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.