Kosta Tsipsis: Arsenal: Understanding Weapons in the Nuclear Age; Simon & Schuster; New York.

Freeman Dyson: Weapons and Hope; Harper & Row; New York

The peace movement has become a permanent fixture of democratic politics. The movement is most visible when its members are marching in the streets, but it is most effective when there is nothing to march against. During the Vietnam War there were many demonstrations, and this activity as been renewed during the Reagan Administration. Central America and the nuclear rearmament program are the current triggers. During most of the 1970’s, however, the streets were empty as American policy was passive. From Indochina through the Persian Gulf to Africa and Panama, the U.S. was in retreat. At the strategic level unilateral disarmament and détente were in full swing. 

The peace movement  plays on the natural fear of violent death and hardship resulting from war. It has been most effective in the West not only because it is granted the unique freedom to operate, but because the materially affluent nations if the West are susceptible to its message. The West is composed of “consumption” economies, “post-industrial” societies, and status quo powers with “progressive” cultures where most people simply want to be left alone to enjoy the fruits of past success. In a decadent society, as people forget the degree of effort that was needed for their civilization to attain its lofy peak of wealth and well-being, the necessity for continued effort is often overlooked.

The strongest argument against pacifism has always been the appeal to a tough-minded realism. The man in the street sees enough of human nature to reject the idealism of the academician and the clergyman who promise a world based on goodwill and brotherhood. Peace advocates can sway a crowd with fear and demagoguery so long as they are unopposed, but they do not stand up well in debate. Usually this is because they have not done their homework. They are disinclined to study weapons or strategy because they are convinced that war is nothing more than irrational murder and destruction. The advent of nuclear weapons has mislead them into believing that the world has been transformed, thus making the study of history irrelevant. 

There are many within the current disarmament crowd who realize this weakness, and have attempted  to provide an array of data to use in debate.  They offer enough information to sound authoritative, but not enough to disturb the entrenched opinions within the movement which were derived by ideology. Ground Zero has been particularly good at this, even managing to sound objective at times. Arsenal by MIT physicist Kosta Tsipsis is another example. Its tone is moderate and straightforward. The first 255 pages are devoted to the technical aspectrs of weapons design in terms that can be understood by the intelligent layman. Following this is a 68-page section of appendices which contain more details on such subjects as interial navigation, phased array radar, and electromagnetic radiation, complete with diagrams and equations. 

The format is one of objective, scientific inquiry. However, Tsipis is not a disinterested observer. He serves on the board of directors of several organizations committed to disarmament: SANE, the Council for a Liveable World and the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, famous for its “doomsday” clock. This is important to not as one reads this book, not because he distorts his information (much of which is quite useful) but because he leaves many things out which would determine his position. 

This is most apparent in his discussion of missile defense systems. He discusses the U.S. Spartan/Sprint ABM in detail (a limited deployment was made, then scrapped) before devoting another chapter to particle beams and lasers. His conclusion is that none of these can work. But what he means is that none could provide and impenetrable defense: “The fundamental problem of an ABM sysyem…is that if it does not work perfectly, it is no use at all.” This is nonsense. There can never be a perfect defense. Yet even with all of his misgivings, Tsipis concludes that the Spartan/Sprint system could have been 60 percent effective against a massive (1,000 missiles) Soviet attack. The amount of damage limitation that would represent would pay for the system many times over and could very well mean the difference between whether American society survives or collapses in a war. And this is without the important advances in computers made since the ABM was scrapped and which Tsipis concedes would have further improved the system. 

He does not mention that the Soviets continue to develop and deploy ABM’a. The newest Soviet ABM is the SA-12 which is roughly similar to the Sprint. They have also built a massive phased arrayradaratAbalakovatodirectABM’s in violation of the ABM Treaty. This treaty seems a dead letter as far as the U.S.S.R is concerned. They have violated it repeatedly since its inception. This gives the lie to Tsipis’s claim that the U.S. and U.S.S.R. signed the treaty in the misguided belief that it was furthering arms control and ctetente. The Soviets signed it in order to nip in the bud the deployment of a technologically ad­vanced U.S. defense screen designed to protect American forces from a Soviet first-strike.

