Los  Angeles  Times  Book  Review  Section,  April 30, 2000,
  published as "Fire From Above".

  WAY OUT THERE IN THE BLUE, Reagan, Star Wars, and the End of
  the Cold War, By Frances FitzGerald; Simon & Schuster:   592
  pp., $30


  On  March  23,  1983,  in  a  few  paragraphs appended to an
  otherwise routine  speech  supporting  the  defense  budget,
  then-President  Ronald  Reagan  called  upon "the scientific
  community in our country, those who gave us nuclear weapons,
  to turn their great talents to  the  cause  of  mankind  and
  world peace; to give us the means of rendering these nuclear
  weapons  impotent  and obsolete." His goal was to "intercept
  and destroy strategic ballistic missiles before they reached
  our own soil or that of our allies."

  Reagan was calling for a defense against  Soviet  long-range
  ballistic missiles armed with nuclear warheads, but he never
  indicated  how  such a defense, no matter how perfect, would
  render nuclear weapons impotent, in view of  the  fact  that
  they  could be delivered in large numbers by aircraft and by
  short-range ballistic and cruise missiles from ships. Reagan
  noted explicitly that nuclear attack had been  deterred  and
  would  be  deterred by the capability and promise of nuclear
  retaliation with a force  capable  of  surviving  a  nuclear
  strike, but his rhetoric called for the human spirit to free
  itself from such a burden by relying on an effective shield.

  To  scientists, industrialists and military leaders gathered
  at the White House for the speech, it was  made  clear  that
  the   technology   of   choice  for  the  Strategic  Defense
  Initiative, or SDI, was  that  of  directed-energy  weapons,
  such  as  space-based  lasers  and neutral-particle beams in
  Earth orbit.

  In "Way Out There  in  the  Blue,"  the  story  of  Reagan's
  attempt  to  build this Star Wars shield, Frances FitzGerald
  limns  the  president  as  a  master  at  understanding  the
  American  people,  a facility honed by years of refining and
  presenting "The Speech" in his  early  public  life  and  as
  spokesman for General Electric. Soaring elements of his Star
  Wars paragraphs were added to the draft in his own hand. Yet
  executing  this rhetoric was something else. After all, this
  was a president who arrived in the Oval Office at 9  on  the
  dot  and  left at 5. Unless there was a state dinner, he and
  his wife Nancy were in their pajamas and robes by 6  and  in
  bed  by  11. His aides and Cabinet members rarely heard from
  him about what to do and rarely were  asked  how  they  were
  doing: "He made no demands and gave almost no instructions."

  "Way  Out  There  in  the  Blue"  documents  the  lack of an
  effective national security team, the primacy of  appearance
  over  substance  and  the striking isolation Reagan achieved
  from the mechanisms  and  decisions  of  the  government  he
  headed. FitzGerald makes clear that the $60 billion spent on
  Star   Wars  has  accomplished  little.  In  a  meticulously
  detailed argument, she debunks the  popular  myths  of  SDI:
  First,  it  did not bring the Soviet Union to its knees and,
  second, it has done nothing  toward  easing  the  threat  of
  nuclear  annihilation.  In  fact,  when it comes to national
  missile defense, the Clinton administration is contemplating
  a $40-billion to $100-billion deployment--  a  defense  that
  will  not even work against the tiny threat that is supposed
  to justify its deployment.

  FitzGerald, who won a Pulitzer Prize for "Fire in the Lake,"
  her 1973 account of U.S.  intervention in Vietnam, comes  to
  her  account of Reagan's Star Wars project well prepared. It
  is a technically difficult  and  convoluted  story;  one  is
  astonished  by  the  scope  of  her  excellent  book and its
  relevance to the present controversy  over  the  development
  and  deployment  of a U.S.   national missile defense, which
  she takes up perceptively in a final chapter.

