Chapter 13 - Strategic Defense: SDI, MAD, ASATs, Civil Defense

in ill-defined and not effectively verifiable negotiations. Civil and industrial defense and emergency preparedness programs would also require careful U.S. evaluation of the far greater Soviet capabilities and the potential resulting U.S. national security requirements.

1. Historical Context: SDI versus “Star Wars” and MAD

Contemporary readers accustomed to the distorted label of “Star Wars” attached to SDI by Reagan’s domestic critics and Soviet propaganda are encouraged to open their minds to Reagan’s case for SDI by studying the actual context, content, and objectives of his initiative. SDI was a key to Reagan’s new strategy to take on both the Soviet Union’s deadly strategic threat and the questionable MAD U.S. deterrence doctrine, a strategy to change the course of the Cold War with new foundations for achieving security, stability and peace.

The “Star Wars” Label and Libel. The “Star Wars” label was first applied to SDI by Senator Ted Kennedy, a leader of the Democratic Party, on the basis of a newspaper headline in response to Reagan’s March 23, 1983 announcement of the initiative. The label was intended pejoratively and was immediately picked up by Reagan’s opponents in the media, politics, and academia as well as by Soviet propaganda. SDI was portrayed as a deadly escalation of the Cold War with Reagan an evil Lord Darth Vader of the Star Wars science-fiction films prepared to “zap” Earth’s cities. Other labels portrayed SDI as a foolish “pipe dream” or an obvious “bargaining chip” to be traded away in future U.S.-Soviet arms control negotiations.

Reagan’s SDI Objectives. The use of the “Star Wars” label by Reagan opponents obscured the truth that with SDI Reagan had in fact seized the moral and strategic high ground to take on the Cold War’s real “Star Wars”—i.e., the aggressive strategic doctrines and programs of the Soviet regime and the morally questionable and strategically unstable U.S. nuclear deterrence doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction, or MAD. MAD, as the reader will discover, was a doctrine to which the Soviet Union paid lip service, but that Soviet military doctrines and programs strongly contradicted. This chapter summarizes Reagan’s forward-looking SDI objectives as:

1. Research for Protection. SDI research would press the technological advantages generated by America’s competitive entrepreneurial economic system and its best scientific minds to provide increased protection against missile strikes from any source.

2. Alternative to MAD. SDI would develop a defense alternative that could more credibly deter Soviet use of its growing first strike capabilities than could the superpowers’ MAD suicide pact and its requirement to ban national anti-missile defenses. SDI did not need to be perfect to deter or defend, especially when compared with the existing MAD alternative that assured neither. In contrast to SDI, MAD could not physically stop a single missile or save a single life and involved an irrational all-or-nothing choice that lacked either credibility or stability.

3. Lever for Deep Arms Reductions and Deterrence. SDI would press the Soviet leaders to reassess the regime’s vast strategic arms programs and seriously to consider Reagan’s “deep cuts” approach for Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START). Such cuts would be far better than the illusory “nuclear freeze” proposals favored by Reagan’s opponents that would simply legitimize past Soviet arms buildups and asymmetries and that lacked effective verification or enforcement. As SDI’s feasibility increased, it would be a lever for further offensive arms cuts and could lead to a joint transition to shift nuclear deterrence increasingly from nuclear retaliation to defense.

4. Defense Component. SDI’s anti-missile defense would be integrated into Reagan’s new defense and arms control strategy along with other U.S. strategic defense programs including anti-satellite (ASAT) systems and at least a measure of civil and industrial emergency preparedness.

5. Insurance. SDI would provide insurance to protect the American people and the world against likely Soviet cheating, against accidental missile launches, and against the proliferation and use of nuclear weapons by potential rogue regimes or groups.

6. SDI not Nuclear Abolition. For Reagan, SDI was a prerequisite for a safe path to deep arms reductions and to the elimination of the threat of nuclear missiles, most especially the fast-flying, hard-target-killing strategic ballistic missiles. Reagan’s nuclear testing policies make clear that the elimination of all or most missiles and weapons themselves was a much less realistic and far longer-term goal that could not be met by the U.S. unilaterally in a world of nuclear weapons and a range of delivery systems (see Chapter 12). It could be approached only as and if SDI met Reagan’s criteria of feasibility, survivability and cost-effectiveness at the mar-

[Book pg. 296]