publicly expressed the same skepticism on this score as most Western experts—but probably because they feared the overall impact of the technological advances on improving the West's military forces. The ABM Treaty had not prevented the Soviets from deploying a significant strategic defense against aircraft, from deploying and improving the one allowed ABM system around Moscow, or from undertaking research not only on other BMD weapons using beam technology but also on other space systems, such as the ASAT. The SDI threatened to remove the barriers imposed by the ABM Treaty on the U.S. capacity to exploit technological superiorities, notably in computers and miniaturization, and to make more use of space for military purposes. The Soviets did not look on this development with equanimity and were therefore eager to engage the United States in negotiations that would tie reductions in offensive weapons to constraints on SDI. They were prepared to make reductions anyway because they, too, were modernizing their forces to promote greater emphasis on mobile missiles and submarine-launched cruise missiles. SDI therefore turned out to be a stimulus to negotiations rather than a barrier.
Reagan also ran into difficulties with the United States' European allies, but these were managed relatively easily by assuring the Europeans that SDI was still a research program and that no decision would be made to develop and deploy an SDI system without consulting them and without negotiating the issue with the U.S.S.R. In addition, the administration offered the allies an opportunity to participate in the program, an invitation they could ill afford to turn down, especially because it involved a U.S. subsidy and carried an implicit threat that they might be left out of a major leap in advanced technology. Besides, the West Europeans were also concerned about developing defenses against aircraft and short-range missiles, which the United States was quite ready to accommodate—in effect agreeing to a division of labor in which the allies pursued this element of the problem with greatest emphasis.
With the help of an overwhelming victory in the 1984 election, in which his Democratic opponent tried unsuccessfully to use the Star Wars issue against him, Reagan was in a strong position to press Congress for budgetary support. As a result, the program gradually took shape, and instead of appearing to be mostly the president's uninformed vision, it acquired real advocates and implementers, with budgets and contracts to dispense. From then on, the main focus of concern shifted to the technology of SDI. What exactly would the space shield consist
of? How feasible were laster weapons and elaborate battle-management software? What countermeasures could be adopted, and how could the system be kept effective and survivable against them?
The formidable difficulties and uncertainties of the technology, described in chapter 3, have gravely diminished support for the program, forcing changes of direction. Expectations have shifted dramatically under various pressures—technical as well as political and economic—during the few years the program has been in existence. Whereas at first it was designed to explore all possible technical options, it was soon altered to put the highest emphasis on near-term options when political pressures began to be felt in 1986 and 1987. Funding for directed-energy weapons, which are potentially the most effective but the furthest from realization, was cut back, while support for kinetic-energy weapons and improved techniques for surveillance and detection, which are the nearest to realization, was given higher priority. Whereas, at first, officials like the president's first science advisor disdainfully insisted that a defense of missiles was not even in the path of the president's objective, by 1988 SDIO was giving high priority to the development of such defenses as an immediate step that might keep the program alive and eventually lead to the full-scale system.
The fact that the program was politically driven from the outset has critically affected its development, despite efforts to insulate it from political debate. The Fletcher panel tried to overcome this political liability by calling for a broad-spectrum research effort that would not presuppose eventual deployment but would aim to provide the knowledge upon which a decision might be made first to develop, then to deploy a defensive system. The panel was particularly anxious that an early decision be avoided, lest the nation be locked into a system that would not be as effective as one that might be devised after a more complete inquiry. But the pressures for early deployment built up from two sources, Congress and the executive branch.
The congressional Republicans who strongly supported the program were anxious that it move from the phase of pure research into a more practical mode as soon as possible—even if that were too soon to know about the utility of beam weapons—so that the program could continue to receive public support. They feared that if nothing practical came of it in the short term, the opponents of SDI would succeed in keeping support at a low level until it was sacrificed for the sake of arms control, if not by Reagan, then by a successor. By gaining an early commitment to development and deployment, they could prove that the program was
already having some benefit and was not the "pie in the sky" project its critics claimed. By showing that early deployment would not cost anything near the trillion dollars some critics claimed it would, they hoped to defuse that criticism. Some Democrats in Congress also contributed to the pressure for early deployment because they were interested in redirecting the program from its long-term goal of providing population defense to the goal they considered more realistic of developing terminal defenses for missile silos.
Like the Republicans in Congress, the champions of SDI in the executive branch were eager to overcome efforts to curb its budget. By supporting early deployment, they could hope to show that the program was succeeding beyond expectations and that it could serve a real military purpose by adding to the uncertainty of an enemy contemplating an attack, even if it could not promise to intercept more than a fraction of a massive attack. Such an installation would be a first step toward a more comprehensive defense, drawing on future technologies. In addition, they were interested in forestalling an arms-control agreement to reduce offensive systems, especially one that was tied to constraints on the testing and development of BMD. By promoting SDI, many of them hoped to force the abrogation of the ABM Treaty, along with the SALT II Treaty, and very likely to prevent an agreement on offensive-arms reduction. This faction operated on the assumption that arms control was inevitably more in the Soviet Union's national interest than the United States', because the Soviets would exploit every opportunity such an agreement provided to modernize their nuclear weapons and, just as important, to enhance their conventional forces, while the United States would take arms control as a signal to cut back on military preparedness and modernization. Preventing arms-control agreements was therefore essential to maintaining national security by means of strength rather than trust in Soviet intentions.
This position was not unambiguously shared by all in the highest councils of the administration. It was not shared, for example, by Nitze, who made it clear that he still regarded the SDI as a research program and did not believe that enough progress had been achieved to warrant a decision to develop and deploy a near-term system. He contended, in contrast to Weinberger, that the research had not yet yielded a basis for concluding that a system could be built that would satisfy the stiff criteria he had set. Such an assurance, he suggested, would not be available until at least ten years after the project had been begun, or the mid-1990s, as originally contemplated. Like the drafters of the Fletcher report,
moreover, he recognized that the prospects of achieving a successful defense would depend heavily on also achieving, by political means, an agreement to constrain offenses. He therefore saw SDI as an important lever in bargaining with the Soviets—not a bargaining chip to be foregone, but an instrument by which to persuade the Soviets to enter into a cooperatively managed defense transition. For Nitze, an arms-reduction agreement was not an alternative to SDI but a natural complement. There is reason to suppose that his view was shared by others in the State Department, including Shultz, who was clearly disappointed by the failure to achieve a radical arms-reduction agreement at Reykjavík and who also saw no contradiction between continued pursuit of SDI and the achievement of such an agreement. The common point of consensus between both factions in the administration was the issue of the broad interpretation of the ABM Treaty. Nitze supported the correctness of this interpretation, and so did Shultz, at least publicly, even though it has been an obstacle to the conclusion of an agreement with the Soviets.
Ironically, one reason the advocates of early deployment have not succeeded is that they have been unable to enlist strong support from the military services. So long as the SDI effort was confined to research and did not detract from other planned military research, the leaders of the services and others in the defense technology community saw no important reason to object to it, especially because they were grateful to Reagan for his strong commitment to defense spending. Support for SDI was a small price to pay, even for those skeptical of the program. Early deployment is another matter, however, because it would be so expensive as to jeopardize other programs. The Joint Chiefs have been noticeably cool to the idea, and there have been warnings from other military figures to the effect that it must not be permitted to bring about reductions in other programs. Already in 1985 Gen. Bernard Rogers, then supreme allied commander in Europe, warned that overemphasis on SDI would be harmful for NATO: "If from now on we turn all our attention to SDI, we then fail to undergird our efforts in the more mundane areas such as sustainability of conventional forces and modernization of nuclear weapons." As early deployment was being promoted in political circles, military leaders expressed decided skepticism. Adm. William J. Crowe, Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs, noted that people had begun to talk about an SDI system as though it were actually "out there in the parking lot waiting to be deployed." Lt. Gen. Harley Hughes, air force deputy chief of staff for plans and operations, told an
Air Force Association symposium that deployment of strategic defenses should not come at the expense of modernizing offensive nuclear and conventional weapons. "We have got to raise the money independently of ongoing strategic and conventional force modernizations."
