Men Seek Solutions
“THE MAD [Mutual Assured Destruction] doctrine is immoral. There is something macabre, and worse, in basing our security on our ability to murder Russian women and children. And it is even more reprehensible—if that’s possible—to deliberately increase the exposure of our own people to nuclear destruction simply in order to fulfill the demands of an abstract, a historical, unproven and illogical theory.” These words, spoken by U.S. Senator William Armstrong, reflect the uneasiness many Americans feel about a defense based on the ability to retaliate.
As an alternative, in March 1983, U.S. President Reagan proposed the SDI (Strategic Defense Initiative), more popularly known as Star Wars. He said: “I call upon the scientific community who gave us nuclear weapons to turn their great talents to the cause of mankind and world peace: to give us the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete.”
Reagan envisioned the development of exotic, high-tech weapons—X-ray lasers, electromagnetic rail-guns, kinetic-kill vehicles, neutral-particle-beam weapons—that would defend America and its allies by zapping enemy missiles before they could reach their targets.
SDI, however, has been fiercely and widely debated from the outset. Opponents claim that it is technologically impossible to create a leakproof “umbrella” against a determined attack—and a leaky “umbrella” is useless against nuclear weapons. Summing up other objections, a U.S. congressman said cynically that “other than the fact that the SDI system can be underflown, overwhelmed, outfoxed, cannot be run by humans but only by computers, would breach a number of arms control treaties and could trigger a thermal nuclear war, . . . it is not a bad system.”
The Soviet Union also strongly objects to SDI. They say that America simply wants to build a shield in order to wield the sword. U.S. officials, in turn, accuse the Soviets of secretly developing their own strategic defense system.
At any rate, SDI would prove extremely expensive to develop and deploy. Estimates range from 126 billion to 1.3 trillion U.S. dollars. By comparison, the entire U.S. Interstate Highway System cost $123 billion! Nevertheless, billions of dollars have already been allocated by the U.S. Congress to SDI research.
Prospect of Disarmament
Says the Soviet Ministry of Defense: “The Soviet people are convinced that nuclear disarmament is the most reliable guarantee that nuclear catastrophe will be prevented.” Lofty ideals notwithstanding, the arms race continues at full speed.
The fundamental obstacle to disarmament? Lack of trust. Soviet Military Power 1987, a U.S. Department of Defense publication, accuses the Soviet Union of ‘seeking world domination.’ Whence the Threat to Peace, published by the U.S.S.R. Ministry of Defense, speaks of the U.S. “imperial ambition to ‘rule the world.’”
Even when arms-control talks are convened, both sides accuse the other of having selfish motives. The above-quoted Soviet publication thus accuses the United States of “blocking progress toward disarmament in all areas” in an effort to “conduct international affairs from the position of strength.”
The United States counters that arms control is merely a Soviet scheme to lock in “existing military advantages. . . . Moreover, [Moscow] sees arms control negotiations as a way of furthering Soviet military objectives and undermining public support for Western defense policies and programs.”—Soviet Military Power 1987.
The recent agreement to eliminate intermediate range missiles seems a giant step forward. It is the first agreement ever actually to reduce—not simply limit—nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, such a treaty, historic though it is, falls short of eliminating all nuclear weapons.
The Verification Problem
Suppose, though, that all the nuclear powers actually agreed to total disarmament. What would stop any or all nations from cheating—failing to get rid of the banned weapons or secretly producing them?
Kenneth Adelman, former director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, said: “Elimination of nuclear weapons would require the most extensive and intrusive system of onsite inspections anyone could imagine. . . . That would mean, in turn, unprecedented openness to foreign intrusion on the part of all nations.” It is difficult to imagine that any nation would adopt such an open-house policy.
But let us further suppose that the nations somehow overcame all these formidable obstacles and disarmed. The technology and knowledge required to make the bomb would still exist. Should a conventional war break out, there would always be the possibility that it could escalate to the point where nuclear weapons would be recreated—and used.
Hans Bethe, one of the physicists who worked to develop the first atom bomb, thus recently said: “We thought we could control the genie. It wouldn’t go back in the bottle, but there were reasonable grounds for thinking we could contain it. I know now that this was an illusion.”
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Some argue that defending against a nuclear attack is superior to retaliating after an attack