Air University Review, November-December 1985

Space Arms Control

A Skeptical View

Dr. Colin S. Gray

THE superpower arms competition is reaching out to embrace the heavens because the competitors derive great benefit from space deployments for military purposes. Moreover, there is a terrestrial arms competition between the superpowers because of an enduring geopolitical antagonism. This logic is as obvious and inexorable as it tends in practice to be neglected by some of the more starry-eyed advocates both of far-reaching measures of arms control in general and of space-focused arms control regimes in particular.

I would argue instead that it makes no sense to consider space arms control in isolation, abstracted from its proper contexts of the arms competition as a whole and of the political structure of superpower rivalry. Critics of arms control malpractice during the past decade and a half, the SALT-START-INF era, have long noted, similarly, the strategic absurdity of discussing both offense apart from defense, and "strategic" apart from "theater" or "intermediate-range" forces. The United States cannot have a space arms control policy or a space strategy, any more than it can have a maritime, a land, or an air strategy that is distinctive from national security policy as a whole.1 Large-scale war, should it occur, will embrace all arms and all geographical environments. "Combined arms" thinking should pervade U.S. policymaking for arms control as well as U.S. military operational planning.

Space is a special, or unique, environment in that states do not own it, no one lives there, and its physical properties are certainly unique. However, space is not special in the sense that states are, or will be, behaving there in ways fundamentally different from their settled habits of mixed cooperation and conflict in the three other geographical dimensions of political engagement. The militarization of space, which is now far advanced and shows no indication of diminishing, creates a major incentive for the development and deployment of ASAT (antisatellite) and active DSAT (defense satellite) capabilities. The development and deployment of large terrestrially based arsenals of long-range missiles that must leave the atmosphere for much of their flight create, inexorably, powerful incentives to develop and deploy effective countervailing weapon technologies that would have to be either space-based or, at the least, assisted by support platforms in space. In addition, again inexorably, the potential deployment of an architecture of ballistic missile defense that had key elements space-based must generate, indeed mandate, very robust DSAT capability. DSAT is not necessarily synonymous with ASAT, but the technical overlap could be considerable.

Much of what has been said and written in favor of various proposals for space arms control amounts, in truth, to little more than pious nonsense. Pious because unduly uncritical obeisance is paid to an arms control credo that reflects a triumph of hope over experience; and nonsense because the answers or solutions that are provided are in fact provided to a problem, really a condition, that has been wrongly defined. The "problem," properly framed, is not to "keep the arms race out of space" or some similar formulation. Instead, the problem is either (a) to remove the incentives for (defensive) space weaponization, or (b) to facilitate the effectiveness of defensive space weapons.

ASAT arms control is a lost cause for a wide range of powerfully plausible reasons that are specified in detail and discussed later in this article. However, the basic reason why the superpowers have developed ASAT weapons is, of course, because they have chosen to provide important, and arguably essential (though unarguably increasingly important), force-multiplier support with space platforms. The more important the military assets deployed in space, the greater the incentive, on the one side, to hold them at risk and, on the other side, to provide for their defense-passively and actively.

I am profoundly skeptical of the likely practical value of the arms control process to help fashion a military space environment conducive to the best interests of the United States. However, I have little difficulty designing arms control schemes, though not for space systems, that certainly would be helpful for national security––if they could be negotiated and if the Soviet Union would comply with their terms.

Attitudes and Opinions:
The "Arms Control Culture"

The Napoleonic maxim that the moral is to the material as three is to one could usefully be supplemented by the proposition that the political is to the technical as three is to one. Armaments are, of course, at one level technical. But their meaning, at a more significant level, is political. Armaments are not the problem; rather the propensity of governments to use them is the problem. History, including some very recent history, is littered with technical schemes for the control, and generally reduction, of armaments, whose ingenuity was matched only by their political irrelevance. The lobby for space arms control, as was said of the Bourbons who were restored by the allied victory over Napoleon, would seem to have learned nothing and forgotten nothing from historical experience.2

It is both bizarre and not a little sad that the current debate about ASAT and the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) suggests that the most important question to be asked of space weaponry of different kinds is how best to control it ––as if it were ASAT and BMD weapons themselves that were the overriding threats to peace. Lest any reader of this discussion should not be conversant with the relevant history, it is appropriate to state the following noncontroversial "enduring truths" about arms control:

The issue is not the abstract merit of an arms control process. Anyone can write a panegyric of praise for the benevolent effects that hypothetical arms control regimes could have on the international political system. The trouble is that the kingdom of the truly dedicated arms controller is neither of this world nor of any part of outer space that the states of this world can reach with lethal machines.

