Weinberger and ‘Star Wars’

I cannot let Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger’s distorted portrayal (Editorial Pages, July 9) of the “Star Wars” plan go without comment.

I am one of a group of computer pioneers who will be honored this month at the National Computer Conference in Chicago for work done 35 years ago in building the first computers. I also belong to Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, whose members have analyzed the likelihood of unintentional computer error starting an accidental thermonuclear war and found it quite possible.

The Battle Management System for ballistic missile defense is critically dependent upon fully reliable computer software. The Defense Department’s Fletcher Commission report estimates that the Battle Management System software will be on the order of 10 million lines of code. If this estimate is correct, the software development effort is estimated to take tens-of-thousands of man-years to design and implement. It is the opinion of knowledgeable computer professionals that the time to design and implement this is so large as to make the effort quite unlikely to succeed, and in fact it may never be possible to fully develop reliable software.

The paradox of nuclear weapons is that more is worse than less. More weaponry makes us more insecure than less weaponry. Every step of improvement in weaponry has destroyed human security. Until the missile was developed, the United States had two oceans to keep us secure. Now the ocean is a cover for submarines that can move offshore and be in a position to destroy cities with cruise missiles that cannot be stopped by Star Wars defenses.


Gen. Omar Bradley summed it up prophetically when he spoke to a graduating class at Washington’s Cathedral School at the time of Sputnik. “After the missile, will come the anti-missile; and after the anti-missile will come the anti-anti-missile; and so on ad infinitum. It’s not a technological problem. If we’re not to die together, we have to learn to live together.”

The atomic bomb represents a first generation of nuclear weapons, the hydrogen bomb a second and this represents a third. We have changed from having Congress debate whether or not to declare war, to waking up the President, to depending upon computer systems with only minutes to decide the fate of the world. Instead of prohibiting their export, we ought to give the Soviet the best computers we can make, so the Soviet system won’t give false alarms to missile attacks!

Star Wars would operate from platforms in space from which laser beams, including X-ray beams generated by nuclear explosions in space, would be focused on Soviet missiles and warheads as they are launched. In a full-scale nuclear war, up to 7,500 Soviet nuclear warheads would have to be destroyed in such a manner, all within 5 minutes for liquid-fueled rockets, 3 minutes for solid-fueled, and 50 seconds for vehicles now on the drawing board. Even Weinberger admits the defense would not be “leak-proof.” If only 1%, or 70 bombs, get through it would be enough to destroy all of the major cities in the United States.

The problem of peace is not a technological problem and we should not spend enormous sums of money to bring us closer to nuclear holocaust.