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

fense for its people. Absent national anti-missile defenses, the twisted logic of SDI’s opponents left America’s presidents and people no choice but to rely on massive offensive missile strikes in either a “first strike” preemption attack or in a retaliatory U.S. “second strike” to annihilate the other superpower’s military-industrial targets, bases, and population centers. Opposition to SDI and related support of the MAD bans on national anti-missile defenses thus accepted the direct death of millions in targeted cities and millions more through the global spread of radioactivity. The MAD approach also required ignoring the reality of systemic Soviet arms treaty violations, including the ABM Treaty of 1972, the asymmetric Soviet strategic arms buildup, and the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation to countries and parties far beyond the two superpower signatories and the four other known nuclear powers (Great Britain, France, China, and presumably Israel).

U.S. and NATO Attempts to Modify MAD—1960s to the 1970s. It should be noted that before Reagan’s presidency, efforts to ameliorate MAD’s deadly assumptions about large nuclear exchanges were attempted in the 1960s. Theorists proposed ways of assuring “limited” nuclear wars and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) doctrine of “flexible response” was designed to avoid a nuclear escalation ladder by placing initial crisis reliance on numerous U.S. “tactical” and “theater” nuclear weapons to deter and counter the otherwise insurmountable Soviet/Warsaw Pact advantage in conventional forces. In the 1970s, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger also sought to emphasize U.S. “counter-value” targeting that would strike only Soviet strategic offensive assets like missile fields, radars, and command centers while avoiding cities. But substantial “collateral” damage would remain and Soviet targeting practices were quite another matter.

The MAD Doctrine Remains Standing. All such U.S./NATO concepts to limit the scale but not the existence of MAD were difficult to define, demarcate, or verify effectively and were likely to be quite confusing in application during crisis situations. It was also inherently impossible to clearly demarcate a line between “strategic” and “tactical” nuclear weapons, all with explosive power for exceeding that of the bombs that destroyed two Japanese cities and in which the Soviet Union (like today’s Russia) had large numerical advantages uncontrolled by any arms treaty limitations. It was similarly difficult to demarcate and target military-industrial sites embedded inside cities holding hundreds of thousands of civilians. “Flexible response” remained a NATO doctrine, but did not eliminate U.S. overall Cold War strategic reliance on MAD. In any case, the Soviets did not join in support of such efforts to reduce the West’s reliance on a strategic MAD faith they did not share. Until Reagan’s SDI proposal, MAD and its anti-ABM requirement continued to dominate the U.S. military and arms control policy.

MAD-Based Opposition to U.S. ABM Programs; Soviet and Chinese Realities. MAD’s hold on U.S. strategic thinking continued even after the Soviet Union began in 1966 to deploy rings of its Galosh ABM system and associated radars around Moscow. At the June 1967 U.S.-Soviet summit with President Lyndon Johnson in Glassboro, Soviet Premier Alexi Kosygin was cited by the Soviet Communist Party newspaper Izvestia as having stated on June 27 that: “The Soviet anti-missile system is not a weapon of aggression, of attack; it is a defense system.”1

MAD continued its U.S. hold even after aggressive Soviet ABM deployment and Chinese missile tests, and even after pressure from the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and Republican leaders led McNamara on September 18, 1967 to announce U.S. deployment of a “thin” ABM system called Safeguard. The U.S. program was defined as meeting a possible limited Chinese ICBM threat against U.S. cities and protecting against “the improbable but possible accidental launch of an intercontinental missile by one of the nuclear powers.”2 Soviet propaganda immediately attacked the U.S. Safeguard program, while continuing to deny the facts about the extensive Soviet ABM research and deployment programs.

In their propaganda attacks on even modest U.S. ABM systems like Safeguard, the Soviets, and many in the “politically-correct” U.S. arms control community, often resorted for doctrinal support to such Soviet propagandized illusions as found in the preambular language in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) signed on July 1, 1968, to push for “general and complete disarmament.” Regrettably, this fantasy faced a nuclear world that included totalitarians and other rogues. But it became the basis of the 1970s Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) process and all other 1970s détente efforts on nuclear arms control. As a popular slogan it encouraged the illusion of moratoria, caps, freezes, and other measures that assumed moral and strategic balance, even equivalence, between the superpowers and invariably focused political pressures for unilateral disarmament in the West, while ignoring the actual historical record of aggressive Soviet ideology, broken treaties, and unilateral arms buildups.

[Book pg. 298]