There is in the United States today what one could term an "arms control culture." That is to say, there is a body of socially transmitted concepts, attitudes, habits, and skills that inclines those so encultured to believe, macroscopically, that defense problems are really arms control problems and, microscopically, that the responsible citizen's first duty vis--vis a particular weapon is to try to prevent its deployment, control it, or abolish it. For the sake of justice in debate, it is only right to note, as Ralph Lapp argued at book length more than a decade ago, that there is also a "weapons culture" in the United States.5 Both worldviews, or cultures, are potentially harmful to the national security. Arms control may not make us more secure, just as more weapons may not make us stronger. In the process of arguing that an arms control culture is framing false choices for U.S. national security policy with respect to projects for space arms control, I do not intend to signal implied enthusiasm for deployment of any and every weapon that American engineers are able to construct. Folly in mindless, indiscriminate recommendation of weapon accumulation, however, does not justify folly in arms control advocacy on some "balance of poor judgment" theory of productive policy debate.

Thus far in this article, I have kept the discussion of arms control at a level of very considerable generality. The reason why I have done so is that behind the emerging debate about space arms control are general attitudes toward the value of an arms control process.6 I have suggested strongly in this discussion that there are what may be termed enduring "structural" realities pertaining to arms control which compel, at best, a modesty of genuine security achievement in that realm7 and which ensure that political conditions, not technical relations in armament, comprise the more independent variable.

If optimism over the prospects for new space arms control regimes has not been sufficiently dampened by the arguments presented thus far, it is time to introduce two additional levels of difficulty––moreover, two levels that function synergistically for malign effect. If "Problem Level One" is the character of interstate relations and the highly plausible proposition that arms control follows improved political relations as trade follows the flag, then "Problem Level Two" is the political (and strategic) culture and style of the relevant participants in the arms control process, and "Problem Level Three" comprises the technical characteristics of the candidate weapon agenda for control.

Deferring "Level Three" issues, which will be discussed later in the ASAT and SDI sections, and concentrating on "Level Two" factors, we must examine, at this juncture, some of the salient characteristics of Soviet and American political culture and style. Political and strategic culture is not the shifting product of particular people who are struggling pragmatically to solve problems on the basis of necessarily very imperfect information. Culture, to repeat, comprises concepts, attitudes, habits, and skills that characterize the way a community defines its tasks, prefer to approach them, distinguishes their elements, and seeks to accomplish them.8 Thus, the subject of this analysis is not space arms control as a set of ideas, but rather, space arms control between distinctively Soviet and American competitors.

Regardless of where one stands on the merits of particular space arms control ideas, there can be no evading the unfortunate facts that the Soviet Union has a well-documented history of cheating on solemn agreements,9 while the United States has a no less well-documented history of practical, if not formal, acquiescence in such Soviet cheating. Before delving into the arguments over ASAT control and the future of the ABM Treaty of 1972, one should recognize that the pertinent structure of the situation vis--vis ASAT arms control looks distinctly unpromising. To summarize:

(1) It is Russian/Soviet cultural style not to permit legal niceties to stand in the way of desired military program deployments. Moreover, the Soviet Union has demonstrated a willingness to evade the plain meaning and purpose of arms control agreements both in ways that have military significance (the SS-19, the SS-X-25, telemetry encryption, Moscow ABM system upgrades, underground nuclear test yields) and in ways that do not (Limited Nuclear Test Ban violations [persistent venting], "yellow rain," and so on).

(2) Because of the technical similarity of "scientific" and military missions, the "piggyback" possibility for illicit hardware, the impracticality of space-platform inspection, and the residual ASAT capability of strategic offensive and defensive missile forces, noncompliance with a space arms control regime would be unusually difficult to verify.

(3) The potential military payoff from ASAT Treaty noncompliance is very high indeed, given the facts that (a) the United States has deployed well under a hundred satellites that the Soviet Union could be motivated to target, and (b) the United States does not have a production-line approach to satellite provision. The United States is not at all well positioned to replace combat losses among space platforms. (This is the vice of the virtue of superior station-keeping qualities––the U.S. approach to its space system architecture is highly efficient in peacetime.)

(4) The United States has yet to call a halt to any treaty regime (or carry through on such threats to that effect as have been issued) on grounds of unsatisfactory Soviet responses to noncompliance concerns––notwithstanding the facts that the SS-19 made a nonsense of the Interim Agreement on Strategic Offensive Arms of SALT I, the SS-X-25 and missile test encryption are fundamentally incompatible with the plain American intent in SALT II, and the Abalokova radar lends itself to no plausible technical interpretation other than that it is intended to "close the back door" as vital, long-lead-time infrastructure for nationwide BMD coverage.10