The issue of "affordability" obviously looms larger as deployment of a marginally effective Phase I system, costing at least $69 billion, is proposed. Military leaders, including the Joint Chiefs, were reported to consider even this estimate too high a price to be paid for a "brand-new weapons system." Hughes did not deny that a strategic defense would be valuable. An SDI system would be the "perfect countervailing strategy" to the Soviet Union's stress on land-based ICBMs. But he warned that no one should be under the illusion that defenses could be chosen in place of offensive weapons: "There are those walking around, some in positions of influence, that say SDI is so close that we don't need to look at the triad. That's hogwash." Similarly, Gen. John Chain, commander-in-chief of SAC, argued that deployment of strategic defenses would only increase the importance of air-breathing forces: "If the U.S. deploys SDI, the Soviets will deploy their SDI. ICBMs, perhaps through negotiations or through choice on each side, will be reduced in importance in the triad. At the same time, I see air-breathers increasing significantly."
Such reticence on the part of the military, combined with exceptionally strong criticism from university-based physicists and the cautionary APS report, helped to strengthen the hand of those in Congress who sought to restrain the program. Their aim has been to head off premature deployment, prevent it from jeopardizing progress in arms control, and restrain the growth of the budget deficit. Congressional opposition, its hard core mainly composed of Democrats, included many who were critical of the program because they saw it as an effort by conservatives to derail the prospects for détente with the Soviets. Others, notably Sen. Sam Nunn, also saw it as a threat to the balance of the military program as well as a challenge (in the form of the "broad interpretation") to the treaty-ratifying role of the Senate. This pronounced opposition made it easier for doubters in the defense establishment—including members of the Defense Science Board—to press their own criticisms and reservations.
The result has been that SDI has been maintained, but at a level of funding far short of the steeply rising rate of increase called for by the administration. In its most ambitious version, SDI has fallen victim to political opposition, just as its initial success was made possible by the
political popularity of its principal sponsor. The difficulties experienced by the program reflect both the decline of the president's popularity and the fact that once a program is initiated, it becomes subject to all the pulls and counterpulls that affect all forms of defense appropriations. SDI pitted the wishes of the political directors of the Defense Department against the judgment of staff specialists and the interests of the military services in other projects. Partisan differences affected the congressional consideration of the issue. Within the executive branch itself, foreign policy considerations inhibited the president from supporting the pro-SDI movement as strongly as he might have liked to do. Although Reagan was tempted to order deployment and let the chips fall where they may, he was restrained by strong protestations from U.S. allies as well as by fear that such a decision would have jeopardized the conclusion of the INF agreement with the Soviets that he wanted to achieve.
Such political considerations are inescapable when what is at stake is either a large-scale research effort or one that also includes a commitment to deployment. So long as research is relatively low-key and long-term it is conducted with only minimal political scrutiny. Strategic defense was given a distinctly higher profile than other Pentagon research objectives because the president chose to stress the importance of the research and to point it toward a radical strategic and foreign policy objective. By making extravagant promises, he politicized the project, making it a major public question around which both support and opposition crystallized. Had the research been conducted with less fanfare, it would have been assured of at least some Democratic support. (Under different auspices, one can even picture liberals rallying to the SDI as a peaceful alternative to an offensive arms race, and Republicans viewing it with suspicion as a devious ploy intended to justify the curtailment of offensive military programs.) But once the program was launched by a conservative president without prior consensus in the military establishment, it was bound to be put in a precarious position. SDI's fate so far has reflected the conditions of its inception, but under any circumstances, a technological program of this magnitude and with these implications is bound to arouse contentious political forces.
How much momentum such a program can create is hard to estimate. The Apollo project was different because it was directed toward a particular objective and pitted man against nature, not against man. SDI is still a research program whose only objective is to ascertain the feasibility of a military mission. Whatever commitments are made by
contractors and others in expectation of follow-on contracts will still have to be integrated with foreign policy interests and decisions and will have to overcome resistance on other grounds—including the defense establishment's fear that a major procurement program in strategic defenses will come at the expense of other military priorities. Although partisans have certainly hoped they could built this momentum, and critics have feared they would succeed, the evidence so far suggests that the program is far from irreversible, particularly if the remarkable swing toward U.S.-Soviet cooperation initiated by Reagan and Gorbachev inhibits potentially destabilizing moves on both sides.
Prospects For U.S.-Soviet Agreement
This new cooperation has created a momentum of its own, which could lead to an agreement to control the development of space weapons, even though a total prohibition is probably impossible to achieve. Given the commitments of both the Soviet Union and the United States to the exploitation of space, it is hard to imagine an agreement that would completely prevent the further militarization of space. Space programs are to a large extent inherently dual-purpose. To build large rockets, launch capacity, and even space platforms is to provide for future uses that may be civil or military. It may still be possible, nevertheless, to regulate the testing and development of space weapons—as distinct from systems and components with military roles—such as surveillance and communications satellites. An agreement is also conceivable under which strategic defenses might be deployed that would have only minimal components in space, such as sensors.
The opportunities for such agreements, however, may grow fewer with time. As each nation pursues major programs to achieve dual-purpose uses in space, the investments represent long-term commitments that neither will be willing to write off. As the United States develops space-based weapons, the U.S.S.R. is bound to seek to develop systems for countering those weapons as well as space-based weapons of its own. Failure to achieve agreements for restraint and cooperation will lead to an intense competition. The notion that there would be an opportunity to limit the militarization of space while this competition is under way is wishful. More likely, the defensive competition will resemble the offensive one. Both sides will develop and deploy their systems, and only then will they seek to arrange some form of parity and noninterference, such as "rules of the road" in space to prevent war by
accident. The need to carry out intrusive investigations in order to determine whether a particular satellite contains a weapon or a weapons system will make verification of elaborate agreements very difficult, once such weapons are tested and deployed. The only effective way to prevent deployment of space-based weapons is to prevent their testing. Even that may not be sufficient, inasmuch as certain of the weapons can be well tested in the atmosphere or on earth, particularly if they involve lasers or for that matter kinetic weapons.
But why make a major commitment to develop space-based defenses? Apart from the question of whether such systems are feasible, there are two related policy questions: Is it worthwhile to expend the considerable sums that will be needed to achieve them? If the effort succeeds, can the result possibly represent a gain in national or world security?
