You might have missed it, but it was boomed in January.
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Even more important, however, is the incentive effect set up by such defenses, no matter how imperfect they may be. The presence of U.S. Star Wars systems greatly argues for smaller Soviet expenditures on strategic missiles. Just as an 80 percent tax on widgets will tend to channel investment capital into products other than widgets, so too an 80 percent “tax” on Soviet missiles will lead the Soviets away from the massive buildup of missiles that they have undertaken since the 1960s.
Naturally the Soviets will do what they can to thwart such a system with various countermeasures, a number of which have been suggested by domestic critics of Star Wars. On the other hand, the United States will try to thwart those countermeasures and, over time, can expect to improve its defenses to catch more and more offensive weapons. And there are no cheap counters to the multilayer defense envisioned by Star Wars proponents. Overall, the rationale for building offensive weapons cannot be as strong in a world where defense is allowed, and this holds true whether the defenses under discussion are 1 percent effective, 50 percent effective, or 99.999 percent effective.
Furthermore, strategic defense can greatly ease what might be called the greatest sticking point of arms control today: verification. In the first place, a U.S. (Soviet) strategic defense reduces the advantages to the Soviets (the U.S.) from cheating. Facing an 80-percent effective defense, the Soviets might add 1,000 new warheads to their offensive force, but they would gain only 200 deliverable warheads for their effort.
Knowing this, moreover, the United States would have less to fear from Soviet cheating. Once our defenses are in place, the cost of responding to a Soviet offensive buildup is not building more offenses of our own, or even building a whole new defense. Rather, we would only need to add a few interceptors on the margin to an already existing defense. Thus, if the Soviets add 1,000 (very expensive) nuclear missiles, we need only add 1,000 or 2,000 (very inexpensive) non-nuclear interceptors in space or on the ground.
What good are all these incentives, however, if the world is still left armed to the teeth with offensive weapons, against which there is no final and perfect defense? The Brookings Institution provides the answer, saying that while leak-proof defense may not be feasible,
other missions, for less-than-perfect defenses, are technically achievable and might be very useful. And missile-delivered nuclear weapons might indeed be rendered “impotent and obsolete,” to use President Reagan’s phrase in his speech March 1983 in the following sense: defenses might someday be possible for which each missile warhead added by the offense could be offset by defensive improvements of comparable or lesser cost. This would make marginal increases in missile forces unattractive to the offense, and ballistic missiles would be “obsolete”…
Indeed, unlike the SALT treaties, such dynamics do not at all depend on U.S.-Soviet cooperation to limit arms. Defense-protected build-down thus not only would enhance the prospects for signed, formal treaties, but would function as a kind of “arms control without agreements,” as Kenneth Adelman has argued in Foreign Affairs.
By contrast, it is hard to imagine any arms control treaty without defense achieving anything useful. Gary Hart, writing in the bulletin of the Arms Control Association last year, suggested that nothing short of “demand-style, on-site inspection” would suffice. But the Soviets will not agree to that.
If they did, even “on-site” inspection would not cover the very kinds of weapons that both superpowers are now concentrating on building. As Geraldine Ferraro admitted this fall on “Nightline,” a “comprehensive, verifiable nuclear freeze” is an oxymoron, since the better part of U.S. and Soviet forces are sufficiently small and mobile — sub-launched and bomber-launched cruise missiles, small intercontinental and theater missiles, and the like — as to be undetectable. One general illustrated the problem well not long ago when he took a group of journalists into his office and walked into a closet — emerging with several true-to-scale cruise missiles. “How do you verify these?” he asked the reporters. Silence.
ONE OF THE MORE persuasive arguments against Mr. Reagan’s Star Wars plan and its concomitant arms control strategy is that a U.S. defense would deal a severe blow to the East-West balance of power. Star Wars truly would cancel out years of Soviet investment in ICBMs, about 90 percent of the Soviet force. And combined with better air defenses against Soviet bombers and better anti-sub techniques and civil defense, U.S. defenses could arguably leave Moscow vulnerable to a first strike. In a world in which the Soviets still have substantial forces, such “destabilization” is not a negligible consideration.
But this merely illustrates a final advantage of the Reagan Doctrine, one that should be particularly compelling for those on the left. Precisely because Star Wars would greatly enhance U.S. power, it would leave the U.S. in a position to make unilateral gestures toward the Soviets. After all, one thousand survivable missiles are of much greater deterrent value than five thousand vulnerable ones. Suppose the United States deploys an 80-percent effective defense that the Soviets cannot match, either with a defense of their own or with an equivalent offensive buildup. As that system is completed, the United States could unilaterally tear up half, or more, of its offensive missile force — and still be in a much more secure position vis-a-vis the Soviets.
It would be even better, however, if the Soviets moved to deploy similar systems. In that case, each side would have greatly “built down” the destructive capacity of the other. Deterrence, far from being undermined, would still exist. But it would exist at a much lower level of destruction, and with much greater uncertainties about the success of any attack.
For some reason, the left never makes this argument. No liberal of note has argued in favor of Mr. Reagan’s Star Wars program provided it be accompanied by offensive reductions. More typical has been the response of such leading Democrats as John Glenn who have spoken out against Star Wars while voting in favor of the MX. Those who do support the President’s program in some way, such as Messrs. Krauthammer and Brzezinski, do so only to the extent that strategic defense is viewed not as a way of protecting people, but only as a defense of offensive missile silos.
Why only a silo defense? Even imperfect defenses might save millions of lives in the event of war. They might prevent an all-out war in the event of an accidental launch, or a strike by a small nuclear power. Imperfect defenses also form a bridge to more perfect technologies in the future, even as cavemen found uses for the wheel several thousand years before the invention of the internal combustion engine. Does not an 80-percent effective defense constitute 80 percent of a 100-percent effective defense?
As both William F. Buckley and Irving Kristol have observed, one of the more interesting facets of the Star Wars debate is the virulent, monolithic determination of the American left to believe that there is no chance of defending America. What most surprises, according to Buckley, is that so many prefer not even to hope for such a development.
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