The key issue is not really verification of space treaty compliance or noncompliance. Instead, the central policy issue is what the U.S. government would have the political courage to do in the event––indeed, the highly likely event––that technically plausible evidence of Soviet noncompliance could be shown. A background consideration for the U.S. policy debate today over ASAT arms control is the fact that the Soviet Union has not complied, at least in ways compatible with U.S. understanding of the purposes and plain meaning of agreements, with virtually every arms control regime to which she has been a signatory. What would be the basis for arguing either that the Soviet Union would behave differently "next time" or that the United States really would insist upon a very high quality of Soviet treaty compliance and would be prepared to withdraw in the event of a persistent, unsatisfactory Soviet performance? Soviet noncompliance, or very uncertain compliance, with a SALT or START regime is judged by many people––wrongly in my view––to be tolerable because the sheer quantity of weaponry permitted both sides makes for an inherently robust military balance. By way of contrast, the balance in capability to use and deny outer space for military purposes is inherently delicate, given the low numbers of important platforms deployed.

ASAT Arms Control: For and Against

The American "arms control culture," for very understandable reasons, has served strong notice that keeping weapons out of space has become its first priority of business.11 Even the MX/Peacekeeper ICBM fades somewhat in significance compared with the offenses that space weaponization is held to be certain to commit against the arms control credo. It is difficult to avoid miscategorizing particular arguments concerning space arms control. A central complication is that the debate over ASAT and ASAT arms control is to a degree distinctive, but that debate has major implications for the SDI. Furthermore, different opponents and proponents of the SDI have a variety of strategic desiderata in mind. At some considerable risk of omitting important variants of attitude and opinion, it is worth noting the following points:

ASAT control prospects today must be considered both on their own terms and in relation to a U.S. (and Soviet) freedom of policy action in the future. To ensure that I am not accused of having a hidden (SDI) agenda lurking behind an ostensible discussion of ASAT, I acknowledge readily here that SDI protection logically dominates this discussion. However, as will be made plain, the case for ASAT arms control fails for reason of its own weaknesses even if there were no SDI arguments of policy relevance.

Stated as directly as possible, the SDI––properly constructed so as to include air defense and civil defense––offers the only halfway plausible prospect for reducing very dramatically the quantity of nuclear threat to American society. If there were some attractive political or radically less expensive technical means available to the same end, I would be arguing for them very forcefully. Pending some historically unprecedented transformation in the character or terms of international political discourse, the SDI––technical uncertainties and novel strategic problems admitted––offers the only path that may be available to lead toward our living in much greater safety. ASAT arms control, like the ABM Treaty, easily could place at fatal legal and political risk the prospect for eventual societal defense on a comprehensive (though not literally impermeable) scale. Therefore, much is at stake in the contemporary policy controversy over ASAT arms control.

The case for ASAT arms control, at least superficially, would be stronger than what is provided today if one were able to design an ASAT control regime that truly would accomplish useful things. To be generous, it is far from self-evident that ASAT arms control could accomplish what its more single-minded proponents claim for it (unless, of course, they have a "hidden agenda" of inhibiting SDI development––an objective that ASAT arms control would be likely to achieve very effectively in the United States at least).

What is the argument for ASAT arms control? 13 First, at the most general level, there is the claim that such arms control can be accomplished. This is more than a little reminiscent of the allegations of "technology push" by weapons scientists and engineers who foist their "ripening plums" of new weapons on policymakers.14 Now, arms control advocates argue, there is a narrow "window of opportunity," a "last clear chance" before ASAT deployment becomes, at best, vastly more difficult to arrest or reverse and, at worst, literally unstoppable. Reference is made back to the late 1960s to U.S. policy design for SALT I, to the allegedly missed opportunity of preventing MIRV deployment. It is believed that, in that instance, the United States chose to gain a near-term military advantage at the plainly predictable price of future strategic instability. ASAT, like MIRV, we are told, is a development that the United States will have leisure to regret (of course, if the more dire predictions of ASAT-occasioned crisis instability eventuate, that leisure period might be painfully curtailed).

The answers to this argument are that one should not do something simply because it can be done, and it is a long way from established fact that MIRV truly was negotiable, Moreover, nothing could be further from the truth than the claim that the United States is pressing ahead toward deployment of a technically superior ASAT with the air-launched miniature homing vehicle (ALMHV), in search of a quick advantage, heedless of the strategic consequences. Even in the absence of consideration of the other reasons why an ASAT control treaty would be a snare and a delusion, the certainty that such a treaty would place a fatal political-legal ambush down the road for SDI development suffices to condemn it.