  By the time of his speech in March 1983, Reagan had been  in
  office  for  two  years,  and  his administration, which was
  facing a feisty nuclear freeze movement, was stymied in  its
  plans  to  increase  U.S.  nuclear  offensive forces. It had
  committed itself to deploying  the  10-warhead  MX  missile,
  dubbed the Peacekeeper, arguing that the existing land-based
  U.S.  missiles (known as Minuteman) were vulnerable and that
  our ability to deter a Soviet attack was imperiled  (despite
  the invulnerable U.S.  submarine-launched strategic missiles
  at  sea). To replace Minuteman in its silos with MX missiles
  would not remedy the vulnerability of  land-based  missiles,
  so dozens of alternative "basing modes" were evaluated, most
  of  them  vulnerable and unsatisfactory. U.S. Roman Catholic
  bishops  questioned  the  moral  acceptability  of   nuclear
  deterrence,  except perhaps as an interim means of survival,
  so supporters of SDI  were  quick  to  emphasize  its  moral
  superiority  over security systems designed to avenge rather
  than protect.

  In reality, even if its missile silos became  vulnerable  to
  Soviet  attack,  the United States had the ability to launch
  its missiles before a significant number had been destroyed,
  and submarine-based missiles were intended to be an adequate
  deterrent  by  themselves.  As  for  the  feasible  task  of
  defending  an  individual  Minuteman  (or  MX)  silo against
  missile attack, the Air Force saw no real need: It  did  not
  accept  that  the  silos  were vulnerable to attack, and the
  Army did not see the task of silo  defense  as  sufficiently
  challenging.  The  Air  Force judged simply that it was time
  for a missile of a new generation.

  The Joint Chiefs had  discussed  with  Reagan  limited  silo
  defense,  and the Defense Department was sponsoring research
  programs in directed-energy weapons. But on the very day  of
  the  Star  Wars speech, Defense officials were testifying in
  Congress resisting additional funds for  such  weapons,  and
  Reagan's science and technology advisors in a two-year study
  had   just  concluded  that  the  field  was  not  ripe  for
  development for  military  use.  Nothing  of  the  scope  of
  Reagan's  Star  Wars  goal--  absolute protection-- had been

  There was no way that SDI could counter enough of the Soviet
  missiles to replace  nuclear  deterrence.  As  a  means  for
  reducing  vulnerability  of U.S. missiles in their silos, it
  was excessive in scope, and a local  defense  of  individual
  silos  would  have  been quicker and easier. Indeed, despite
  his  call  for  a  system  that   would   provide   absolute
  protection,  Reagan  later  wrote  in  his memoirs that in a
  world in which there were still nuclear weapons, SDI was  to
  ensure  that if an enemy "ever pushed a button to attack, he
  would be doing so in  the  knowledge  that  his  attack  was
  unable  to  prevent  a devastating retaliatory strike." Yet,
  according  to  his   national   security   advisor,   Robert
  McFarlane,  Reagan's  motives were far from straightforward.
  "(He) was convinced that we  were  in  fact  heading  toward
  Armageddon.  'I'm  telling  you, it's coming,' he would say.
  'Go read your Scripture.' "

  Reagan and his staff knew that they  would  gain  little  by
  promising   to  make  the  American  people  half-safe;  the
  approach they adopted to sell SDI sacrificed the credibility
  of the American democracy and security system on  the  altar
  of  personal  and  administration  popularity. Following the
  Star Wars speech, a large study under former NASA head James
  C. Fletcher laid out a panoply  of  technical  research  and
  development  options  that  would explore strategic defenses
  costing a projected $25 billion over the  first  five  years
  and  $75  billion in research and development over the first
  10. But they did not envision  a  defense  system  effective
  enough  to  eliminate  the  need  to  maintain large nuclear
  strike forces. The  proposed  $75-billion  program  was  for
  exploration, not to develop or build a defense. According to
  the  vice  chairman  of the Fletcher study, Harold M. Agnew,
  the program risked having large defense contractors  smother
  innovative  research  programs  in  their  rush  for defense
  allocations or, more colorfully, the "hogs  (would)  trample
  the piglets on the way to the trough."

