Star Wars: The Strategic Defense Initiative Debates in Congress

Star Wars: The Strategic Defense Initiative Debates in Congress

Star Wars: The Strategic Defense Initiative Debates in Congress

Star Wars: The Strategic Defense Initiative Debates in Congress

Excerpt

Congress has been concerned for years about the placement of weapons in space by the superpowers. Hearings were held in Congress as early as 1979 to assess exotic space weapons technologies being developed by both the United States and the Soviet Union. It was not until March 23, 1983, however, that the general public became interested in this crucial issue. On that date President Ronald Reagan unveiled his Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), popularly known as "Star Wars." In a televised speech, the president called on U.S. scientists to devise Antiballistic Missile (ABM) defenses that would render nuclear weapons "impotent and obsolete."

His speech riveted national and international attention on developing space weaponry and the increasing dangers of an arms race in space. But the concepts, issues, and esoteric, next-generation technologies that the SDI encompasses are difficult for most people to understand. As columnist William Safire has pointed out, even the program title, Strategic Defense Initiative, is difficult to remember because the initials do not form a catchy acronym. In his column in the New York Times Magazine of February 24, 1985, Safire invited his readers to coin a new term for the president's proposed global shield. He was inundated with responses, many of which he cited in a subsequent column on March 24, 1985. But the administration retained the term Strategic Defense Initiative, and the nickname Star Wars -- which President Reagan distinctly dislikes -- persisted.

The SDI is hard to comprehend for a more basic reason: It does not yet exist in the form of concrete weapons systems. It is a vision of possible new defense technologies, not a reality. What the president proposed was not the immediate deployment of a specific type of ABM system, but a research program designed to determine the technological feasibility of developing such a system-in the next decade or later.

Many people, however, believe the SDI commits the United States to deploy an ABM system once the technology is proven. Conflicting arguments have also been heard about the technological feasibility of the program, the costs involved, the impact on existing treaties, the reaction of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies, and even the program's ultimate goals. The SDI has created controversy on many fronts, resulting in media coverage that has sometimes given the public an inadequate understanding of the issue.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.