‘Star Wars’ Support Seen Eroding : Goldwater Points to Lack of Trust; Nunn Blames Reagan

Times Staff Writer

President Reagan’s “Star Wars” space-based missile defense system is losing support in Congress, despite several favorable votes in the Senate earlier this week, both Republicans and Democrats warn.

“All through this debate, it has become more and more obvious that members of this body do not trust” the program, formally known as the Strategic Defense Initiative, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) said.

Likewise, Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia, ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, predicted publicly that if the current sentiment continues, “Star Wars” will lose virtually all its political support in Congress within a year or two--suffering the same fate as deployment of the MX missile, which the Senate recently voted to cut in half.

Panel Cut Noted


Although the Senate voted four times Tuesday against proposals to slash “Star Wars” research funding below $3 billion in fiscal 1986, Nunn noted that the committee already had trimmed $800 million from the President’s budget request for the program. In addition, he predicted that the House would cut the program’s budget even further--perhaps as low as $2.5 billion for next year.

“It’s not in trouble with votes now, but neither was MX two years ago,” Nunn said. “These are the kind of things you don’t measure by votes--you put your nose in the air and smell. If you give it the old sniff test, there’s an awful lot of uneasy feeling about SDI.”

Nunn charged that the President himself has undermined support for “Star Wars” by overselling it as a program that will lead to the abolition of nuclear weapons. Indeed, the program had more support before Reagan began making that statement, which he frequently repeats, he said.

“I find very few people who are informed in this area in either party who even come close to the President’s definition of SDI--and that’s people who support the program,” Nunn said. “I think it’s a trap. If you define it that broadly, when the public finds out--and they will, the American people are intelligent--that this is not achievable, then there’s going to be disillusionment, and we’re going to have SDI in trouble.”


Perfection ‘Not Realistic’

Moreover, Sen. John H. Chafee (R-R.I.) said that while Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger has said that “Star Wars” research will produce a “thoroughly reliable and total” defense against Soviet offensive missiles, Lt. Gen. James Abrahamson, SDI program director, has stated: “A perfect . . . defense is not a realistic thing.”

Chafee argued that development of anything short of a perfect defense would likely encourage the Soviet Union to increase its arsenal of offensive weapons to penetrate the U.S. space-based system. “The real danger is that the SDI program could invigorate the already-dangerous U.S.-Soviet military rivalry,” he said.

In addition, some senators suggested that rapid development of a less-than-perfect “Star Wars” defense actually would work against the goal of arms control. According to Nunn, many members of Congress are highly skeptical about the President’s commitment to negotiating an arms control treaty with the Soviet Union.


He noted that while the Soviets are demanding limits on “Star Wars” development in exchange for concessions on their part, Reagan has so far indicated that he is unwilling to consider such a bargain.

“It’s awfully hard for me to see how you can be flexible in arms control with a program you define as being one that will abolish nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth,” said Nunn. “If I believed that, I wouldn’t want to be discussing it in arms control negotiations, either.”

Impact on Treaty Feared

Chafee also voiced a fear expressed by other senators that the development of “Star Wars” beyond the research stage would jeopardize the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the Soviet Union. The program calls for testing of a space-based ballistic missile defense, which is outlawed by the treaty. “Without the ABM treaty, the prospect of controlling offensive forces will be greatly reduced,” he said.


Moreover, Nunn said that some members of Congress are questioning the Administration’s motives in widely distributing SDI research money. “One thing causing a lot of people problems, including me, is that they are using these research projects to simply go out and buy intellectual support for the whole concept,” he said.

Nunn said that he has written to Administration officials several times in the last two months asking for information on the research contracts, but his letters so far have gone unanswered.