WASHINGTON TIMES UNION OF SCIENTISTS HAS DEFENSIBLE CONCERNS (Washington Times title) LIFTING THE FOG (Garwin/Gottfried suggested title) Sunday, December 17, 2000 Section: COMMENTARY FORUM Edition: FINAL Page: B5 Ballistic missile defense stirs deep passions for reasons that we have never fully fathomed. An example is the defamatory attack on us by Evan Gahr in "Missile defense fog," in Commentary Nov. 28. Mr. Gahr must believe the Union of Concerned Scientists are ideologically opposed to missile defense, and claims UCS has resorted to misrepresentation to thwart the deployment of defenses ready and waiting in the wings. This is nonsense. Like any sane person, we would love to be defended against missile attacks, and have always supported ballistic missile defense (BMD) research and development. One of us, Richard Garwin, has been directly involved in BMD work for some 40 years, and a broad range of other military and intelligence technologies. We also support research on heart disease and expect physicians to tell us whether a purported cure is effective, whether there are intolerable side effects and whether the cost exceeds our lifetime earnings. Our attitude toward BMD systems is equally pragmatic. The nation's BMD effort has had three major chapters. Chapter I began with the construction of a missile defense of Moscow. President Johnson, spurred by his domestic opposition, proposed a similar defense of American cities against Chinese missiles. When that was seen to frighten the public and to be futile, the rationale shifted under President Nixon to defending missile silos against Soviet attack. The President's Science Advisory Committee (PSAC) had opposed this decision because our proposed BMD system would be fatally vulnerable to Soviet countermeasures, such as decoy warheads. Furthermore, Moscow's "defense" has led us to target even more ICBMs on the Soviet capital to ensure penetration; surely the Russians could also respond by fielding more ICBMs at a lower cost than our defenses. The net result would thus be an accelerated nuclear arms race. Two members of PSAC, Mr. Garwin and Hans Bethe, published an unclassified analysis in Scientific American and a public debate ensued. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) was funded at that time, and the first UCS report, written in 1969 by a group chaired by Kurt Gottfried, was an analysis of BMD. The validity of our assessment was eventually recognized. The Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty was signed in 1972 to avert a further buildup of offensive forces. And our only ABM site the treaty permitted was shut down after four months because keeping it operational was too costly.
Chapter II opened on March 23, 1983, with President Reagan's famous speech calling on scientists to render "nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete." The technology to accomplish this was then not in sight, as the Pentagon had testified to Congress earlier that day. Nevertheless, the administration established the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) and committed copious funding to swiftly turn the president's vision into a reality. A year later, with Nobel Prize-winning physicists Bethe and Henry Kendall, other scientists and Adm. Noel Gayler, former Pacific commander in chief, we published a series of technical critiques of SDI under the auspices of UCS. Evidently we were on the mark because the Reagan and Bush administrations eventually reduced the program sharply as the technologies were proving to be far more problematic than SDI advocates had realized. Mr. Gahr accuses us of claiming infallibility and shows we are not because of an error in our first 1984 report concerning the number of satellite-based lasers an SDI system would need. Like all sane scientists, we know we are not infallible, but we do claim intellectual honesty. We discovered the error ourselves, and published a correction within the month. In May 1985, in the scientific journal Nature, Mr. Garwin published a detailed analysis of how many lasers based in space would be required under various circumstances. Missile defense advocates often point to this promptly rectified error to deflect attention from the fact it did not effect the basic validity of our SDI critique. They do not acknowledge we assumed that all the technologies would perform perfectly to the extent allowed by the facts of geography and the laws of physics. We did this to avoid dubious judgments on the future of technologies and to identify the hurdles that must be overcome even if the inevitable gaps between idealized theory and the real world were wished away. That gap is exemplified by the U.S.-Israeli Tactical High Energy Laser (THEL) which Mr. Gahr interprets as the undoing of our SDI critique. THEL is a ground, not space-based laser, and in this summer's successful tests it destroyed not ICBMs but considerably slower short-range missiles at a distances of several miles, whereas the SDI lasers would have had to destroy much swifter ICBM missiles at ranges of hundreds of miles. Where are we now? The United States has a space-based laser demonstration program, which when successful would still be far from an operation system. According to a recent Air Force paper by Lt. Col. W.H. Possel, such a laser might eventually attain one-fifth of the capability we assumed 16 years ago, and would cost about $80 billion for a constellation of 20 lasers. (To defend against the Cold War Soviet arsenal, SDI would thus have required many hundreds of such lasers.) Chapter III is still being written. North Korea's missile flight tests caused President Clinton to move toward deploying the National Missile Defense (NMDS) system to defend against ICBM attacks by such "rogue" states. Once again, enthusiasts advocate posthaste deployment. As a result, UCS and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology brought together a group of scientists, some with extensive experience in missile and weapons technologies. Our April 2000 report warns that the planned NMD system will not be a effective against the countermeasures that any state able to field an ICBM must be expected to develop. That "rogue" sates will have this capability is also predicted by the U.S. intelligence community. Since our report appeared, an independent review headed by Gen. Larry B. Welch agreed that the Pentagon has given inadequate attention to the countermeasure problem, and that a Red Team should be formed to address it. To summarize: The problem of defense against intercontinental ballistic missiles carrying nuclear or biological weapons remains unsolved except for one narrow possibility that has been vigorously advocated by Mr. Garwin. Such a "boost phase" system would intercept hostile ICBMs shortly after liftoff, when they are highly visible and have note yet released their warheads or decoys. Finally, two remarks: Proponents of deploying BMD systems, especially laymen, often disparage us as technological pessimists. As practicing physicists for half a century, we have benefited enormously from advances in technology. Today's research depends on devices that no one imagined when we were graduate students. But no enemy is committed to incapacitating them - the study of nature is a very different enterprise from that of facing hostile humans, as teen-age computer hackers demonstrate. As for misrepresentation, from Adm. William Crowe's memoirs we now know that our assessment of the prospects for SDI was shared by the Joint Chiefs of Staff when he was JCS chairman during the second Reagan administration. Especially troubling is his account of how senior officials misrepresented SDI test data to their colleagues and the president. And we learn that the president was given deceptive information about the X-ray laser by the people who convinced him to make his famous speech. Those, like Mr. Gahr, who charge us with unethical behavior should pause. Is the shoe not on the other foot? RICHARD L. GARWIN Philip D. Reed Senior Fellow The Council on Foreign Relations. KURT GOTTFRIED Professor of physics Cornell University Chairman