Courtesy Reuters

Strategic Weapons


THE subject of defense against ballistic missiles probably occupies a unique position among strategic issues of the nuclear era. It has been more intensely debated in the United States than any other weapon system selected for deployment, such as the air-defense system or Polaris or Minuteman, or than any arms-control measure adopted to date, including the ban on nuclear tests. In fact, the decision to deploy such defenses may well be more important than any other single decision so far made concerning our strategic nuclear forces. Most of the published articles relating to defense against ballistic missiles (BMD for short; sometimes, but not here, denoted ABM) have opposed deployment of missile defense by the United States.[i] This is odd, in view of the fact that, at least through 1968, the Administration and Congress both clearly supported American deployment of BMD, and that most senior American academic strategists and many prominent advocates of arms control favor deployment at least under some conditions. The doubts increasingly expressed in the Congress in early 1969 may well result from the highly one-sided literature on the subject.

The present article is an attempt to clarify some of the reasons why many analysts think it entirely reasonable to favor American deployment. It will concentrate on considerations relating to an American BMD system intended to have substantial effectiveness against major Soviet attacks, rather than on a so-called "light" or "thin" system intended to be effective only against Chinese or other marginal attacks. The system now being deployed- the Sentinel-has been identified as an anti-Chinese system, but much of the support (both inside and outside the Government) for the Sentinel decision came from those who believed that the system would eventually have significant capability against large Soviet attacks. It seems very likely (and desirable) that whatever system finally emerges will eventually have such a capability, and therefore it seems appropriate to concentrate here on the actual policy issues this prospect presents.


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