Second, the point is made that the United States, supposedly, is more dependent on space platforms than is the Soviet Union, so ASAT arms control, even of a modest character, would have to function to the net U.S. advantage. There are two obvious problems with this argument. The first is evidential in kind: the Soviet Union is making heavy, and increasing, use of space for important military functions.15 True, in some crude quantitative sense the Soviet Union may be less dependent on space assets than is the United States; but one should not neglect possible operational contexts or the character of Soviet military doctrine. The side that seizes the strategic initiative is likely to have its space-based assets in better condition than is the side that is placed in the strike-back position. Also, the warfighting, "classical strategy" orientation of Soviet military doctrine may render some Soviet military space assets––for intelligence gathering and navigational assistance for restrike––of more critical significance than might be appreciated.16

The second difficulty with the argument for the net American advantage in ASAT weapon control is a matter very much of common sense. The Soviet Union has no record of endorsing, knowingly, any arms control agreement or any other kind of treaty regime that might work to her net disadvantage. As noted in a recent Defense Intelligence Agency report, "the idea of maintaining a balance or 'staying even' with a foe is alien to Soviet military thought."" Arms control, to succeed (or endure, politically), must be a non-zero-sum game. However, the apparent strength and the nature of Soviet interest in ASAT arms control should be explored rigorously. Could it be that the Soviets are fearful of what the absence of ASAT control could imply for a U.S. SDI program that threatens the integrity of their strategy? Or, dare one suggest, could it be that they can contemplate an ASAT control regime with equanimity because they have no expectation that they would need strictly to comply with it?

Third, those in favor of ASAT arms control argue that space-based surveillance assets of various kinds and space-based communication relays are critically important for "stability." Therefore, any military deployment that would place those assets at risk, and particularly at very prompt risk, has to promote instability. A variety of offsetting arguments should be noted. It would be a very optimistic person who would be confident that any character of ASAT control treaty actually would succeed in removing technically reliable threats to U.S. space platforms. Also, first-strike planners would have to worry that ASAT assault upon critical space platforms at very different orbital altitudes would sound a warning bell rather than blind and paralyze. Moreover, the superpowers are not, and are unlikely ever to become, totally dependent upon space platforms for early-warning, surveillance more generally, or long-range communications. There are technical alternatives today, and there will be alternatives tomorrow. Finally, it is just too glib to suggest, as has Daniel Deudney, that "the Archduke Francis Ferdinand of World War III may well be a critical Soviet reconnaissance satellite hit by a piece of space junk during a crisis."18 If twelve pieces of space junk hit twelve important satellites within a forty-eight hour period during a very acute crisis, Deudney's idea might have some limited merit.

Fourth, and almost needless to mention yet again, many ASAT arms control proponents are focusing on ASAT as the tip of a space weapons iceberg that carries, in their view, the promise of promoting strategic instability. These people are correct in believing that ASAT as a policy issue today is critically important for the political feasibility of an endeavor, one day, to deploy space-based defenses for society-wide protection.

Many of the arguments against ASAT arms control, generically, already have been introduced in this discussion. However, a summary of them may be helpful.

First, an ASAT treaty cannot usefully "bound the threat" to U.S. space systems. If "ASAT capability relates to all systems capable of damaging, destroying, or otherwise interrupting the functioning of satellites,"19 the threat includes interceptor vehicles (of different kinds, with a variety of possible kill mechanisms); potentially variously based directed-energy weapons; electronic interference with satellite uplinks and downlinks; and weapons targeted against the ground, air, and sea-based infrastructure for interpretation and relay of satellite data traffic to ultimate users.20 The more valuable U.S. space systems can be protected, to a degree, by hardening against nuclear and some directed-energy threats, by provision of limited maneuver options to "break track," by "stealthy" design (in some cases), by suitable choices for frequency of transmission, by selection of orbits that cannot be reached rapidly, by storage of spares inert in orbits, by greater autonomy (from ground control) in operation, and by more extensive cross-linking within satellite constellations where feasible (for NAVSTAR GPS, for a leading example). No ASAT control treaty can do anything to protect a ground-based infrastructure that is not suitably dispersed, hardened, or defended. Overall, one should not neglect the attack planner's dilemma that ASAT assault against critical early warning and strategic communication satellites in geosynchronous (et al.) orbits, on a militarily useful scale, would be akin to a declaration of war and would certainly have dramatic DEFCON implications for force generation.

