In The Star Wars Enigma: Behind the Scenes of the Cold War Race for Missile Defense (Potomac Books, September 2006), Nigel Hey tells the story of a bold presidential stroke, the Strategic Defense Initiative, that was at first seen as a high-tech “umbrella” to protect the United States against Soviet missile defense, but then emerged as a profound psychological strike against the masters of the communist Kremlin.
Hey suggests that SDI was responsible for bringing President Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev into substantive discussions at the Geneva and Reykjavik summits of 1985 and 1986, rather than the propaganda exchange that Reagan expected. The Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, agreed 20 years ago at Reykjavik, he says, ended the missile race between the two superpowers. Despite widespread skepticism for SDI’s feasibility, many in the Kremlin feared that “Star Wars” would render its nuclear stockpile impotent and obsolete, as Reagan promised. This aggravated the apprehensions of a weakened Soviet Union and was partly responsible for ending the Cold War.
The Star Wars Enigma draws on numerous discussions with key participants in the SDI saga, held in the U.S., Britain, and Russia, including SDI’s chief scientist, Gerold Yonas, over six years of research. The result is a book that contains a wealth of previously unpublished information, including new insights into the secretive Soviet space defense program.
This is not a scientific book. Most of it is about the genesis, development, and outcomes of the overall SDI concept. Hey concurs that Ronald Reagan was briefed by scientists on their concepts for space defense many times, but argues that the Strategic Defense Initiative was more than this, quoting Reagan’s line from his book An American Life: “SDI wasn’t conceived by scientists.”
Hey is intrigued by the deft use of America’s scientific reputation to nudge the Soviets into doing things that they may not otherwise have done. But he also shows his admiration for the SDI scientists, whose ABM mission is being continued through today’s Missile Defense Agency, and for Lt. Gen. James A. Abrahamson (USAF ret.), who led SDI during its first eight years. “Surely he was the most idealistic of cold warriors,” Hey writes. He praises Abrahamson for his steadfast commitment to “a continuing requirement for strategic defense, and a never-ending need for technological creativity.”
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