Before these policy questions can be answered, however, it is first necessary to pose another question. Is there something so fundamentally wrong in the current defense posture that the search for a technological alternative should be accelerated? In chapter 4, we review several of the serious problems associated with the current reliance on retaliatory deterrence. These problems can be remedied, at least in part, by radical reductions in the quantity of nuclear arms deployed, especially those most likely to be used in a first strike, and by other measures, such as improving the safety of weapons to make them less prone to accidental discharge. These measures will not altogether eliminate nuclear weapons, but they might pave the way toward a virtually complete elimination of the threat of nuclear war by greatly improving mutual confidence and cooperation. Unfortunately, however, radical reductions of nuclear weapons will have to be accompanied by other agreements designed to reduce the threat from conventional weapons. Otherwise, the West will be unwilling to relinquish the threat of nuclear weapons to offset presumed Soviet conventional superiority in Europe, and neither side will be willing to deplete its nuclear arsenals lest they be needed in order to meet some contingency stemming from an escalation of a conventional conflict. Reductions are not inconceivable, however, especially as geopolitical lines of separation between superpower spheres of influence, like those acknowledged for Europe in the Helsinki Final Accords, are achieved elsewhere as well. The key to this sort of arms reduction and conflict resolution lies in the mitigation of political mistrust by progressively enhanced mutual security. The greater the sense of security, the more arms reduction will be acceptable. There is no prospect
that mutual confidence will become so great that all arms can be eliminated, but deterrence can be stabilized by the removal of the threat, first of all, of a nuclear first strike, and second, of a major war in which nuclear weapons might be used. Paradoxically, while radical arms control requires mutual willingness to cooperate, that willingness can best be achieved by incremental progress in arms control.
This attempt to make deterrence more stable need not preclude any role for strategic defense. On the contrary, as confidence is established, it is entirely possible that limited forms of defense could be substituted for some elements of offense. The danger is that defenses will be added to offense, in which case deterrence could be destabilized. How much destabilization would occur would depend on the quality of the defenses. The highest likelihood is that in the short term there will be little destabilization, simply because for the time being no system can be conceived, regardless of cost, that will accomplish the total defense of population against nuclear attack in view of the enormous capacities for population overkill that both sides have and are likely to keep. It must be remembered that these capacities include not only ballistic missiles but also the air-breathing threat. Given modern technology, or any reasonable extrapolation, it is simply not possible to construct such a defense, not in six or seven years, not in ten, not at all. This means that offensive weapons will not be eliminated by the deployment of defenses. If they are not eliminated, they must somehow be integrated with defensive deployments. Short of an agreement to integrate them, there will be synergism between the programs to develop and deploy them, producing greater instability than now exists, as Harold Brown has explained:
Such measures as antiballistic missile defense of urban industrial areas and massive civil defense programs may well destabilize the situation. They might reduce the likely number of deaths in case of a thermonuclear war, but they might also stimulate a responsive buildup of the other side's offensive forces that would more than overcome their damage-limiting effect—especially because damage-limiting measures are less likely to work than the countering offensive steps. They may then, in the end, result in more casualties in a thermonuclear war than if they had not been undertaken.
What sort of agreement is conceivable? An agreement might well be entered into on the lines of what was proposed at Reykjavík and has been under consideration since then, whereby both sides would be free to continue to do research on defensive systems, but by which they would commit themselves not to deploy any defensive systems other than those permitted under the ABM Treaty. This agreement would be
accompanied by another one reducing offensive arsenals, at first by roughly half, with agreed sublimits. While this would still leave both sides with more than enough for a devastating retaliation, and with some potential first-strike capability, it would reduce the likelihood that either side could contemplate a "successful" first strike, i.e., one that could destroy so much of the adversary's retaliatory force that a devastating counterattack would be impossible.
This first phase of reductions would not radically change the nature of the nuclear confrontation. Nevertheless, its significance should not be minimized. Both sides would have overtly recognized the present capacities for overkill and would have thus committed themselves to a reduction of nuclear arsenals, not simply to their limitation, as was mainly the basis of the SALT I and SALT II agreements. Because the arrangement would also commit both sides to observe the terms of the ABM Treaty for at least a certain number of years, it would reinforce the framework of the entire process. Neither side would have to consider the advisability of retaining offensive weapons to offset deployment of strategic defenses. Without such an assurance, giving up these weapons might be imprudent. If the moratorium on deployment is for a considerable period of time, such as the ten years discussed at Reykjavík, both sides could well consider that the weapons in question would become obsolete in any case, especially if there was a need to protect them from a potential space-based defense. The Soviets already appear to have decided to shift to single-warhead mobile missiles, which would be harder to detect than the heavy MIRVed ground-based missiles. They also have an additional incentive to develop fast-burn boosters because of SDI. The moratorium on deployment of defenses would enable them to move away from reliance on their present ICBM force without having to do so on a crash basis and without corresponding concessions by the United States. For its part, the United States could also afford to lower or to eliminate its present dependence on fixed ICBMs in favor of mobile ground-based missiles, as recommended by the Scowcroft Commission. Thus, the intermediate phase of the defense transition, as envisioned by Nitze, would be achieved.
The next phase is less certain. If both sides should succeed in developing defenses in which they have confidence, they could conceivably agree to further offensive reductions accompanied by a relaxation of the ABM Treaty limitations on the deployment of defenses. A partial defense, such as the scheme proposed by the Defense Science Board task force in 1988, might be deployed. This kind of defense would be designed
to provide not only a degree of population defense but also partial protection for ground-based missiles, other retaliatory forces, and national-command authorities. It would be primarily ground-based, with airborne sensors supplementing ground-based radar and space-based surveillance and tracking systems. Even without such defenses, it is at least conceivable that both sides would agree to further reductions of offensive nuclear forces on the understanding that one thousand to two thousand nuclear warheads, if based on relatively invulnerable launch platforms, would be more than adequate to deter a first strike. Now that both countries have embarked on a high-priority inquiry into defenses—assuming the Soviets have made this a high priority in response to SDI if it was not one already—they are unlikely to agree to such reductions unless they can be confident of what the other will do in deploying defenses. Further reductions would be possible only if the defenses to be deployed would not provide much more protection than a leveraged defense of hard-point targets. In order to achieve this level of confidence, however, a firm, verifiable agreement would be needed to assure that only certain types and numbers of defenses would be deployed for at least a fixed period of years.
The Consequences Of A Failure To Achieve Agreement
What is likely to happen if such an agreement cannot be concluded? This is perhaps the most difficult question of all, because it entails so much that is necessarily conjectural. What if the United States and the U.S.S.R. should fail to achieve an agreement to cut offenses, either in the intermediate phase envisioned by Nitze or in a subsequent one? Presumably, if by some unexpected chance the SDI produces strategic defenses that meet the Nitze standards, the Soviets would be compelled to accept the logic of the defense transition. They might not choose to negotiate the terms of the transition, but they would be forced to recognize that the threat posed by their offensive weapons was losing credibility. They would therefore have to develop and deploy defenses against U.S. offenses, and the result would be that, independently, both sides would be participating in a transition. The trouble with this expectation is that the technological prospects for a truly effective defense have yet to be validated. A more likely expectation is that competition and mutual suspicion might lead one or both sides to abrogate the ABM Treaty in order to deploy defenses that would be acknowledged to provide only
incremental benefits. This decision might be taken on sheer strategic grounds. If there is concern about the vulnerability of land-based assets—not only missile silos but also submarine bases and airbases—and especially about a decapitating attack directed against the national-command authorities, then active as well as passive defenses may be advisable. Such defenses would not of themselves transform the situation but could be regarded as stabilizing on the basis of existing notions of deterrence. They might be undertaken in a calculated effort to improve offensive capacities, or as an effort to move the country away from a commitment to international accommodation and toward a more aggressive policy. It is less likely, though not impossible, that a deployment would be made because of inertia or from the momentum of previous commitments. This is so simply because the jump from a low-level research program to a multibillion dollar deployment would not be a light commitment or one that could be made incrementally. The recent debate over whether to commit almost $70 billion over a seven-year period for an intermediate deployment of a three-layered defense makes it obvious that such a decision is likely to be reached only after major soul-searching and after, not before, there is a clearly felt breakdown in U.S.-Soviet relations.