Second, an ASAT control treaty would be reliably verifiable only in the trivial sense that known ASAT-dedicated deployed hardware could be monitored. Aside from the small complication that the Soviet Union does not admit to having a dedicated ASAT weapon, there is no way that anything even approaching the full range of ASAT capability, realistically broadly understood (to include electronic warfare), could be verified. Even with respect to the most obvious and visible of ASAT capabilities, ICBM-carried interceptor vehicles, a U.S. government report states as follows:

... Andropov's pledge concerning a unilateral ASAT moratorium is meaningless, for the Soviets can continue to test them, disguised as scientific research satellites, regardless of any treaty.21

Third, any ASAT control treaty beyond the innocuous could hardly fail to work to a net U.S. disadvantage. As I suggested earlier, the Soviet Union would have a large incentive to cheat, such cheating on only a modest scale could reap militarily significant payoffs, cheating would be technically all too feasible, and the United States––on the record to date––tolerates cheating anyway. The United States does not develop and test new technology right on the margin of arguable treaty compliance. The Soviet Union does, and then some. It should be recalled that the Soviet Union, unlike the United States, does not have a truly civilian space program. An ASAT treaty would be likely to have the political effect in the United States of discouraging expensive programs intended to provide physically for satellite survivability.22 Given the long Soviet record of not permitting military requirements to be affected negatively by arms control agreements, one need not be blessed with the gift of prophecy to predict, therefore, that an ASAT treaty:

Fourth, the United States has a major interest in denying Soviet spacecraft a free ride for force-multiplier missions in aid of strategic missile, ground, naval, and air forces. Soviet doctrine calls for an endeavor to effect a favorable alteration in the correlation of forces at the outset of a war. However, the Soviet theory of war is focused on the large campaign, rather than on the single battle. It is important for deterrence that Soviet defense planners anticipate being denied the services of ocean surveillance, navigation, and communication satellites. The loss of orbital eyes and ears should complicate usefully the Soviet task of attack assessment for restrike purposes; the loss of radar ocean reconnaissance satellite and ELINT-ocean reconnaissance satellite platforms could be critically significant, given the importance of seaborne power projection in global conflict to the maritime alliance of the West; and the loss of GLONASS (global navigation satellite system)23 navigation satellites should impair the military effectiveness of all Soviet user organizations.

Fifth, ASAT arms control beyond the very trivial or the short-lived is not compatible with the freedom of development, testing, and deployment action that serious commitment to the SDI requires. ASAT capability, on a large scale, comes as a by-product of, or bonus from, boost, postboost, and midcourse BMD weaponry. The homing overlay experiment (HOE) of the U.S. Army, for example, formally speaking was a BMD test. But a HOE-derived weapon that has some capability against warheads would have to be much more impressive in action against satellites (in low earth orbit).

The idea has been mooted that a space arms control regime could be negotiated to have a lifespan, say, of only five years. This type of agreement, so the story goes, would have zero impact on the SDI, yet would provide the political cover of a positive arms control record on which the U.S. Congress may insist. However, history shows that both the United States and the Soviet Union have a way of becoming near-permanently bound by the diplomatic record that has been established. A five-year, no-space-weapon regime, for example, could affect profoundly the budgetary politics of the SDI during those five years; certainly would generate a "save-the-temporary-treaty" lobby; and would, in practice, be exceedingly difficult to switch off when the five years have elapsed. Proponents of the concept of a limited-term agreement are, of course, aware of these political facts of life.

Arms Control, Disarmament and the SDI

President Reagan's SDI should be approached as a challenge for arms control rather than as a challenge to arms control. The sacred cows of arms control enthusiasts, which the SDI may reduce to hamburger, amount to little more substantial than an obsolete theory of stable deterrence and an incorrect theory of arms race dynamics. A great deal, though certainly not all, of the more root-and-branch philosophical objection to the SDI really is an attempt to turn the military-technological clock back to the great simplicity of an allegedly technology-mandated condition of mutual assured (societal) destruction, vintage 1966-68.24 Efforts to evade or transcend the vulnerable society condition, be they through refinements to offensive targeting plans or through new active defense technologies, are, allegedly, condemned on the grounds that they are bound to fail and that they are potentially dangerous for the delusions that they may foster among the gullible.25

Some people are seeking to use arms control diplomacy to erect political-legal barriers to technological progress in BMD. They do not recognize that it is not a sin against stability to endeavor to protect the American people. In case anyone is confused on the subject, the official U.S. concept of strategic stability today refers not at all to capabilities to inflict massive societal damage, nor does it embrace the bizarre notion that international security is promoted by the Soviet Union's enjoying unrestricted offensive-weapon access to American society. A condition of stable deterrence is one wherein Soviet leaders anticipate the defeat of their strategy. Such a condition, it should be noted, is all too compatible with a Soviet ability to defeat the United States in U.S. terms. Proceeding beyond current U.S. policy, I have long believed that there is an instability in deterrence fostered by the potentially paralyzing self-deterrent consequences of the American condition of an undefended homeland.26

Official spokesmen for the SDI have shown great respect to date for the ABM Treaty of 1972. However, opponents of the SDI have launched a "National Campaign to Save the ABM Treaty." Because the ABM Treaty is a symbolic (if not quasi-theological) as well as a substantive issue for standard bearers for rival schools of doctrine, rational and even-tempered discussion of the treaty is difficult to achieve. Minds are not open on the subject. With malice toward none (save Soviet noncompliers), I would like to call attention to the following salient points:

Critics who assert that the SDI may place the ABM Treaty in peril are correct. One could add that Soviet noncompliance misbehavior also should place the treaty in peril, but the Reagan administration seems reluctant to make that argument bear heavy political traffic. The ultimate goal of the SDI, as President Reagan has stated and restated unequivocally, is to provide nationwide defense––to render Soviet offensive nuclear weapons "impotent and obsolete."27 Article I of the ABM Treaty is similarly unequivocal.

