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

gin; if conventional and other major force imbalances had been corrected; and if effective (high confidence) verification and trust had been securely established in a more democratic post-Soviet world that would, however ,likely still include potential nuclear proliferators and rogues.

SDI Versus MAD Targets. Reagan’s opponents falsely described SDI as a “Star Wars” “death ray” system to destroy Soviet cities from outer space. Yet city-killing destruction was in no way threatened by SDI’s small, non-nuclear anti-missile interceptor projectiles, but rather by the existing nuclear-armed offensive missiles of the two superpowers, the destabilizing MAD doctrine and proliferation. The most destructive of the existing missiles were the many hundreds of non-recallable land-based Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) and Sea-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs) carrying thousands of nuclear warheads. Many thousands more “theater” INF and “tactical” nuclear weapons and missiles might also be counted as “strategic” threats since their destructive power, especially on the Soviet side, was generally far greater than the two nuclear bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the Second World War. (Reagan’s INF policies are reviewed in Chapter 11.)

SDI’s Non-Explosive Kinetic Hit Method and Deterrence. SDI projectiles were designed to attack, not cities or other surface targets, but nuclear-armed missiles on a ballistic flight path that could, absent anti-missile defenses, destroy surface targets and perhaps millions of people within a few minutes of launch. SDI was based on ABM technologies that demonstrated that even small, non-nuclear interceptors (e.g., small projectiles or lasers) could, with improved tracking and speed, kinetically (i.e., without explosions) hit and damage the shells of the attacking ballistic missiles and/or their reentry-vehicles (RVs) or warheads. This was also the basis for the promising “Brilliant Pebbles” approach killed by opponents of U.S. national missile defenses in the 1990s.

The SDI interceptor’s damage to the aerodynamic shell of the incoming missiles, or warheads, would cause the latter to tumble out of their ballistic glide path. The tumbling would create friction and heat that would lead to harmless burnouts and render their nuclear triggers useless as they entered the earth’s atmosphere. Furthermore, SDI would not need to be perfect in destroying all attacking missiles (as SDI’s critics often charged) before starting to have a very significant deterrent effect on Soviet attack plans and military programs and beginning to provide some protection against limited, accidental, or rogue attack, whatever the source. In contrast, no protection whatsoever was provided by the one-hundred percent “leak” inherent if the MAD concept failed to deter a nuclear missile attack.

SDI versus “Star Wars” and MAD. Reagan’s SDI was a demonstrably moral, rational, and responsible research program to determine the technical improvements and feasibility required to assure a far more moral and stable alternative deterrence choice than one based on abandoning the American people and the world to the mercy of a MAD “balance of terror.” Readers may ask how the faith in MAD originated and why MAD’s true believers attacked the morally and strategically far better anti-missile alternatives like SDI. Some of this history is reviewed earlier in this book in Chapter 3 on the U.S. “containment” strategy, but it is also relevant here.

“Massive Retaliation” and MAD. MAD grew from the “Massive Retaliation” doctrine of the 1950s most famously associated with President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and U.S. Air Force General Curtis LeMay, to whom was attributed the quote “bomb them to the stone age.” In the 1960s, the administrations of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson and their Secretary of Defense Robert Strange McNamara promoted an alternative formulation of MAD based on McNamara’s quantitative, not morally concerned, “systems analysis” approach. McNamara’s amoral numerical argument for MAD was that if the leaders of each superpower believed they would lose some 40% of their population to an opponent’s second, or retaliatory, nuclear strike, then both superpowers would be effectively deterred from launching a first strike. To MAD’s true believers, this horrific calculation was the core of the so-called “balance of terror” assumption on which MAD was based. To a McNamara, a Ted Kennedy, or other supporters of MAD, an explicit core requirement was that the United States must remain totally vulnerable to nuclear attack and therefore must insist on concepts of “arms control” that would ban the potential insurance protection of national anti-ballistic missile (ABM) defenses.

The Suicidal Essence of MAD and its Anti-ABM Doctrine. By characterizing U.S. anti-missile systems like Reagan’s SDI “unstable” but MAD “stable,” opponents accepted MAD’s mutual nuclear suicide pact as moral and strategically sound and rejected America’s right and responsibility to provide protection and self-de-

[Book pg. 297]