SUPERWEAPON: The Making of MX by John Edwards


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In the wake of Herbert Scoville's 1981 MX, analyzing the thinking behind the missile's development, Australian journalist Edwards' account of the actual process of development adds little to our understanding. It is also negated, to a degree, by his insistence that the decision to deploy this monster was nobody's fault; ""its roots lay in changing technology."" The story itself is ably told: from James Schlesinger's move, as Secretary of Defense under Nixon, away from Mutual Assured Destruction (threaten to wipe out enemy cities) and toward a counterforce doctrine (hit their military targets), that first started the MX on its way; to Jimmy Carter's switch from opposition to support (under Pentagon and defense-contractor pressure); to Reagan's desperate efforts to save the plan in some form. Scoville's analysis--that the MX, as a system designed to destroy Soviet missiles in their silos, is a first-strike weapon (hence, an invitation to a Soviet first strike)--is repeated by Edwards. (The one difference is his technological-causation thesis.) Writing at a later date, he chronicles the swing away from Carter's mobile basing scheme (killed by local opposition) to Reagan's plan to deploy the missiles in hardened stationary silos (defeated in the Senate) to the latest idea of ""dense pack."" By packing a lot of missile silos in a small area, the theory goes, Soviet missiles sent to destroy them would blow each other up. Or, alternatively, antiballistic missiles could be developed to shield the MX. Edwards recounts the experts' skepticism about both possibilities: the ""fratricide"" line could apply to existing Minuteman missiles; no one knows what effect the explosion of incoming missiles would have on MX communications systems; even if effective antiballistic missiles could be developed, there's nothing to stop the Soviets from deploying them too. Scoville's terse overview of strategic thinking anticipates these arguments; what Edwards supplies is chiefly journalistic amplification.

Pub Date: Oct. 25th, 1982
Publisher: Norton