Each part undertakes not to deploy ABM systems for the defense of the territory of its country and not to provide the base for such a defense…28

It is possible that for a variety of political, economic, and technological reasons the United States may decide either not to deploy BMD weaponry of any kind or to deploy only a terminal BMD system for endoatmospheric defense of some hard-point targets. In those circumstances, the ABM Treaty poses no barrier to deployment or would need to be modified only in very modest ways.

Furthermore, a considerable amount of SDI development and testing activity could be conducted, were the U.S. government willing to endorse some expediently permissive interpretations of treaty language and to side-step what many people do, and would, regard as the plain meaning of the treaty. To take the most obvious generic example, the United States is not bound in any way by treaty vis--vis development, testing, or deployment of ASAT capability. Therefore, the United States could produce an overdesigned mix of nominally ASAT systems.

In practice, even if the United States were determined not to offer very serious offense to Soviet and domestic sensitivities regarding the bounds of treaty-compliant behavior, considerable useful leeway for BMD development and testing could be found through sensibly self-serving interpretation of key words and phrases in the treaty and through exploitation of the absence of any legal restraint on ASAT and ATBM weapons. Article V of the treaty states:

Each Party undertakes not to develop, test, or deploy ABM systems or components which are sea-based, air-based, or mobile land-based.29

But what constitutes development? And what constitutes a mobile system or component? Examples of this kind could be proliferated.30 The point is that should the United States decide, for reasons of politics or for fear of near-term Soviet "breakout" (as contrasted with the contemporary reality of Soviet "creep-out"), to seek to live with an unmodified ABM Treaty for as long as it is able, there are many ambiguities that could be exploited in the treaty and the associated diplomatic record, not to mention the sanction that could be sought with reference to Soviet noncompliance (or very arguable compliance). It need hardly be said that this approach is not "the American way." Moreover, I am not recommending that the U.S. government knowingly should affront its cultural preferences in this cynical way.

A more productive, politically defensible, and honorable policy course for the United States would be to reconsider the totality of its approach to strategic arms control. Given what could be at stake over the SDI (quite literally the physical protection of the American people) and given the plain absence of any attractive, attainable alternatives, the case for removal of ABM Treaty constraints on development, testing, and deployment, would seem virtually to make itself. The ABM Treaty cannot protect the American future; a mature SDI just might.

Contrary to appearances in this analysis, I do not dismiss entirely the potential value of suitable arms control and disarmament regimes for national and international security. A process of transition to a defense-heavy strategic posture obviously would be facilitated greatly were the Soviet offensive threat to be diminished in quantity and, preferably, frozen in quality. How might this desirable condition be promoted? There are two intimately connected paths to follow: negotiation and the achievement of visible momentum in military programs.

It is almost certainly the case that for the next several years the Soviet Union will be most unfriendly toward the negotiation of any isolated constraints on strategic offensive forces (i.e., constraints that would have the effect of lending plausibility to the more expansive American visions of SDI effectiveness). A cooperative, or partially cooperative, defensive transition will have to be earned by the United States.31 Since the net balance of advantage between U.S. defensive and Soviet offensive weapon technologies ten to twenty years from now is problematical, one cannot assume confidently a secure future for cooperation in a defensive transition.

What one can and should do today is to outline, broadly, a strategy for arms control assistance for a strategic condition characterized by major defense advantage. Whether or not American negotiators ever will be able to deliver a suitable arms control regime depends on currently unpredictable trends in the technical relationship between offense and defense, as well as on the general state of East-West political relations.

The Soviet Union will agree to reduce its offensive threat if it calculates that in the absence of legal constraints the United States will proceed to deploy a strategic force posture––offense and defense––that will diminish Soviet security nonmarginally. What this means is that Soviet leaders will need to believe that their offense will not fare very well against a maturing U.S. SDI and that their defense will not cope very well with modernized U.S. offensive forces. Even if Soviet leaders should anticipate being able to sustain a rough equality in the strategic arms competition, still they could well decide that negotiated arms control assistance to the two defensive transitions would be in their best interest. The Soviet Union is not unfriendly to the idea of homeland defense, only to the idea of American homeland defense. Standard geopolitical reasoning may impress upon Soviet leaders the attraction of a strategic context of essentially "sanctuary superpowers." I do not wish to appear to make light of the problems for U.S. and U.S.-allied security of a world wherein Soviet territory no longer was massively at nuclear risk.

