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Sakharov and SDI

The comments in your January 26 issue by Medvedev and Ziman about the motives behind the release of Andrei Sakharoy are necessarily speculative, but not exhaustive. Let me add by way of an alternative speculation, based on the fact that Sakharov has expressed criticisms of the feasibility of the Strategic Defense Initiative, that his view on SDI may have contributed to the decision by Gorbachev to release Sakharov at this time. Gorbachev repeatedly has shown his eagerness to discourage our plans

By | April 6, 1987

The comments in your January 26 issue by Medvedev and Ziman about the motives behind the release of Andrei Sakharoy are necessarily speculative, but not exhaustive. Let me add by way of an alternative speculation, based on the fact that Sakharov has expressed criticisms of the feasibility of the Strategic Defense Initiative, that his view on SDI may have contributed to the decision by Gorbachev to release Sakharov at this time.

Gorbachev repeatedly has shown his eagerness to discourage our plans for SDI, and has already been drawn to the conference tables at Geneva and Reykjavik for that purpose. Given the many substantial reasons he already had to release Sakharov from Gorky, the fact that Sakharov would add his enormous prestige to the critics of SDI might have been an additional factor in tipping the scales in favor of release at this time.

Sakharov's views on SDI have not been reported in any detail in the press, and it may be useful to attach here the transcript of a phone conversation of December 30, 1986, between Sakharov and his American representative and son-in-law Efrem Yankelevich, which the latter has been kind enough to share with me and others.

Nothing in these remarks is to be interpreted as implying that Sakharov's position has been influenced by a desire to accommodate to Gorbachev's policy on SDI. Sakharov's character is too well-known for any such suggestion to be entertained. Also, his position is perfectly consistent, so far as I know, with everything he has ever said on related subjects.

Yankelevich: I would like to ask you about your position on SDI. You have said that technically it can be done, but that the opponent will be always able to overcome it. I don't understand. If the opponent is able to overcome the strategic defenses, what does it mean that they can be built?

Sakharov: I meant that, for example, the X-ray laser can be built, or [unintelligible] can be also built, that each technical problem, taken separately, can be overcome. Nevertheless, the resulting strategic system would be ineffective. An opponent will always find a way to overwhelm it on each stage of deployment, and with less money invested.

Yankelevich: Still, if an opponent can overwhelm the defense system, it means that the system is technically unfeasible.

Sakharov: By the technical feasibility i mean the feasibility to build components. Everything that is planned can be built, but an opponent will find his way around. I have compared SDI with the space Maginot line.

Yankelevich: I think many people here are interested not so much in technical assessments, but more in your views on whether the system should be built and how it would affect the arms control process.

Sakharov: To build or not to build—it is their business. I am just saying that the system will be ineffective. However, my main point is that the question of SDI should not be linked to other problems of disarmament. The Soviet side is offering a package deal—take it all or we will not talk. As Gorbachev said, if the SDI deployment is not stopped, nothing can be expected. From my point of view, this is a wrong approach. This is my main point, which was not, however, adequately reported. The impression was that my position coincides with Gorbachev's position. In fact, it coincides neither with Reagan's nor with Gorbachev's views.

—Lawrence A. Cranberg
1205 Constant Springs Drive
Austin, TX 78746

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