  FitzGerald  sketches  Sens.  Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and Carl Levin
  (D-Mich.) in 1985 trying to make sense of the  testimony  of
  SDI  and Defense leaders. Leap to January 1987, with Defense
  Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger  and  others  calling  for  a
  deployment  of  SDI.  It  is  not  clear  whether Weinberger
  understood that there was no technology available and that a
  deployment decision was out of the question. The chairman of
  the Joint Chiefs  of  Staff,  Adm.  William  J.  Crowe  Jr.,
  objected, telling Congress that there was nothing to deploy.
  Crowe   began   formal   Defense  Department  assessment  of
  deployment, with the chiefs  adding  a  minimum  requirement
  that  SDI  destroy a modest 30% of a first wave of a limited
  Soviet missile attack. To meet this minimal goal,  a  system
  of  hundreds  of space-based battle stations and hundreds or
  thousands of ground-based  interceptors  was  proposed.  The
  chiefs  thought  a  projected  figure of $75 billion to $150
  billion was far too low, and the proposal was sent  back  to
  the drawing board.

  On March 11, 1985, Mikhail S. Gorbachev became the leader of
  the  Soviet  Union. By July, Washington and Moscow announced
  that  Gorbachev  and  Reagan  would  meet  in  Geneva   that
  November,  and  preparations  for the summit began. Whatever
  the  substance  might  be,  public  relations  and  domestic
  popularity  were  the  supreme  goals,  at least on the U.S.
  side. The Reagan administration was loaded with officials to
  whom arms  control  agreements  were  anathema--  especially
  Weinberger, Richard N. Perle and Kenneth M. Adelman, head of
  the  Arms  Control and Disarmament Agency. A week before the
  summit, an unclassified letter was sent from  Weinberger  to
  Reagan;  it  was  designed to be leaked to the press, and it
  was. It warned the president against agreements with Moscow.

  At the  Geneva  summit,  Gorbachev  offered  a  50%  cut  in
  strategic missiles, with a ban on weapons in space (missiles
  which pass through space are not regarded as space weapons).
  Reagan  had  committed  himself  not to accept restraints on
  development  or  tests  of  space  weapons.   According   to
  McFarlane,  Gorbachev  "had  to  conclude  . . . either that
  Reagan was  being  cynical  with  all  his  preaching  about
  eliminating  nuclear  weapons, and his real intention was to
  bankrupt the Soviet system; or he was incredibly ignorant."

  FitzGerald  relates  and  interprets  the  course   of   the
  Reykjavik  summit  in  October  1986, a surreal event during
  which the  two  sides  agreed  on  the  elimination  of  all
  ballistic  missiles  and all strategic arms by 1996. But the
  agreement was nullified by Reagan's refusal to consider  any
  limits on space weapons, or-- alternatively-- by Gorbachev's
  refusal to let them be developed without constraint after 10
  years.  The  United  States  had made little preparation for
  Reykjavik and, according to Adelman, "We came  with  nothing
  to  offer and had offered nothing; we merely sat there while
  the Soviets unwrapped their gifts."

  FitzGerald tells us far more about  this  summit  and  about
  aspects of SDI and the Cold War than high-level participants
  knew  at  the time. "The administration never did inform the
  joint chiefs of  what  had  transpired,"  FitzGerald  quotes
  Crowe, who relayed to the president the chiefs' message that
  the president's proposal to eliminate ballistic missiles was
  not  in  the  national  interest.  Weinberger  believed that
  Reagan shouldn't be told-- that the proposal would vanish on
  its own. When Crowe did inform the president at a meeting of
  the National Security Council,  Reagan  responded  with,  "I
  really  love  the U.S.  military" but without addressing the
  chiefs' bombshell.

  The end of the  Cold  War  was  upon  us  before  Washington
  recognized  it,  with  President-elect  George  Bush  asking
  Gorbachev in December 1988 what the Soviet  Union  would  be
  like  for  U.S.   investors in three to five years. To which
  Gorbachev responded: "Mr. Vice President, even Jesus  Christ
  couldn't answer that question."

