The Nuclear Opening

Star Wars: A Defense Insider's Case Against the Strategic Defense Initiative

by Robert Bowman
Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc. (distributed by St. Martin's), 180 pp., $7.95 (paper)

Watershed in Europe: Dismantling the East-West Military Confrontation

by Jonathan Dean
Lexington Books, 286 pp., $9.95 (paper)

Searching for World Security: Understanding Global Armament and Disarmament

by Curt Gasteyger
St. Martin's, 216 pp., $27.50

Nuclear War, Nuclear Proliferation, and their Consequences

edited by Sadruddin Aga Khan
Oxford University Press (Clarendon Press), 483 pp., $22.95 (paper)
Caspar Weinberger
Caspar Weinberger; drawing by David Levine


SDI, NATO, and the ABM Treaty

In his impressive short book, Star Wars, Dr. Robert Bowman, the president of the Institute for Space and Security Studies, reminds us that the pursuit of SDI presages not only the abrogation of the 1972 ABM Treaty—which said that the parties will not “develop, test, or deploy ABM systems or components which are…space-based”—but the death knell of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 and even of the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963. The Outer Space Treaty banned the placing of nuclear warheads in space orbits. The Partial Test Ban Treaty banned the testing of nuclear warheads in space—which, for example, is what is called for by the X-ray laser. In what could still technically be an era of peace, such testing would not, of course, result in as much radioactive fallout as did testing in the atmosphere. What it could do is play havoc with modern telecommunications—televisual as well as telephonic—and with the satellite system on which both sides now depend for a large part of the information they have about each other’s military deployments.1

These considerations are part of the answer to the question one so frequently hears: If a space-based defense is unlikely to work, why should it bother the Russians so much, as if they were afraid that the West had developed some new kind of armor plate that could not be penetrated by their antitank weapons? In his recent book Blundering into Disaster2 Robert McNamara suggests that the thought that the goal of SDI is the acquisition by the US of a first-strike capacity is what most worries the Russians. Another equally important reason surely lies in what President Reagan himself has said—a nuclear war cannot be won and should never be fought. With nuclear arsenals at their present size, both sides know that there is no such thing as nuclear superiority—a proposition that once upon a time Henry Kissinger strongly supported. It is equally true that there can be no such thing as a meaningful defense against nuclear weapons. The term “leaky defense” is shorthand for millions of dead. The Russians have retained and may even have “improved” the ABM complex that they started to deploy for the defense of Moscow in the late Sixties, but they surely know that it is not leakproof, that it does not make Moscow invulnerable to the kind of attack that would be launched against what is the main command center of the USSR.

The USSR is not alone in urging the strict observance of the 1972 treaty. America’s European allies are supporting the research and development program of SDI, but only in accordance with the strict interpretation of the ABM Treaty, as opposed to the “broad” interpretation favored by the administration in order to allow testing of SDI components in space.3 Six of Caspar Weinberger’s predecessors in the office…

This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!

View Offer

Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.

If you are already a subscriber, please be sure you are logged in to your account.