In the immediate future, the likelihood that SDI will continue to be supported only as a research project, to be conducted in conformity with the ABM Treaty, is far higher than the prospects for development and deployment. The very fact that the 1987 INF Treaty was negotiated and concluded by an administration that had come into office insisting that the Soviets could not be trusted to observe any arms-control agreement will make it easier for its successor to move forward in other negotiations. Under these circumstances, there will probably be little public support for the view that the ABM Treaty should be abrogated in order to rush to deploy a system that can make only incremental improvements in the existing form of deterrence. The possibility of achieving many of the same benefits by passive measures—including the dispersal of offensive forces—will be a strong argument against the wisdom or necessity of deploying active defenses. At most, Congress is likely to approve the activation and modernization of the defenses once deployed at Grand Forks, North Dakota, a move that would be permitted within the terms of the treaty. An alternative would be to emplace a ground-based defense around the national capital to match the Soviet deployment around Moscow and to gain experience with modernized ABM systems. For this option to be adopted, however, political leaders will need to
overcome the popular resistance to the idea of protecting Washington, D.C., while leaving the rest of the country unprotected—a sentiment expressed in response to an earlier proposal to defend only the capital. Another alternative is to deploy a ground-based system located in the center of the country with a footprint large enough to protect Washington, D.C. This option, however, is considered doubtful both on technical and political grounds—especially since it would violate the ABM Treaty by providing a territorial defense.
Given all these difficulties, it would seem in the best interests of both sides to refrain from deploying defensive systems that would require an abrogation of the ABM Treaty without providing more than a partially effective defense of military targets and, at most, a marginal defense of population. Such a defense would invite the other side to build up rather than build down its offensive forces and to concentrate its efforts on countermeasures that could easily provoke hostile confrontations. One side may decide not to allow a deployment of space weapons over its territory. Even once deployed, defensive satellites would be countered by ASATs, space mines, or more surreptitious forms of interference. The character of this confrontation could not be confined to the surface of the earth but would involve a competition in measures and countermeasures, actions and reactions, in space as well as elsewhere—the outcome of which can hardly be foreseen.
One incidental result would be to sour the prospects for cooperation in civil space efforts. Whereas the Soviets are now eager to encourage cooperative efforts, they would certainly become less welcoming if they became convinced that the United States was making no distinction between efforts to operate in space for peaceful and for military purposes. It may well be that the Soviets have similar intentions, and that space platforms designed for peaceful purposes can easily be turned to military uses. But if there is no agreement to restrict such activities, the effort to make military use of space will become more and more deliberate on both sides, to an extent that will preclude cooperation.
The harm that a unilateral U.S. decision to deploy space weapons would do is not restricted to U.S.-Soviet cooperation. In view of the apprehensions of U.S. allies, it is hardly farfetched to suppose that the strains long evident in NATO would become too much for the alliance to bear were the Soviets to counter the United States' partial defenses by erecting defenses of their own that would effectively degrade and perhaps nullify the British and French independent deterrents and make the U.S. commitment to flexible response even less reassuring than it already
is. As things stand, West Europeans are ambivalent, wanting both U.S. protection and better relations with the Soviets, fearing both U.S. abandonment and entrapment in U.S. efforts to contain Soviet expansion outside Europe. The combination of deterrence and détente, however ambiguous it may be at times, serves that interest well. Compelling West Europeans to rely solely on U.S. military strength would strengthen forces already demanding "European initiatives"—a vague notion that encompasses quite opposite tendencies, one aiming for cooperation with the Soviets, the other for building new defenses against the Soviets. In any case, the stability of the alliance might be sorely tested and possibly be damaged irreparably.
In the long run, it is possible that the research efforts being pursued under the aegis of SDI and in other space-related activities could transform the character of warfare so that it would inevitably have a full spatial dimension, somewhat as anticipated by such films as Star Wars . The advocates of SDI could eventually be vindicated, as advances in technology make it possible to intercept ballistic missiles effectively and economically and to supplement a BMD shield with an affordable air defense that would be similarly effective against cruise missiles and short-range low-trajectory ballistic missiles. If these technological prospects should come to pass, and if it should prove possible to arrange some sort of joint operation of defenses between East and West, or even a grander international scheme, nuclear weapons might indeed become a thing of the past. But without international cooperation the likelihood is very small—perhaps even infinitesimal—that such a technology can be achieved. In a world with determined and equally capable adversaries eager to defeat each other's defenses, there could never be certainty that any system would work. In any case, the need to modify it continuously so that it could cope with successive offensive improvements could make deployment prohibitively expensive.
A far better way to achieve security—less costly, much more reliable—would be for both East and West to recognize the futility of relying on military and technological means alone, or even primarily, and to come to terms on political accommodations that would make it unnecessary to suppose that weapons alone confer security. Is such a prospect utopian? The record does not inspire great confidence, it is true, that in the immediate future the United States and the Soviet Union will overcome their differences to such an extent that they will cease to fear each other's hostile intentions, or that the Soviets will be willing to withdraw from territories beyond their borders that they have come to consider
vital for their security and ideological confidence, any more than the U.S. would be prepared to look the other way if not only Cuba and Nicaragua but also the whole of Central America and the Caribbean were to become a Soviet foothold in the Western Hemisphere. The primacy of the concern with national security will dictate insistence on protecting spheres of interest and access to critical resources—a concern that is bound to pose opportunities for conflict and rivalry. Nevertheless, the fact that there has so far not been a direct conflict between the two superpowers, and that both have carefully refrained from entering into conflicts where such a confrontation could occur is an indication that the threat of nuclear war may be having a sobering effect. As the complexities of modern warfare impress themselves on generals as well as politicians, the futility of relying on technology to provide security or advantage may grow ever more apparent, despite the fascination with improving military technology. There is no technological imperative that makes it impossible or illogical to reverse course and constrain the deployment of ever newer and more sophisticated weapons systems. What is missing is the will and skill of leaders in working out political accommodations.
Motives And Consequences
Even granting that Reagan launched the SDI with the best of motives—humanitarian concern to provide an alternative to relying on the threat of nuclear war—it does not follow that the consequences must be equally benign. Our examination of the prospects for strategic defenses does not lead to any certain conclusion as to their ultimate technological feasibility; we can only conclude that the question will not be fully resolved for many years. The very effort to develop space-based defenses could be self-defeating, however, if the lure of a new technology leads politicians and ordinary citizens to suppose that there is a technological fix for the very complicated problems involved in preventing political conflicts from erupting into major wars.
