• Email
  • Print

Why Star Wars Is Dangerous and Won’t Work

The following statement by six prominent scientists on the dangers of Star Wars appeared as part of a letter to The Wall Street Journal on January 2, 1985.

A nearly impermeable strategic defense system would indeed have the capability to “save lives” rather than to “avenge them,” to replace strategic deterrence by defense. But such a system is not in the cards, as even the program’s director, General James Abrahamson, readily admits. Anything short of an impermeable system tends to undermine, not improve, US national security. Here are some of the reasons that we consider the Star Wars scheme unworkable and a grave danger to the United States:

—Underflying: Star Wars does not defend against, or even address, low-altitude delivery systems—bombers and cruise missiles, and “suitcase” nuclear weapons. By themselves, they are able to destroy both nations; Star Wars would accelerate their development.

—Overwhelming: The number of strategic warheads in the Soviet arsenal (as in our own) is about 10,000. If even a few percent of these warheads exploded on US territory it would represent an unparalleled human disaster and effective collapse of the United States as a functioning political entity. The Soviets could keep ahead of any American Star Wars system because it is cheaper to build new warheads than to shoot down old ones (and easier to shoot down orbiting defensive systems than incoming missiles).

—Outfoxing: It is cheaper to build countermeasures than to build Star Wars. Some decades in the future when a (still highly permeable) US Star Wars system might be deployed, the Soviets would have added tens or hundreds of thousands of decoys and other penetration aids to their arsenal. Their objective would be to fatally confuse the American Star Wars system, which can never be adequately tested except in a real nuclear war.

—Cost: Former Secretaries of Defense Harold Brown and James Schlesinger, and senior Pentagon spokesmen of this Administration, have all estimated the full Star Wars cost as hundreds of billions to one trillion dollars.

—Soviet preemption: Despite US reassurances, the Soviets perceive Star Wars as part of a US first strike strategy, allowing us to launch a preemptive attack and then to destroy the remnant of any surviving Soviet retaliatory forces. In a time of severe crisis, this may tempt the Soviet Union to make a preemptive first strike against the United States.

—Institutional momentum: When a trillion dollars is waved at the US aerospace industry, the project in question will rapidly acquire a life of its own—independent of the validity of its public justifications. With jobs, corporate profits, and civilian and military promotions at stake, a project of this magnitude, once started, becomes a juggernaut, the more difficult to stop the longer it rolls on.

We do not oppose defense in principle. We are in favor of carefully bounded research in this area, as in many others; we are also concerned that the line between research and early deployment of key Star Wars components not be blurred. Several of us have devoted considerable effort to research on missile defense. Some of us have advocated missile defense for individual missile silos. But we agree with Department of Defense experts who make it clear that cities cannot be so protected. Mr. Schlesinger has said “in our lifetime and that of our children, cities will be protected by forebearance of those on the other side, or through effective deterrence.”

Hans A. Bethe

Richard L. Garwin

Kurt Gottfried

Henry W. Kendall

Carl Sagan

Victor Weisskopf

Cornell University

Ithaca, New York

  • Email
  • Print