The ""baroque arsenal""? Out-of-date weapons systems, in Kaldor's construction (and others'), tied to a past form of warfare...



The ""baroque arsenal""? Out-of-date weapons systems, in Kaldor's construction (and others'), tied to a past form of warfare and a bygone industrial phase. And such systems--the B1 bomber, MX missile, Trident submarine, etc.--have the inevitable effect, argues the author of The Disintegrating West (1978), of impeding further economic progress. They represent an extension of technologies derived from industries dominant during World War II, automobiles and aircraft; and the US commitment to these older technological sectors has meant that, instead of declining, they have continued to exist--to the detriment of innovation. The weapons systems, moreover, are custom-made--so that even in their restricted technological capacity they fail to stimulate non-military production (e.g., bombers are not designed like commercial aircraft any more). The center of the problem is the US; but it extends worldwide, Kaldor notes. The Soviets, technologically behind at the start of World War II, used weapons to modernize their economy; and they, too, have reached the baroque stage. Third World nations, in acquiring weapons systems, have bound themselves to an analogous type of modernization: the establishment of an air base, for example, brings with it highway construction. Only the Japanese, not immured in archaic weapons systems, have been able to forge ahead and modernize their economy. Kaldor sees the Vietnam War, however, as a detour. MacNamara's attempt to introduce the ""electronic battlefield""--""smart bombs,"" electronic sensors, etc.--represented a move toward electronics and the new technology of semi-conductors. But the US didn't follow through--first, because Vietnam was treated as a unique war, not as the likely model of future wars; second, because the new high technology didn't work well for weapons--high-tech weapons break down often and require highly-trained maintenance. Kaldor winds up with ideas about simple, reliable, mobile weapons (akin to James Fallows', in National Defense), which don't necessarily mesh, however, with the gist of her argument--since she seems to be saying that while the old technology is a drag on the economy, the new technology doesn't work well for weapons: the only out would appear to be disarmament. Still, the book stands as a comprehensive, far-seeing study of the intertwined dilemmas of weaponry and economic growth.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 1981


Page Count: -

Publisher: Hill & Wang/Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1981