For that, after all, is the real issue—not whether a space-based defense will be feasible or affordable but whether and how it is possible to make the world safer now that nuclear weapons exist. As has often been said, nuclear weapons cannot be uninvented. For forty years, humanity has had to come to grips with the reality of warfare in the nuclear age. Although the advent of nuclear weapons did not immediately alter the character of warfare—nuclear bombs delivered by airplanes were at
first only extrapolated versions of blockbusters, and it was not yet obvious that they would be decisive—the development of far more explosive thermonuclear warheads that can be delivered by intercontinental missiles has fundamentally changed the character of warfare. Total war has already obliterated the old distinction between battlefield and home front. Total nuclear war poses a still more terrifying menace. Whether weapons are directed at "counterforce" (military) or "countervalue" targets (populations and the fabric of civil life), this very mode of warfare threatens a scale of damage so horrendous for attacker as well as victim as to make it altogether profitless, altogether senseless. And, yet, the fact that it has become a self-defeating activity has not meant that people have come to feel any safer or that states have concluded they do not need vast, ramified military establishments. On the contrary, the arsenals of warfare have grown ever more elaborate, indeed baroque. It is now taken for granted that delivery systems must be continually improved to assure that nuclear weapons will penetrate defenses and will serve a variety of military purposes and that conventional capabilities must be as effective and elaborate as may be necessary to forestall resort to nuclear weapons until there is no alternative. In view of this reality, it may be asked, why not try to develop a space-based defense? If nothing else can work to remove the scourge of nuclear weapons, why not try to develop a technology that is itself nonnuclear and that promises to minimize the damage from nuclear attack and perhaps ultimately to make such attacks so risky for the attacker that it will have no incentive whatever to launch them? Besides, does not even a limited nuclear defense promise to protect against a small-scale attack, such as might be launched by some "crazy state" or mad ruler who supposes he has nothing to lose?
The temptation to accept this line of reasoning is strong, and many have done so. Many more would agree, we among them, that even though we strongly doubt a defense against nuclear attack is now conceivable, efforts to determine the feasibility of such a defense deserve support. The danger with this approach is that it can become an alternative to other means of addressing the problem and can foster costly illusions. A commitment to develop comprehensive defenses, especially if undertaken without regard to the effect on existing and prospective arms-control treaties, would only make matters worse than they are now by precipitating an unconstrained competition in which both sides have no incentive to restrain their offensive armaments. In that event, whatever limited security obtains when both sides feel they enjoy a parity in such weapons and are therefore equally vulnerable to attack,
could be lost. If either side thinks itself more vulnerable than the other or sufficiently superior, it may be tempted to take steps either to relieve that vulnerability or to take advantage of its superiority. The essential lesson of the nuclear age has been that it is perilous for one side to feel threatened by the other—perilous because the threatened side becomes insecure and makes every effort to do damage to the other's interest short of risking nuclear war and meanwhile makes every effort to overcome its perceived inferiority. Sometimes the perception of inferiority has nothing to do with the reality, as in the case of the phantom "missile gap" of the 1960s, but the consequences are the same. The side that perceives itself behind takes steps to catch up. The other side, which knows it is not ahead, concludes it has no choice but to match or defeat the other side's efforts. A climate of mutual suspicion produces a qualitative arms race—a race aimed not only at increasing the lethality of armaments but also at improving the technical efficiency with which they can be hidden, delivered, and made more accurate.
In such an arms race, which has gone on with varying degrees of intensity during the forty years of the cold war, neither side can feel secure, despite the possession of nuclear weapons against which there is no defense. The reasons are, first, that each side fears the other may be developing a capacity to launch a disarming preemptive attack—whether one that cripples the retaliatory capability or that "decapitates" the enemy and thereby prevents an effective response—and, second, that one side, perceiving the other as weaker, may exploit its superiority in order to extract concessions, or in other words to blackmail the other. This, at any rate, is how the Soviets interpreted the U.S. blockade of nuclear-weapons shipments to Cuba, even though it resulted in a U.S. concession in the form of a commitment to respect Cuba's sovereignty. It is also what U.S. analysts fear would happen to the Western alliance, particularly to its NATO partners, if the Soviets were perceived to have military superiority and were to use it to "Finlandize" Western Europe.
The SALT process was an effort to alleviate the insecurities by arresting the arms race. It was premised on the idea that, by a series of steps, both sides would agree to limitations on testing and deployment of weapons. Such limitations would, first of all, assure essential parity in offensive systems and in its more refined phases eliminate weapons that were particularly useful in a first or preemptive strike—those that were sufficiently fast and accurate to cripple the adversary's retaliatory capacity. When defensive systems came into the picture and both sides, the Soviets first, decided to field defenses against ICBMs as well as air attack,
those who believed in arms control argued that defenses would only lead to an effort to build offenses that could overcome them—which was precisely what happened when MIRVed warheads were designed—and would thereby undermine the entire process. It was for this reason that a limitation on territorial defenses was proposed. And the signing of the ABM Treaty reassured those who believed in arms control that the process was once again on track and could reduce nuclear arsenals on both sides by mutually agreed steps and at the same time introduce qualitative restrictions on the types of weapons deployed as well as on further testing. The failure to make much progress was a reflection of the entanglement between arms control and other aspects of political conflict. The United States' failure to ratify SALT II was partly a result of the suspicion that it was inequitable and enabled the U.S.S.R. to cheat, but even more the result of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and a general perception that the Soviet Union was continuing to modernize its armaments out of an intent to expand its empire at the expense of the West.
If the revival of arms control produces a verifiable agreement to reduce strategic arsenals, it should not be rejected in the hope that defenses will offer an alternative. Comprehensive defenses are simply not available. Limited defenses are only of limited value. They may offer some security against accidental attack, but they cannot fully eliminate the danger of nuclear terrorism. Unfortunately, atomic bombs can be made small enough to be moved, even smuggled, across borders by a variety of means that no strategic defense can prevent.
Resistance To Arms Control: The Mindset Behind SDI
Those who support SDI most strongly continue to feel, in spite of the advent of Gorbachev and the willingness of the Soviets to resume the arms-control process by actually reducing the size of nuclear arsenals, that the Soviet interest in arms control is insincere, indeed, hypocritical. They also argue that arms-control measures have so far not impeded the buildup of the arms both sides want to develop and that the Soviets see it largely as a propaganda exercise and a way to prevent the West from taking advantage of its technological and economic superiority. Arms control, according to this line of reasoning, is merely a Soviet technique for disarming the West, and the Soviet Union's calls for the demilitarization of space ring hollow as it continues singlemindedly to make military
use of space while engaging in propaganda attacks against similar efforts by the West. The U.S.S.R., SDI proponents claim, is deceiving the world by making it appear that its space program aims mainly at civilian accomplishments and that only the United States aims to "militarize space."
These opponents of arms control contend that instead of being content with paper guarantees, which in any case cover only peripheral and obsolete systems, the United States should rely instead on exploiting its own resources to build a formidable military system that can deter the Soviets from contemplating an attack, reassure our allies of the United States' ability to come to their defense, and at the same time provide the basis for conventional strength, under a nuclear shield, that may be necessary to deter attacks aimed at affecting vital interests of the West. The militarization of space, they argue, is inevitable because the U.S.S.R. would get there first if the United States does not. So, it is imperative the United States not accept any limitations, including those of the ABM Treaty, that inhibit an effort to compete with the Soviet Union and seize the "high ground" of space ahead of them. From this point of view, the ABM Treaty ensures that "mutual assured destruction" will continue to be the effective basis of national security. As a writer for the conservative journal Human Events observed: "As the ABM accord embodies MAD, so strategic defense as proposed by Reagan would repudiate it. If Reagan is successful in promoting SDI, a strategic revolution will be accomplished, and Mutual Armed Destruction and the ABM accord will go by the boards."