Tsipis’s discussion of particle beams and lasers is also flawed. He maintains that fuel limitations would prevent their use against large-scale attacks.This is because he insists on using chemical fuels as power sources. Hauling three million-plus tons of fuel into orbit to supply BMD satellites is absurd and would have killed instantly any further discussion of space-based defense systems if that had been the only alterna­tive available. But it is not. Nuclear reactors capable of producing 150 kw are considered adequate to power the Army’s White Horse particle-beam gen­erator. Los Alamos Scientific Laboratories has already designed a space reactor which produces 100 kw and reactors up to 1,100 kw were considered feasible even 20 years ago. Another application of nuclear power for lasers has been given much attention. A small explosion could provide the energy pulse to fire up to 50 lasers simultaneously at 50 differ­ent targets. This would be a one-time use because the explosion would destroy the satellite, but the trade-off of one laser satellite for 50 ICBM’s carrying up to 400 warheads is very attractive. ICBM’s are vulnerable during launch.

As with the ABM, Tsipis again fails to mention Soviet work in this field. The Soviets have conducted a series of experiments at both their Semipalatinsk and Sarova sites involving particle beams as defensive weapons against missiles. They have used underground nuclear explosions to generate the massive flow of electricity needed to power a beam projector inside the atmosphere. Amer­ican physicists gave upon this problem because they did not believe that the explosive generation of electricity was feasible.Tsipis still does not think so, yet the Soviets have done it. Soviet back­wardness is not something which can be taken for granted. Tsipis exaggerates the vulnerability of space systems to attack, particularly to electromagnetic pulses (EMP) from nuclear detonations. EMP can knockout anything electrical, but it can also be defended against. Research done at the National Defense University has esti­mated that components can be shielded from EMP for a mere 10 percent increase in cost. The use of Extremely High Fre­quency transmissions (EHF) can over­ come EMP disturbances in the communication links through the atmosphere and space while ground communications using fiber optics are free of EMP disruptions. None of these factors are mentioned by Tsipis.

Tsipis also does not mention the High Frontier concept endorsed by President Reagan. High Frontier does not depend on nuclear power, lasers, or particle beams. It envisions a ring of satellites capable of spotting Soviet launches and firing an interceptor rocket which would spray the ballistic path of the ICBM with ceramic “buckshot.” This buckshot would rip the missile apart at 17,000 mph. It can be built with existing technology. The American lead in micro­electronics and the Space Shuttle can provide a strategic advantage that the Soviets cannot duplicate.

Besides the utility of a defense system in time of war, such a system would also strengthen deterrence. Tsipis argues that a first-strike is unlikely because there are too many uncertain factors to give the attacker the necessary confidence to risk an exchange. If this is true under our “open skies” posture, the uncertainties must multiply if a defense system is in operation. Why is there such opposition to missile defense? It seems illogical, given the fear of nuclear annihilation which the public feels.

The peace movement opposes active defense measures for a variety of ideological reasons. They oppose any new military system which may divert funds from domestic programs. They resist the idea of moving the arms race into the “pure” environment of space, as if man could go somewhere without taking his problems with him. But there is another, less attractive reason. Being vulnerable to a Soviet attack makes American leaders timid. It acts as a restraint on U.S. resistance to Soviet expansion out of a fear of confrontation. The Soviets know that the U.S. would not (and could not, given current force structures) strike first, so they are not as restrained. Many on the Left prefer this situation either out of an ideological affinity for the Soviet Union or for the various radical causes which Moscow support. This is manifest in the argu­ments, echoed by Tsipis, that for the U.S. to gain an advantage in space would be destabilizing because the Soviets would be in an inferior position. The Soviet threat to America would be reduced, clearly a good thing to the country at large, but a possibility which sends tremors of anxiety through the Left.

Tsipis occasionally engages in misdirection. At one point, he states that the U.S. has 900 warheads aimed at Soviet cities. In the next paragraph he describes the damage that a one-megaton (MT) blast could do to a city. He not only exaggerates this (in his chapter on counterforce, he downgrades the power of nuclear blasts to argue against the practicality of a first strike) but gives the impression that the 900 warheads pre­viously mentioned are in the megaton class. They are not. The largest Minute­man warhead is 350 kilotons (KT), that is 0.35MT. Most are only 0.17 MT. The warheads on the Poseidon submarine­ launched missiles are smaller still: 0.04 MT. The difference is significant.To create an overpressure of 5 psi above Moscow (enough to knock down ma­sonry buildings but not steel and con­crete highrises) would require six 1-MT warheads or 48 40-KT warheads. Not all warheads are the same, nor is the cliché of “one bomb, one city” accurate.

