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Educators and industrialists debate need for SDI system

Five speakers from educational institutions and the defense industry debated the effectiveness of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) in the Saturday afternoon session of a symposium sponsored by the Office of the Provost and the MIT Defense and Arms Control Studies Program.

Louis Smullin '39, professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, chaired the session that featured Jerome B. Wiesner, former MIT president and White House Science Advisor; Brent Scowcroft, former National Security Advisor; Fred Hoffman of R&D Associates/Panheuristics; Jack Ruina, head of the MIT Defense and Arms Control Studies Program; and Hans Mark PhD '54 of the University of Texas.

Hoffman argued that "SDI should go ahead," claiming that its goal of "territorial defense" is necessary to maintain the effectiveness of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

The willingness of the alliance to use nuclear weapons to defend western Europe is the basis of NATO's deterrence of Soviet agression, Hoffman explained. The Soviet Union is now "prepared for conflict at every level of violence and, as a result, the NATO strategy of escalation is threadbare."

A Soviet invasion of western Europe could involve limited use of nuclear forces, Hoffman warned. "We are going to require a ballistic missile defense in Europe to protect critical military targets."

SDI does not have to be effective against an all-out nuclear attack to be useful, he said. The system could be used to stop small-scale Soviet precursor attacks.

Ruina argued that SDI is "technically absurd." Reagan's decision to establish SDI was not based on any consultations with the scientific community, he said. Rather, "national policy is being based on an extremely remote hope."

Some protection against nuclear attack is not better than none, he said. This idea, he said, is "based on the assumption that if we build a defense, the Soviets will do nothing. A safer assumption is that if we build a defense they will build a bigger offense.

"If the US deploys a strategic defense, it would be easy for the Soviets to over-compensate and it would lead to an arms race," Ruina said. The chance of full-scale deployment of SDI is extremely remote, he claimed. SDI will likely "peter out."

Mark argued that advances in microelectronics, sensors, lasers and space operations have made a strategic defense system more feasible.

Silo defense and the use of airborne lasers to reduce the threat of submarine-launched missiles could be deployed in the foreseeable future, he said.

Scowcroft argued that "the fundamental question is what does SDI do for our strategic concepts." Both the Soviet Union and the United States would need greater offensive and conventional capabilities, he said. "SDI would kill notions of extended deterrence.

"We may be making the world safe for Soviet conventional aggression" by rendering nuclear forces ineffective, he said. SDI development should be coupled with an accelerated offensive program, "so that we maintain our ability to threaten the Soviets.

The United States "may not have a choice whether to continue SDI," he added. The President "would have an insurmountable problem" if the United States discontinued SDI unilaterally. A similar situation would arise if SDI were abandoned in an unverifiable treaty that the Soviets disregarded by deploying a strategic defense system of unknown effectiveness, Scowcroft said.

"It is unlikely we can ever make [an SDI] system," Weisner claimed. Estimates of ten percent leakage are unfounded, he said. "Any decisions are either totally irrelevant or premature until we understand what we can put together."

SDI deployment, in addition, would make negotiations with the Soviet Union impossible, Weisner said, and worsen the strategic situation.