No one could be said to have been a more convinced advocate of this point of view than Ronald Reagan was both before and during his first term. It is not surprising, therefore, that his promotion of SDI was quite enough to arouse opposition from those who believe in arms control and détente and who see the crusade against communism as an obsolete and oversimple response to the more complicated reality of revolutionary movements in the less-developed regions of the world. Had SDI been proposed by a different administration, it is at least conceivable that it would have been met with less skepticism, especially if it had been made clear at the outset, as the president tried to argue, that it would be a research project to be pursued in conformity with the ABM Treaty and that the purpose was to achieve defenses that would not be threatening to anyone but would save mankind from the threat of nuclear extinction. (The fact that even so pronounced a critic of nuclear deterrence as Jonathan Schell could have endorsed the aim of a defense transition is
an indication that it might well have had broader support had it been issued under other auspices.)
As it was, however, there was good reason to be suspicious that there was more to SDI than the president maintained, or that he may have understood. This interpretation is especially warranted in view of the administration's brazen reinterpretation of the ABM Treaty. The attempt to rewrite the treaty in order to enable testing outlawed in the negotiations made it clear that the administration did not respect the arms-control process and was not prepared to accept the ABM Treaty as the keystone of the arch. A second blow to any benign interpretation of the motives for SDI came when a high-level faction within the administration, led by Weinberger, called for a decision by the president to support early deployment of a partial system. Such a deployment would assuredly mean the end of the treaty. The fact that the administration was prepared to use the "broad interpretation" at Reykjavík to prevent a compromise on testing, which might have led to a major agreement on the reduction of long-range systems, was yet another indication of its fundamental opposition to arms control as a process by which agreements could be reached with the Soviets—agreements that might eventually extend to conventional warfare and to the sources of superpower conflict. This evidence suggests that, far from intending to pursue only that research allowed under the treaty in order to bring about a cooperative transition to defenses, SDI's strongest supporters within the administration saw the initiative as a unilateral military-technological challenge to the Soviets. Their assumption was that only superiority in force would persuade the Soviets to respect Western interests and to refrain from expansionism.
To criticize the Reagan administration for its deceptive policy in pursuing SDI is not to defend the Soviet leaders. Their glasnost on this issue is still far from complete. They have denied, untruthfully, that they have any program to develop strategic defenses, when, as we have seen, they have a significant program in strategic defense. So far, it involves deployments aimed mainly at a U.S. air attack, but attacks in space and on space systems such as satellites are also being contemplated. Their strategic modernization program has involved massive expenditures and has taken a highly threatening form in Europe. They are certainly to blame in large part for creating a climate in the West in which military efforts of all sorts, including space-based defenses, could be thought to be necessary to cope with the "Soviet threat."
But the Soviet efforts are in a sense beside the point. They have been
and can continue to be offset by offensive countermeasures. Indeed, one of the criticisms of SDI is that it threatens to divert resources needed to improve both strategic and conventional offensive systems. Modernization can take many forms, and in view of the need to choose among them, it is not obvious that emphasizing strategic defense is the best bet, especially in view of the great uncertainty that such defenses can ever be more than partial. Other investments, including those designed to assure penetration of Soviet defenses (but premised on the view that the best defense against attack will remain deterrence by threat of retaliation), may make better sense.
These uncertainties are compounded by others that involve Soviet perceptions. Theorists have often noted that the United States and the Soviet Union are trapped in a kind of prisoners' dilemma. Although they can communicate, unlike the prisoners in the hypothetical dilemma, they are either unable or unwilling to settle for solutions that are less than optimal but much better than those that could result if they refuse to compromise altogether. Soviet leaders fear a modernized version of capitalist encirclement. Despite their relative success in establishing Soviet power in the Russian motherland and in Eastern Europe, they may recognize that the loss of China's adhesion to their Socialist bloc represents an erosion of Soviet power, and a dangerous precedent for further defection. They may well suspect that the West, by developing an opening to China, aims to exploit the loss by weaning China altogether away from the Socialist path and to extend its influence to include China, as it now includes Japan, South Korea, and many other countries in the developing world. Some Soviet leaders may entertain a more confident vision, based on the fact that China is at least a Communist society and that other countries, including India, are not taking the capitalist road. But whatever their beliefs and whatever their mental reservations, they cannot escape the same recognition that must animate the minds of Westerners—which is that a conflict between these two systems can easily escalate to the level of a nuclear war, and that in such a war there can be no winners. Recent Soviet leaders have often stated their recognition of this principle. Whether they actually believe what they say cannot be ascertained, but one of the critical tests is willingness to conclude and to observe arms-control agreements. These agreements are the instruments by which mutual understanding can be developed and confidence maintained. An ever larger, more varied arsenal only increases the danger either of inadvertent use or of the escalation of a conflict into a nuclear exchange. Arms-control measures that aim to constrain
the development of such weapons and to maintain parity and stability between the two blocs are essential if this dangerous competition is to be arrested.
Nor is there a practical substitute for negotiated arms control. It is sometimes argued that the two sides can signal their intentions to each other by a process of reciprocal unilateral initiatives. While this technique has sometimes been useful—notably in the reciprocal unilateral moratoria on testing that eventually led to the Limited Test Ban Treaty—too much should not be expected of such informal bargaining. When a conflict is fueled by mistrust, it is not likely to be resolved by unilateral initiatives that treat only certain aspects of the military preparations of the two sides but do not alleviate suspicion. Only treaties, which involve verifiable undertakings across a fairly broad spectrum, can allay suspicion. Such treaties, moreover, have important symbolic value, in that they demonstrate to populations saturated with propaganda designed to inflame hatred and fear that relations of amity exist between the governments. These symbolic understandings can be translated into more structural arrangements, such as those involving trade and travel. They do not necessarily create conditions for linkage between arms control and a broader form of détente, but they create an atmosphere in which such understandings and cooperation become more likely than they would be otherwise.
As we have already indicated, we suspect that many of those who strongly support SDI see it as one more way to defeat the arms-control process. Why else would they be prepared to see the ABM Treaty abrogated and further reductions of offensive arms stymied? They claim that arms control has been of little or no benefit, and that it has created only the illusion of détente—an illusion behind which the Soviets develop their military capacities with cynical indifference to agreements. The truth is, however, that both sides have behaved questionably with respect to the existing treaties. Although the United States can rightly point to the building of the Krasnoyarsk radar as a blatant violation of the ABM Treaty—in spite of the transparently false Soviet claim that it is allowable under the treaty provision for space tracking—the United States does not have altogether clean hands. The Reagan administration's decision to replace the mechanically steered radars at Fylingdales and Thule with phased-array radars also rests on arguably flimsy grounds. The testing that has been undertaken for SDI under a supposedly narrow interpretation of the treaty also raises questions about compliance, and the United States' failure to use the SCC as it was intended to be
used—to resolve conflicting treaty interpretations—indicates bad faith on the part of the Reagan administration.
More important, the refusal to negotiate an agreement based on continued adherence to the narrow interpretation betrays a desire to break the treaty without appearing to do so and misses an opportunity to do precisely what the Reagan administration claimed was its goal—to achieve a cooperative transition to greater reliance on defensive systems by reducing offensive weapons while research proceeds to determine what can be done defensively. There is no good technical reason to proceed to early space testing, certainly not to deployment of an expensive and altogether inadequate and easily countered space-based kinetic system. The only rationale for proceeding with such efforts is that they make arms-control agreements impossible to achieve. For those for whom such agreements are anathema, this makes perfect sense. Otherwise, it makes no sense at all. As Nitze has emphasized, it is altogether premature to move to a stage of development that would require breaking the ABM Treaty, much less to the stage of deployment. A great deal can be done in laboratories and at fixed, allowable test ranges to test technology. Much of this testing can be done for other purposes, which the treaty does not cover—the development of ASATs, of ATBMs, and of sensors for the detection of attack. Only if both sides can agree to constrain their development and testing can they be reasonably secure that there will be no extraordinary breakout from the existing form of parity. It remains to be seen whether the exceedingly complex technologies being worked on for the advanced stages of a space-based defense will ever become feasible and affordable. To sacrifice the possibility of major arms reduction in the short run for the sake of some unknown future development would be foolhardy.
