In My View

Article excerpt



Professor Roger W. Barnett's critique of Frances FitzGerald's book, Way Out There in the Blue: Reagan, Star Wars and the End of the Cold War, is long on indignation but short on substance. Dr. Barnett certainly is correct to suspect the arms control bias that informs FitzGerald's book. Yet his own critique suffers from a pro-missile defense bias that distorts his analysis of an extremely important, if ultimately inadequate, research effort.

For example, FitzGerald does not assert that Ronald Reagan's administration "got it wrong, at every step, all of the time." Rather, FitzGerald claims that the administration began getting it right in the wake of the Iran-Contra scandal, when both the president and his wife sought to salvage his legacy through arms control agreements with Mikhail Gorbachev. Although one can dispute the cause of this "reversal" in favor of arms control, keep in mind that another scholar, one quite sympathetic to Reagan, argues for just such a reversal-Beth A. Fischer, in The Reagan Reversal.

Dr. Barnett criticizes FitzGerald for finding Reagan to be "a simple-minded president ... surrounded and captured by hard-line anticommunists." Here, the reader must decide-especially after reading what Henry Kissinger has to say about his meetings with the president (p. 175), and after contemplating how a president who had delivered the "visionary" Star Wars speech in March 1983 could ask Secretary of State George Shultz in November 1985, "Now tell me again, George, what's the difference between a ballistic missile and a cruise missile?" (p. 534).

Finally and most significantly, while criticizing FitzGerald's "lack of understanding of strategy," Dr. Barnett commits an equally egregious error-that of simply assuming that the Reagan administration's missile defense strategy worked. Apparently, neither FitzGerald nor Barnett knew of the following important facts from Soviet sources:

* In 1985, the Soviet Union initiated its protivodeistvie (counteraction) program, which explored asymmetric responses to an American missile defense system.

* The most effective weapon to emerge from that program was the Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missile, which ultimately was equipped with numerous penetration aids of such sophistication that some Russian generals today claim that it can penetrate any missile defense that the United States might deploy during the next twenty years.

* Consequently, Gorbachev wasn't bluffing when he informed Reagan (in November 1985 at Geneva), "I think you should know that we have already developed a response. It will be effective and far less expensive than your project, and be ready for use in less time."

* Gorbachev was proven correct on all three counts when, in 1998, Russia began deployment of the first Topol-M ICBMs. Thus development and deployment survived both the Soviet collapse and the economic duress that post-Soviet Russia experienced during its first decade of existence.

These facts alone undermine any argument about the impact on the Soviet Union of a yet-to-be-deployed and perhaps unrealizable missile defense system. Just as no policy maker should ever assume that every strategy will achieve its intended results automatically (Reagan's almost led to nuclear war in 1983!), no historian should ever misconstrue political and strategic initiatives as automatic political and strategic successes-or strategy as history.


Chief of Operations

Defense Contract Management Agency, Lockheed Martin Delaware Valley

Camden, New Jersey

Professor Barnett replies:

Last year I went to a presentation at Brown University by Frances FitzGerald on Way Out There in the Blue. After her talk, a member of the audience stepped to the microphone and said that as a physicist he could categorically state that ballistic missile defenses could never work. …