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Say No to a 'Dumb, Dangerous' Program

Nearly 7,000 research scientists at more than 110 physics, computer science, chemistry and other hard science departments at leading universities in the United States have signed a pledge to neither solicit nor accept funding from the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization (SDIO). This figure includes more than 3,800 senior faculty members and nearly 60 percent of the combined faculties of the top 20 physics departments in the country. Our position against SDI was summarized in a letter circu

By | February 23, 1987

Nearly 7,000 research scientists at more than 110 physics, computer science, chemistry and other hard science departments at leading universities in the United States have signed a pledge to neither solicit nor accept funding from the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization (SDIO). This figure includes more than 3,800 senior faculty members and nearly 60 percent of the combined faculties of the top 20 physics departments in the country. Our position against SDI was summarized in a letter circulated to Congress last spring:

"The overriding reason for our boycott is that SDI will increase the chance of nuclear war and will offer only imaginary protection from its consequences. Space weapons would both threaten and invite a first strike. Possession of such space weapons by the United States and the Soviet Union would inexorably lead to nuclear war."

The Scientists Campaign Against the Strategic Defense Initiative has convinced many members of Congress and many concerned citizens that SDI is, in the words of Sheldon Glashow, one of the 21 Nobel laureates who have signed the pledge, "dumb, destabilizing and damned dangerous." Ninety-eight percent of the members of the National Academy of Sciences in fields relevant to SDI estimated that SDI could not provide an effective defense of the U.S. population if the Soviets try to overwhelm the defense.

The SDI was born in the inner circle of the Reagan White House. Retired Lt. Gen. Daniel Graham of the High Frontier, a pro-SDI lobbying group, and Edward Teller played crucial roles in convincing the president to launch a crash program to develop third-generation weapons to attain military superiority of the Soviet Union. Consultation with experts from the White House Science Council and the Pentagon was avoided before the president's infamous Star Wars speech of March 1983.

The first task of the SDIO and its Office of Innovative Science and Technology (IST), which deals directly with university-based research, was to secure extravagant funding from Congress by buying legitimacy and scientific endorsement for the program. Academic scientists and engineers who inquired about or wrote proposals for SDI research were cited by James Ionson, IST's director, in his lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill.

In Ionson's words: "This office is trying to sell something to Congress. If we can say that this fellow at MIT will get money to do such and such research, it's something real to sell" (Science, vol. 228, 1985, p 304).

lonson proved to be an overzealous salesman when in May of 1985 he incorrectly announced that Cal Tech and MIT bad joined SDI consortia. The presidents of those two institutions publicly denounced this publicity stunt. These and similar scandals showed that participation in SDI will be used by the program for political purposes. It is impossible for a researcher to accept SDI funding without accepting part of the responsibility for the political and military aims of the program.

Contributing to Fraud

Accepting money from SDI contributes to a fraud. President Reagan attempts to sell the program to the voters as a non-nuclear means of defending the population from a massive Soviet attack. However, the nuclear bomb-powered X-ray laser has been described by the Department of Defense to Congress as "very much at the center of our thinking." The director of SDI, Lt. Gen. James A. Abrahamson, has stated repeatedly that his program does not consider "a perfect Astrodome defense" realistic. Instead, he claims to be "enhancing deterrence," although most military experts in the Pentagon agree that our present deterrent force is more than adequate.

In fact, SDI weapons appear to be most useful as part of a first strike. Paul Brown, associate director for arms control at the Livermore weapons lab, states that "if the laser works as predicted it could be overwhelming as an offensive weapon … it certainly looks better as an anti-satellite weapon than a defensive one."

As scientists we pride ourselves on our integrity. The research that drives the SDI is work of a different color. The joint staffs of Sens. Proxmire (D-Wis.), Johnston (DLa.) and Chiles (D-Fla.) recently investigated SDI research at the national weapons labs. They reported that key scientists feel that the program's highly publicized demonstration tests were "sleazy stunts" designed to fool the Congress into further funding. The Proximire-Johnston-Chiles report concluded that "there have been no major breakthroughs in SDI research which make a 1990s development of comprehensive missile defenses more feasible than it was before the President's speech."

The SDI research program was riddled with fraudulent and misleading demonstration tests over the past year. Most prominent among them were underground nuclear explosions to test Livermore's X-ray laser. Leaks from scientists at Livermore revealed that these experiments, each one costing more than $30 million, were inconclusive because of known flaws in the detection equipment used. Nonetheless, Edward Teller acquired $100 million directly from President Reagan to pursue these tests. These events lead to the resignation of Roy Woodruff, the head of the Physics Division of the Livermore lab, and may have convinced Peter Hagelstein, William Broad's premier Star Warrior and Hertz Foundation fellow, to leave the lab for an academic position at MIT. (He has since agreed to consult at Livermore on non-SDI research).

The trade journal Defense Week reported on its front page in October 1986 that such scandals continue. Roger Hagengrube, director of systems studies at Sandia National Laboratory, stated at that time that most SDI experiments have been conducted prematurely to boost public support. Defense Week has reported that the Department of Energy is striking back to discourage federal scientists from talking to journalists. In an unsigned memorandum, DOE proposes limiting interviews on SDI to two designated scientists per laboratory.

It has become clear that the decision to develop and deploy SDI has already been made within this administration. The program's advocates will cite their fraudulent demonstration tests before Congress as evidence of progress. The unilateral underground nuclear test ban of the Soviets has been ignored in order to develop new third-generation nuclear weapons. The administration has scrapped SALT II and the AEM treaty is endangered. The Iceland summit was undercut by the President's insistence on going ahead with SDI. The Scientists Campaign Against SDI is convinced that the program should be terminated. The most meaningful stand a scientist can take to further this cause and work for peace is to reject SDI's "research" program and pledge non-participation.

Kogut is a professor in the Department of Physics, Loomis Lab,
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, St. #1110, West Green St.,
Urbana 61801, and an organizer of the anti-SDI petition.

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