It would be foolhardy even though the United States may enjoy technological superiority over the U.S.S.R. The advocates of unrestrained development for SDI seem to be counting on the fact that the Soviets are inferior to the West in most areas of technology. But mounting a challenge to their security in the form of an accelerated SDI could well be counterproductive by stimulating the Soviets to make corresponding advances in other areas of military technology. The supposed menace of SDI could be a stick with which Soviet leaders can beat Soviet workers into accepting sacrifices in consumer satisfaction for the sake of military progress. Besides, as lumbering as it is, the Soviet economy has shown itself quite capable of matching the West in key areas of military power. What reason is there to suppose that an accelerated U.S. program would
either compel the Soviets to accept the reinterpretation of the treaty the United States is insisting on, as the price for a moratorium on deployment, or leave the Soviets at such a grave military disadvantage that the United States could impose a Pax Americana? On the contrary, the evidence suggests that the Soviets will refuse to entertain arms-control agreements that would handicap their ability to rely on a quantitative offensive response to a space-based defense or to match the developments in the United States' space-based effort and build countermeasures. Given the U.S.S.R.'s well-established achievements in laser technology and other exotic weapons, it would be arrogant vanity to suppose that the Soviets cannot achieve rough equivalence, or at the very least develop countermeasures that would make a U.S. SDI system prohibitively expensive so that it will lose all of its appeal.
Meanwhile, the very effort of challenging the Soviets to a competition in the full militarization of space, beginning with the deployment of ASATs, not only risks putting U.S. space assets in jeopardy—assets on which the United States relies even more than the Soviets—but also carries serious political costs. The Soviet Union can plausibly claim that the United States' fixation on offensive and defensive modernization prevents agreements that can reduce the threat of nuclear war without requiring the development of leakproof defenses. In Europe and elsewhere, Soviet propaganda has already had an easy time exploiting this apparent contrast. Although this propaganda conveniently neglects the Soviet Union's own responsibilities for contributing to Western anxieties by building up its armaments—including defenses—it is nevertheless perceived to be justified. The United States stands to lose support among friends and allies if it persists in refusing to accept a strategic arms control agreement in which the traditional understanding of the treaty is honored.
Ironically, it is not just overseas but even at home that the supporters of the SDI are risking their own cause. Judged politically, they went too far by promoting the reinterpretation of the treaty and by calling for early deployment—further than public opinion was willing to go. By trying to show that the critics were "wrong" in suggesting that an SDI defense would cost a trillion dollars and, instead, by arguing that an interim defense, which would not protect against an upgraded Soviet system, would cost as much as $121 billion (and, in addition, upwards of $70 billion for air defense of the United States and billions more for an upgraded air and tactical defense in Europe), they have only forced the voters to recognize that this scheme cannot be a cheap technological fix.
The Political System As A Corrective
Some comfort can be taken from the way in which the U.S. political system serves as a corrective to unthinking enthusiasms. The same public that is prepared to endorse the idea of a Star Wars defense has second thoughts when it looks at the price tag that will show up on its tax bills. Some comfort, but not very much. One of the most troubling aspects of the SDI controversy is what the issue has revealed about public ignorance of defense issues. The fact that a large majority of those surveyed in public opinion polls either do not know whether the United States already has a defense against nuclear attack or suppose that one already exists is one glaring example of this ignorance. Although it is too much to expect, perhaps, that in a society that relies on representative government, voters should feel obliged to become familiar with every detail of a defense project or of an arms-control treaty, such a dismal lack of knowledge makes it impossible for many voters to decide when its leaders are credible or deceiving. How can support be mobilized for arms-control measures—measures that are easily attacked, no matter how carefully they are drawn, as one-sided or not perfectly verifiable—unless there is public appreciation of what is at stake?
A representative system of government, it is true, is designed to provide a filter for public opinion in the form of legislators who have both the ability and the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the issues and to explain them to their constitutents as well as to vote on their behalf. In this instance, the representative process has worked well. Congress has reacted with interest to the vision of a defensive system, reflecting the generally favorable public response but has also responded with skepticism as doubts have been raised by credible scientific specialists. In this connection, the work of Congress's own Office of Technology Assessment should be singled out, along with studies by congressional staff. The OTA was established in order to make the kind of balanced evaluations of the potential impact of new technologies it has in fact provided in this case. The three OTA reports have been models of good research and careful judgment. Staff studies prepared for several senators have also helped by bringing the views of working defense scientists directly to the attention of legislators. These studies, coupled with the more impassioned skepticism of the sort found in the writings of the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Federation of American Scientists, have been very influential in restraining congressional support for SDI. The APS report probably had an even more powerful, if
less direct, role because of its influence on public opinion. The work of members of Congress on both sides of the issue has also been exemplary. Senator Nunn's insistence on looking carefully at the ABM Treaty himself to determine whether the administration's "broad interpretation" was justified and whether it represented an unconstitutional reinterpretation of a treaty ratified by the Senate is also one of the saving graces in the story of SDI. SDI is certainly one of the most political of major defense programs, both in the sense that it was launched in an appeal to public opinion, over the heads of the bureaucracy and Congress, and that it has been held back because of skepticism it has aroused there.
The Myth Of Technological Determinism
These political factors point to a larger consideration. It is sometimes supposed, even if rarely put forward so boldly, that in matters of defense policy, technological momentum is an irresistible force. A "technological determinism" is thought to hold sway, according to which whatever can be done will be done. The examples sometimes cited in support of this view are the decision to proceed with the development of the atomic bomb, even after it was learned that Germany was far behind and on the verge of collapse and even though Japan could not possibly achieve it in time to avert defeat, or the decision to proceed with the thermonuclear weapon even though it was not obvious that the additional lethal force of this new nuclear weapon would serve any strategic purpose. The same charge has been made concerning the development of the ABM and the MIRV, both of which have been said to represent no great strategic benefit but rather to reflect the sheer force of the momentum created by a commitment to military R & D. Strategic defense has raised the same suspicion. But it is far too simple to attribute the arms race to sheer technological momentum.
It is too simple—in the case of SDI certainly—because, as we have seen, the decision to embark on the project was not determined by technological advances. It was very much a political decision made with factors other than the advances themselves exclusively in mind. Had the decision been left up to the technologists, it would certainly not have been taken. As we have noted, a study requested by the White House science advisor before the president's "Star Wars" speech concluded that there was no technological reason to suppose that defenses were more advisable now than they had been in 1972, when the ABM Treaty
was negotiated. Scientists in the Pentagon were no less skeptical. The president made his decision, it is true, having in mind Edward Teller's warning that the Soviets were working on an X-ray laser and might achieve this technology before the United States, but Teller himself did not advocate a move toward defense out of any belief that nuclear weapons were about to be made obsolete. Teller wanted strategic defenses for the same reason he had earlier wanted civil defense—to give the United States the maximum protection possible against nuclear attack and to enable it to take advantage of defensive technologies to enhance its military and political position vis-à-vis the Soviet Union. These were undoubtedly the same considerations that preoccupied the president and his kitchen-cabinet colleagues when this decision took shape. Indeed, Reagan acknowledged that no such defense was yet available when he called on the scientific community to provide one.
