Star Wars and Me
I was pleasantly surprised to find myself quoted in one of the latest “Moments in Diplomatic History” published online by the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training (ADST).
While working in the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) during the Reagan Administration my main responsibility was to work on space arms control issues. About halfway through my assignment, President Reagan announced the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) called “Star Wars.” As you can see from the ADST article, the announcement came as a surprise to almost everyone in the foreign affairs and defense community of the government. It was at least partly inspired by private conversations between Reagan and physicist Edward Teller, the father of the hydrogen bomb.
One of my jobs at ACDA was to write an “Arms Control Impact Statement” on space arms control. Reagan’s Star Wars announcement threw a monkey wrench into that statement, since it proposed violating at least two arms control agreements, the Anti-ballistic Missile Treaty and the Treaty on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. What made it even worse was that the statement had to be approved by the Defense Department, which meant Richard Perle, who was Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy.
Perle was opposed to almost any arms control agreement. I have long believed the urban myth that at Reykjavik, after Reagan and Gorbachev had agreed to mutually eliminate all land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBNs), Perle kept Reagan up all night talking him into rejecting the deal the next day. This ADST note sheds some light on that issue, which may be mildly favorable to Perle. It says that in return for eliminating all these missiles, Gorbachev wanted Reagan to drop the SDI program, and Reagan was unwilling to do that, because he liked the SDI program so much. However, the article also says that after the tentative Reagan-Gorbachev agreement, Richard Perle and General Robert Linhard hauled Reagan into a bathroom and told him “it was an impractical thing to do, especially at a time when the Administration was trying to convince Congress to fund a new generation of land-based missiles, the MX.” So, maybe there is some truth to the urban myth about Perle.
In any case, Perle was going to make it very difficult to say anything bad about the arms control implications of the SDI. I think that after a number of tries to get Defense Department clearance, the statement was so watered down that it hardly said anything.
While I was working on this issue at ACDA, I attended the only National Security Council meeting that I ever attended. It was on SDI, and I went as the back bench support for the main ACDA representative. I don’t remember exactly what was discussed, but I think NSC deputy Robert McFarlane chaired the meeting, and one of the main speakers was General James Abrahamson, who was famous for being the officer who oversaw the F-16 development program for the Pentagon, one of the most successful aircraft ever developed. People hoped he could do the same thing for SDI, but even he couldn’t do it.