Bearing in mind the improbability of a START agreement that would achieve a dramatic scale of negotiated disarmament of nuclear offensive forces, it is appropriate to observe that space-based weapons (directed energy, projectiles, or rockets) for boost-phase or midcourse BMD would effect functional disarmament of the long- and intermediate-range weapons of the adversary. Actual physical disarmament should follow, if the superpowers appreciated that those means of weapon delivery no longer could penetrate reliably the burgeoning barriers of defense. A final point worth noting about defensive space arms is that they would constitute, de facto, a very robust regime to guard against the possibility of any catalytic war that might be triggered by accidental launch of missiles ("friendly" or otherwise).

The bulk of the contemporary public comment advocating space arms control is really very backward-looking. It recommends one or another means of freezing defense technology. Although SDI critics claim that they favor continuing research on defensive technologies and undoubtedly are sincere, their claims invite skeptical reception in that generally these same individuals seem not to recognize the necessity of paying a fairly high-dollar exploration price to see whether effective defense is feasible. Moreover, so strong, even emotional, is the opposition to the SDI from space arms control lobbyists, that one should be excused doubting whether any degree of SDI technical success would suffice to change the negative attitudes in question. When a person says that he or she would favor strategic defenses that really would defend but then simultaneously declines to support a research and development effort adequate to explore the feasibility of suitable systems, one must suspect an unwillingness to be convinced.

A related problem is the pervasiveness of unrealistic requirements for perfect performance. In a world with nuclear weapons, only the best defense would be good enough for many people. One sees their point. However, it seems to me that if this defense could enforce a condition where "leakage" would be low by way of dramatic contrast to the current situation, one would have found a defense that was not as good as one would like but which certainly would be good enough to purchase.

Looking to the 1990s and beyond, as we should, we must recognize that the challenge before us is not to control defensive space arms. Instead, it is to design and effect an arms control policy that facilitates the military effectiveness of space arms (weapons deployed in space, weapons deployable rapidly to space, or weapons whose lethal mechanisms are relayed via space platforms). Arms control, properly understood, is not a matter of mindlessly opposing the latest lethal devices. Arms control, rather, is about stabilizing deterrence in order to prevent war and establishing constraints which, in the event of war, would canalize military capability and plans for contingent behavior in directions conducive to the limitation of damage. Space systems, weapons, and support that would render the prospective military efficacy of long-range ballistic missiles and air-breathing vehicles increasingly problematical could contribute decisively both to prewar deterrence and to damage limitation. Neither claim can be advanced plausibly in support of the arms control process of the past fifteen years.

National Institute for Public Policy


1. For a variety of views on how one should approach space for security purposes, see Colin S. Gray, "Space Is Not a Sanctuary," Survival, September/October 1983, pp. 194-204; Daniel Deudney, "Unlocking Space," Foreign Policy, Winter 1983-84, pp. 93-113; and Joseph E. Justin, "Space: A Sanctuary, the High Ground, or a Military Theater?" in International Security Dimensions of Space, edited by Uri Ra'anan and Robert L. Pfaltzgraff, Jr. (Hamden, Connecticut: Archon, 1984), pp. 102-15.

2. A useful historical perspective is provided by Jeffrey Barlow, "Arms Races, Arms Buildups, and War," in The Nuclear Freeze Controversy, edited by Keith B. Payne and Colin S. Gray (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Abt Books, 1984), pp. 37-55.

3. A powerful recent statement of this case is Henry S. Rowen, "The Old SALT Gang Returns," The Wall Street Journal, 2 November 1984, p. 28. Also see Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft's reply in the Journal on 12 November, and Rowen's response on 16 November.

4. This thesis is argued persuasively by Stephen Peter Rosen, "Foreign Policy and Nuclear Weapons: The Case for Strategic Defenses," in The Strategic Imperative: New Policies for American Security, edited by Samuel P. Huntington (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Ballinger, 1982, pp. 141-61; and Richard Ned Lebow, "Windows of Opportunity: Do States Jump through Them?" International Security, Summer 1984, pp. 147-86.

5. See Ralph Lapp, The Weapons Culture (New York: Norton, 1968).

6. This important point is well signaled in Arms Control in Space: Workshop Proceedings (Washington: Office of Technology Assessment, U.S. Congress, 1984), pp. 4, 16.

7. See Colin S. Gray, "Arms Control Problems," in Nuclear Arms: Ethics, Strategy, Politics, edited by R. James Woolsey (San Francisco: Institute for Contemporary Studies, 1984), pp. 153-69.