This call represented a considerable faith in the powers of science and technology, a faith no doubt inspired by previous successes. In this sense, the achievements of the Manhattan Project, of Project Apollo, of ICBMs and MIRVs, lay behind the decision. The president and his immediate supporters were confident that if the United States used its strong suit—its advantage in science and technology—it could overcome what he and they saw as a frustrating obstacle to escaping the perilous dilemma posed by nuclear weapons. This hope, born of frustration, may well have been naïve, but, in any case, it was not an expectation grounded on scientific advice.
The president did indeed receive encouragement or reinforcement for this hope from the technical panel he set up under Fletcher once the decision was announced. Even this panel, however, recognized that there were major obstacles to be overcome before the goal could be achieved, and at least some of the members, including the chairman, recognized that without the cooperation of the Soviets, a defense transition would be impossible in an environment unconstrained by limits on the offense. Many of those who have worked on the SDI since the Fletcher report have argued that although a perfect defense against nuclear attack is inconceivable, even an imperfect defense is desirable because it would discourage nuclear attack. This argument lends support to Reagan's objective, but it is scarcely an endorsement of a program to make nuclear weapons impotent or obsolete or to achieve his stated goal of saving lives rather than avenging them.
A corollary of the belief in the momentum of technology is that the machinery of destruction—the military-industrial complex—needs ever
newer weapons systems to feed its insatiable desire for contracts. But the industries were not campaigning for SDI. They were receptive to the administration's general views, to be sure, and very supportive of its military modernization program, but that support did not involve much active lobbying for a program in strategic defense. Indeed, because the first years of strategic defense would mostly be absorbed in research, the industries could not hope to profit enormously from it—in contrast to the major procurement programs. At best, it would have been for them a source of support for preparatory work that could lead to procurement in the future—on a massive scale—but the actual announcement of SDI was as much a surprise to the defense contractors as it was to everyone else.
Avoiding The Illusory Faith In Security Through Technology
The technology required for a comprehensive strategic defense is extremely complex and full of uncertainties. Indeed, extraordinary advances are needed in so many areas that one can hardly predict success for such a system with confidence. In order for a boost-phase defense to work against the most obvious countermeasures employed by a determined enemy (such as adopting fast-burn boosters capable of achieving separation in 60 or 90 seconds), kinetic-energy weapons (which have been proposed for interim deployment on space-based satellites) would be inadequate. They might still have some utility against the bus that carries the warheads, if the bus continues to require additional time before discharging the warheads on their free flight to their targets. But against the rockets themselves, which are much the easiest targets, directed-energy weapons would probably be essential. DEWs might be "popped up" from submarines in close enough range of Soviet missile trajectories, but the time constraints would probably rule out such launches. Maintaining orbiting satellites with laser weapons or mirrors to reflect hybrid ground-based laser weapons seems a more plausible alternative. To achieve the levels of brightness required for killing the launchers, even as they are presently shielded, however, will require lasers several orders of magnitude brighter than have so far been attained. Such brightness is not precluded by laws of physics, but it may be precluded by the power requirements, which would impose such weight on the satellites as to increase the cost of launching and producing the satellites to a prohibitive degree. The coordination of firings and
sightings is itself no mean problem, even assuming that the surveillance techniques can be achieved and that the surveillance satellites can be made safe from attack, at least until they have done their assigned job. To coordinate hundreds or thousands of battle stations means having the ability to identify targets, assess the damage done to them, keep track of them as they continue to hurtle through space, hand them on from one layer to another, and, of course, protect them from attack. Although the problem can be compared to the coordination of a sea, land, or air battle, with scouts, communication, and defensive measures all integrated with the actual battle stations, the task of performing these integrated steps in space is especially daunting—all the more so given that the consequences of performing all these functions in a battle environment likely to be affected by nuclear explosions are unknown. The possibility that each adversary would orbit systems designed to interfere with and to attack the other's defense means that each must contend not only with the enemy's offensive forces in the usual sense but also with its counterdefensive systems as well.
So far, all efforts to design such defensive systems have been defeated by improvements in offensive forces that have effectively maintained the ability to penetrate to the target. There is good reason to suppose that on technological grounds the advantage will remain with the offense for the foreseeable future. Because of the "absentee" problem, discussed in chapter 3, an orbital defense must be larger than an engagement would actually require. The offense need not destroy the entire defensive complex, but only punch a hole through the defensive screen, which can be done by concentrating forces against those elements of the defense in the requisite location at any given time. Orbiting defenses can be destroyed by space mines or ASAT weapons; even by drawing the protective fire of the defensive systems, an offense would compel the defender to divert valuable energy away from intercepting launchers. Once through the boost-phase screen, an attacking force could employ decoy and diversion techniques that greatly tax the remaining defense layers. The midcourse layers would have to use techniques of discrimination, such as space-based particle beams that have yet to be developed in adequate form. Only the terminal layers can be identified with any confidence, and these by themselves cannot prevent a massive attack from achieving assured destruction of urban targets.
Thus, from a purely technological point of view, all that can be said in favor of strategic defenses at this point is that further research may refine the techniques currently conceivable. However, none of these
techniques can be developed and deployed as an effective system in any foreseeable time frame. The case for a more limited hard-point defense, especially one that relies on preferential defense and is expected only to assure partial survival of offensive forces and command and control authorities, is more technologically credible. Here, the improvements achieved since 1972 could be applied with good effect. If all that is desired is assurance of the survival of retaliatory forces, however, an agreement to dismantle threatening first-strike weapons and to disperse or harden those that remain is a far less costly alternative. Such an agreement, moreover, would not be seen as a first step toward a possibly unilateral and therefore destabilizing deployment of more comprehensive defenses. Even the feasibility and desirability of terminal defenses depend on the readiness of both sides to reduce offensive forces drastically. Without such reductions, defenses for prime military targets could not be relied on, and the offense might have additional incentive to attack more vulnerable civilian targets. Even a small-scale attack on these targets could have devastating consequences.
In view of all these uncertainties, difficulties, and potential ramifications, there can be little doubt that the current prohibition on the deployment of territorial defenses, coupled with further reductions in offensive arsenals—nuclear as well as conventional—is the more prudent path to national security. In the earlier phases of East-West competition, cold war hostilities and a blind faith in technological initiatives prevented prevented agreements to limit advances in military technology. The militarization of space for purposes of war has not yet gone so far that it cannot be stopped, at least in the most destabilizing respects. If SDI stimulates an effort to achieve a cooperative regime in space, it will have served a purpose far more valuable for national and international security than yet another extension of the arms race. Such a regime can be achieved only by practical and persistent efforts of international negotiation involving not only the United States and the Soviet Union but the entire world community—for the risks of warfare in space could well turn out to be universal.
The demand for change now being felt not only in the Soviet Union but also in China and other Communist countries arises mainly from domestic discontent, but domestic reforms are incompatible with an aggressive foreign policy. The pragmatists who are coming to power in these countries recognize the need to pursue foreign policies of accommodation rather than of unsupportable expansion and belligerence. At this historic juncture in the cold war, when the possibility has arisen of
greatly minimizing the risks of confrontation, or possibly even of transcending the conflict altogether, it would be senseless and an act of gross irresponsibility to embark unilaterally on an effort to build space-based defenses. Before that fateful step is attempted, every effort should be made to achieve political understanding rather than to count on the faith, so often betrayed in the past, that technology can ensure national security.