Tsipis also knows more about physics than he does history. He claims that in World War I aircraft ”were used to lob hand grenades into trenches or to strafe troops in the field, but not to drop bombs.” He further claims that the first attack on a city was in the Spanish Civil War by the Nationalists. As a matter of fact, both Germany and France devel­oped bomber forces before World War I. The Germans had a fleet of Zeppelins built for this mission and followed with Gotha and R-bombers in 1917. All were used against London. The French developed a separate air arm under the Supreme Commander for use against cities behind battle lines. This was not unexpected and there were many bombing scares in the first days of the war. Technology limited the effects of such attacks, but the attempts were made and the incentive to improve was felt.

Tsipis’s purpose is to provide the public with information with which they can press for a “democratic” say in military policy. His aim is to take author­ity out of the hands of the experts and place it in the hands of people more vulnerable to the propaganda of the peace movement. This is also the aim of Freeman Dyson. Dyson is another physi­cist, but less analytical than Tsipis in his presentation. He has worked for the Department of Defense and he professes certain sympathies for “the warriors” as individuals, though his overriding iden­tification is with “the victims” (i.e. everyone else), a dichotomy he uses throughout his book. He has been associated with Princeton’s Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and his views are similar to Tsipis in regard to counter force, missile defense, and new weapons.

Dyson rejects many of the doomsday prophesies of the movement, arguing that books such as Jonathan Schell’s The Fate of the Earth are no more scientifi­cally valid than were On the Beach or Dr. Strangelove 20 years ago. Dyson be­lieves that for all life on earth to be endangered would require 10 or more nuclear wars. His fear is that once such a war is fought, the psychological barrier will be broken and the use of nuclear weapons will become commonplace. He also acknowledges that Robert Oppen­heimer and the other scientists who opposed the H-bomb were wrong in their predictions that thermonuclear weapons would constantly grow in power. Nuclear weapons are actually becoming smaller, trading accuracy for power and reducing collateral damage.

However, he does not let technical factors influence his argument unless the support disarmament. His treatment of Helen Caldicott, leader of the antiwar Physicians for Social Responsibility is revealing. He admits that “Her style is personal rather than objective. The substance of her argument is anecdotal rather than analytic. She is careless about technical details.” Yet, he finds her persuasive. “It is easy to understand how she has captured the hearts and minds of people around the world.” He has con­cluded that “the two primary agents for abolishing nuclear weopons must be international negotiations and the aroused conscience of mankind.” Caldi­cott, Schell, and even On the Beach contribute to arousing emotions which support his own ends.

Dyson’s attitude toward defense is disquieting. “It is meaningless to count the lives saved” through counterforce, missile defense, or fallout shelters. This is because nuclear war is so full of un­knowns as to become useless to think about. The only way to save lives is to disarm. He recounts a conversation he had with Swiss civil-defense officials who expressed wonder at how easy it had been to build shelters for the bulk of their population. They wanted to know if the data they had used for the effects of nuclear weapons had been understated. He told them that their information was correct, but that he still opposed shel­ters. To him, shelters are an ethical problem:”The building of public shelters by a government heavily armed with nuclear missiles created an image of a country setting out to massacre its enemies while keeping its own popula­tion safe from retaliation.” He considers this to be a “nightmare” image. But surely the image of your own country­men unprotected and under attack is the nightmare.

Dyson leans towards unilateral dis­armament if mutual disarmament proves too difficult to negotiate. He seems to believe that if the U.S. disarmed, the Soviets would follow. Domestic pres­sure would build for diverting resources to consumer goods production. He thinks that the Soviet military would support nuclear disarmament.

The Soviet Union has on many occasions overrun, annexed, or occupied neighboring countries, from the Baltic States in 1940 to Afghanistan in 1979. In every case the purpose was to dominate the neighboring country politically, not destroy it physically.

The soviet military should favor a nonnuclear world because it would be “matched to the actual style of soviet expansion.” It seems to escape his attention that a Soviet monopoly of nuclear weapons would make expansion much easier by overawing any conventional defense. He cites Norway as an example of a successful nonnuclear defense policy (an idea he picked up from George Kennan) without realizing that Norway can only adopt such a stance because the U.S. stands behind NATO with a nuclear guarantee.

There is an important place for scientists and their technical arguments in defense policy. However, the works of Tsipis and Dyson are more than this. As an earlier scientist, Francis Bacon observed: 

Walled towns, stored arsenals and armories, goodly races of horses, chariots or war, elephants, ordnance, artillery and the like; all this is but a sheep in a lion’s skin except the breed and disposition of the people be stout and warlike.

It is the undermining of the people’s will to defend themselves that Tsipis and Dyson are really about. The devate is the decisive battle of the next war.