8. See Jack Snyder, The Soviet Strategic Culture: Implications for Limited Nuclear Operations, R-2145-AF (Santa Monica, California: RAND, September 1977); and Colin S. Gray, "American Strategic Culture and Military Performance," in Military Technology, edited by Asa A. Clark IV (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, forthcoming).

9. See William Hains, " Breaches of Arms Control Obligations and Their Implications" in Arms Control: Myth versus Reality, edited by Richard Staar (Stanford, California: Hoover Institution, 1984), pp. 134-53; and A Quarter Century of Soviet Compliance Practices under Arms Control Commitments, 1958-1983, Summary (Washington: General Advisory Committee on Arms Control arid Disarmament, October 1984).

10. See Colin S. Gray, "Moscow Is Cheating," Foreign Policy, Fall 1984, pp. 141-52.

11. See Thomas K. Longstreth and John E. Pike, A Report on the Impact of U.S. and Soviet Ballistic Missile Defense Programs on the ABM Treaty (Washington: National Campaign to Save the ABM Treaty, June 1984); Arms Control Today, July/August 1984 (special issue on the Strategic Defense Initiative); Sidney D. Drell, Philip J. Farley, and David Holloway, The Reagan Strategic Defense Initiative: A Technical, Political, and Arms Control Assessment (Stanford, California: Center for International Security and Arms Control, Stanford University, July 1984); and Union of Concerned Scientists, The Fallacy of Star Wars (New York: Vintage, 1984).

12. See Arms Control in Space: Workshop Proceedings, pp. 20-21.

13. Useful presentations of the procontrol case are Richard I. Garwin, Kurt Gottfried, and Donald L. Hafner, "Antisatellite Weapons," Scientific American, June 1984, pp. 45-55; and Union of Concerned Scientists, The Fallacy of Star Wars, Part III.

14. A recent relevant study emphasizing "policy pull" rather than "technology push" is Jonathan B. Stein, From H-Bomb to Star Wars: The Politics of Strategic Decision Making (Lexington, Massachusetts: Heath, 1984).

15. For an excellent review of Soviet military space activity, See Steven M. Meyer, "Soviet Military Programmes and the 'New High Ground'," Survival, September/October 1983, pp. 204-15.

16, Soviet doctrine for the military uses of space is examined by Uri Ra'anan, "The Soviet Approach to Space: Personalities an Military Doctrine," in International Security Dimensions of Space, edited by Ra'anan and Robert Pfaltzgraff, pp. 47-56; and Soviet Military Space Doctrine, DDB-1400-16-84 (Washington: Defense Intelligence Agency, 1 August 1984).

17. Soviet Military Space Doctrine, p. 11.

18. Deudney, p. 101.

19. Report to the Congress on ASAT Arms Control (Washington: Department of Defense, 31 March 1984), p. 6.

20. See Colin S. Gray, American Military Space Policy: Information Systems, Weapon Systems, and Arms Control (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Abt Books, 1983), pp. 45-46.

21. Soviet Military Space Doctrine, p. 31.

22. In which regard, see Robert B. Giffen, U.S. Space System Survivability: Strategic Alternatives for the 1990s, Monograph Series No. 82-4 (Washington: National Defense University Press, 1982).

23. The Soviet NAVSTAR GPS.

24. See Wolfgang K. H. Panofsky, "The Mutual Hostage Relationship between America and Russia, " Foreign Affairs, October 1973, pp. 109-18.

25. An outstandingly lucid critique of recent trends in U.S. strategic policy is Robert Jervis, The Illogic of American Nuclear Strategy (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1984), particularly chapter 2.

26. See Colin S. Gray, "War-fighting for Deterrence," Journal of Strategic Studies, March 1984, pp. 5-28.

27. "President's Speech on Military Spending and a New Defense," New York Times, 24 March 1984, p. 20.

28. U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Arms Control and Disarmament Agreements: Texts and Histories of Negotiations (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1982), p. 139.

29. Ibid., p. 140.

30. For a careful analysis of this subject, see The SDI and Future U.S.-Soviet Arms Control Strategies and Implications (Fairfax, Virginia: National Institute for Public Policy, 1984). Also see Christopher Paine, "The ABM Treaty: Looking for Loopholes," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, August/September 1983, pp. 13-16.

31. For an analysis of the idea of a "defensive transition," see Keith B. Payne and Colin S. Gray, "Nuclear Policy and the Defensive Transition," Foreign Affairs, Spring 1984, pp. 820-42.


Colin S. Gray (Ph.D., Lincoln College, Oxford University) is president of the National Institute for Public Policy. He has been director of National Security Policy Studies, Hudson Institute, assistant director, International Institute for Strategic Studies (London); and a member of the General Advisory Committee on Arms Control to the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. Dr. Gray's articles have appeared in numerous journals, including the Review.


The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.

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