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Lobby against the arms race

Column/Scott Saleska

Next Thursday, April 18, there will be a University Lobby to End the Arms Race. Thousands of students from colleges and universities across the country will travel to Washington, DC, to meet their congressional representatives and encourage them to vote against destabilizing weapons systems.

A second related event in Washington is the April 20 rally against the arms race and Third-world intervention. Two hundred thousand people are expected.

The MIT Disarmament Study Group is organizing Massachusetts' campuses for the first event. It is planning transportation for both. Here is why you should join them.

While I was home for Spring Break, I watched the House of Representatives debate and then vote on the MX missile. It was an insightful experience. It sharpened my realization that with regard to the arms race, there are two different worlds.

The first world is like a game. In it, Congress debates and the United States and the Soviet Union negotiate. The game pieces are missiles, warheads, and other weapons systems. The game rules include such terms as "first-strike capability," "superiority," "windows of vulnerability," and "flexible response options."

The game score is measured wih numbers and perceptions. Numbers -- like megatons, or numbers of warheads. Perceptions -- like "demonstrations of national resolve."

Then there's the world we live in: the world of people. It is in this world that the bombs will explode. This is the world that will become extinct when the "game" ends -- and end it must, sooner or later, if things remain as they are.

The arms race continues to produce more weapons, of greater accuracy, over a broader range of destructive power for more nations. This means the tripwires on nuclear war grow more sensitive. Eventually, one of them must trigger.

All of this is fairly obvious to most of us outside the game world. It explains why two-thirds of the American population (depending on precisely how the question is phrased), are in favor of a nuclear freeze. Yet the nuclear freeze never passed in Congress.

Why not? After all, in a democracy, the majority -- especially a two-thirds majority -- is supposed to rule.

In the case of the MX, not only did the majority not rule, but the government went in precisely the opposite direction by voting to build more MX's.

The MX is the most accurate missile ever built (the error after thousands of miles is less than 400 feet). There can be only one reason why a missile of this size (the largest ICBM ever built by the US) should have to be so accurate: it is designed to hit other missile silos.

There can be no need to hit silos unless the United States wants the capability of launching a first-strike nuclear attack. This capability encourages our adversaries to adopt a launch-on-warning position. It is a prescription for disaster.

In the game world, however, this reasoning doesn't fit the rules. Instead, what is important is who's "winning." That is determined by relative numbers and perceptions of resolve. Such things may have a lot to do with game playing -- especially gambling. But it has almost nothing to do with the real-world objective of preventing nuclear annihilation.

President Reagan speaks of the MX as a "bargaining chip." We needed it before because the Russians were away from the bargaining table. Now we need it because the Russians are at the table, he claims. Both arguments make sense and are influential within the framework of the game.

In the real world the MX never has been and never will be a bargaining chip. Even Reagan's people, in their candid moments, admit this. As Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger said in 1983, "The question is not whether or not it's a bargaining chip. Nobody ever suggested it was a bargaining chip. It's part of our necessary modernization."

Ambassador Edward Rowney, chief US negotiator at the START talks in 1984, agreed: "no one is talking about negotiating away the MX."

Reagan, who has been against every nuclear arms control treaty ever signed, is continuing unimpeded with the biggest peacetime military buildup this country has ever experienced.

He will ask for more MX's this summer (they will be needed to keep the Russians at the table then, too -- or else to bring them back).

He will want the Trident II D-5 (also a first strike weapon), later this year. Pershing II's (which promote the especially dangerous illusion of "limited' nuclear war) will continue to be deployed in Europe. He will never support a nuclear freeze.

His chief negotiater, Max Kampelman, is a member of the Committee on the Present Danger. This committee was against detente, SALT I, and SALT II. Kampelman is not likely to produce any substantiative agreements.

It is time that we bring some reason from the world of the living to the game-players in Washington. It is time to cast our votes -- not just our ballots, but our full influence -- for survival.

I'll see you next week in Washington.