  SDI  supporters  assert that their program forced the Soviet
  Union into  defense  spending  it  could  not  afford,  thus
  hastening   its   demise,  but  Gorbachev  spent  little  in
  response, did not consider a defense of his own and, by  the
  Washington  summit of December 1987, told Reagan, "If in the
  end you have a system you  want  to  deploy,  go  ahead  and
  deploy  it."  The  two presidents signed a treaty abolishing
  U.S. and Soviet land-based ballistic and cruise missiles  of
  intermediate  range  (the INF Treaty) worldwide-- on Dec. 8,
  1987 at 1:45 p.m., the  awkward  hour  prescribed  by  Nancy
  Reagan's astrologer.

  In  her  final  chapter,  FitzGerald  describes  the current
  turmoil over the decision President  Clinton  will  make  in
  July  on  whether  to deploy a national missile defense with
  100 ground-based interceptor rockets in Alaska to defend all
  50 states against a few tens of ICBMs  launched  from  North
  Korea  (or  four or five from Iran or Iraq). The interceptor
  payload must actually collide with its target to destroy it,
  a so-called hit-to-kill payload.    FitzGerald  infers  that
  deployment  is  a  matter  of  principle with the Republican
  leaders in Congress and not a measured response to an actual
  threat. Which brings us full circle to SDI.

  There are two potential strategic payloads for  long-  range
  missiles:   biological  agents  and  nuclear  warheads.  The
  proposed  national  missile  defense   system   that   would
  intercept  warheads  far  above  the  atmosphere  could  not
  possibly destroy the hundreds of small bomblets  into  which
  biological  warfare  agents  would  be packaged; as the ICBM
  reached full  speed  on  ascent,  these  bomblets  would  be
  released  and  would  arc  independently to the urban target
  area a continent away. Strategically speaking, this  is  far
  more effective than a single massive warhead that releases a
  narrow  wind-driven  plume  of  anthrax  or other biological
  warfare agent; the smaller plumes from  the  bomblets  would
  increase the number of casualties by a factor of four to 10.
  A  national  missile defense system or not, a nation willing
  to  violate  its  adherence  to   the   biological   warfare
  convention  that  bans  the  possession or use of biological
  warfare would use bomblets released on ascent-- and save 80%
  of the missiles needed for the same  military  effectiveness
  of a single large biological warfare warhead.

  For  the  other  strategic  payload  on  an  ICBM-- a single
  nuclear warhead-- the  simplest  countermeasure  to  prevent
  interception  by  the  proposed defense system is to put the
  warhead in a small,  lumpy  aluminum-coated  Mylar  balloon,
  while  deploying  dozens of fairly similar empty balloons as
  decoys. It is easy to match the  temperature  of  the  empty
  balloons,  day  or  night,  to  that of the "anti-simulation
  balloon"  surrounding  the  nuclear  warhead,  so  that   an
  interceptor  kill  vehicle  can't distinguish a decoy from a
  warhead. The president's decision to deploy is to  be  based
  on  the  threat,  the effectiveness of the proposed defense,
  its cost and its impact on security  in  general,  including
  U.S.  goals in massive reductions of Russian nuclear weapons
  and in limiting the proliferation of  nuclear  weapons.  The
  SDI  experience has much to teach us about the distance from
  rhetoric to reality.

  "Way   Out   There   in   the   Blue"   is   a   fascinating
  behind-the-scenes  account  of  international  diplomacy and
  arms control which leaves one with an overwhelming sense  of
  dismay  at  the missed opportunity to reduce the threat that
  Russian nuclear weapons pose to the survival and security of
  the world.  Why  is  it  that  the  U.S.  government  is  so
  persistently  unable to deal with the most important aspects
  of national security?  We are the world's  experts  in  spin
  and  public relations, as FitzGerald deftly shows, but it is
  an expertise gained at the expense of facts, integrity,  the
  national good and international stability.


  *  Richard  L.  Garwin  is  Philip D. Reed senior fellow for
  science and technology at the Council on  Foreign  Relations
  and  a longtime consultant to the U.S. government. Since the
  late 1950s, he served as a member of the Strategic  Military
  Panel  of  the  President's Science Advisory Committee under
  Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and
  Richard M. Nixon.