President Reagan supports the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), saying it is aimed at “eliminating the threat” of nuclear attack. Why do you agree?

President Reagan made the right choice in abandoning the Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) doctrine in favor of SDI. For 20 years, our country has been committed to MAD, a doctrine through which the United States has chosen not to defend its homeland. Instead, we threatened swift annihilation of any nation attacking our homeland.

The President’s SDI proposal changes that, SDI envisions a future in which nations could live secure in the knowledge that their national security did not rest on the threat of nuclear retaliation but rather on the ability to defend against potential attacks.

How will SDI affect our arms negotiations with the Soviets?

SDI is an incentive, not a deterrent, to arms control negotiations. The two central objectives of arms control negotiations are avoiding nuclear conflict and limiting damage should a nuclear conflict occur, SDI achieves both objectives. For the past two decades, the Soviets have invested heavily in strategic defense research and deployment. In light of the Soviet effort, surely no one can argue that the SDI program will frustrate meaningful arms control reductions. The history of arms control negotiations shows the Soviets are more likely to bargain seriously once they are confronted with actual deployments rather than just research.

Church groups have lined up on both sides of the SDI debate. Those who support SDI say it is morally wrong to rely on MAD.

MAD is an unworkable and immoral policy. To base our entire national security on our ability and willingness to kill civilians is nothing short of macabre. Those who oppose SDI carry the additional burden of finding a practical, realistic alternative to MAD.

Religious leaders who oppose SDI question whether it will remain purely defensive, and they criticize its cost. In your view, are these arguments compelling?

With SDI, President Reagan renewed hope among peace-loving nations that it may be possible to avert the threat of nuclear war. In my opinion, bringing life to this new hope may be the best use of our defense dollar. Funds invested in SDI have already triggered remarkable scientific breakthroughs. These advancements accelerate hope that SDI is not just a dream, but a reality. Some critics say SDI could be misused. Yet I hope these same critics are equally concerned about the Soviet Union’s extensive military space program. At least half of Soviet space activities are militarily related.

Why have you cautioned against the development of SDI?

I have two basic concerns about the President’s claim of using SDI to eliminate the threat of nuclear attack. The first is that SDI cannot completely succeed, and the second is that the costs are astronomical. There are many ways to deliver nuclear warheads other than through space: cruise missiles, bombers, even the back end of a pickup truck. Each of the 9,500 strategic nuclear warheads we have and the 9,000 the Soviets have contain more power than all the bombs of World War II. If even 10 percent of those get through space, and other tactical nuclear warheads are delivered in other ways, that is the end of civilization as we know it.

SDI would cost many times more than the costliest project in the history of humanity, the interstate highway system. We are being asked to develop a system that by its nature can never be tested. It is folly.

Could SDI force the Soviets to the bargaining table?

If the aim of pursuing SDI were to force the Soviets to negotiate, it could be viewed as a brilliant diplomatic ploy. But most of us believe the President is serious, and this complicates our negotiations with the Soviets. Since the Soviets are doing some research on SDI, we have to do some too. But we should make it clear that no violations of existing treaties will take place. I favor research at the present level, but no higher.

Do you agree that our current policy of Mutual Assured Destruction is immoral?

What is morally required is to be the peacemakers Christ talks about, to save lives. People of good conscience will differ on how we get there. Every dollar we spend on weapons development and production that is taken from the poor and needy—or adds to the national deficit—is morally questionable. But an adequate defense is needed in a world of flawed humanity. The real question involves what is “adequate.” The Soviets fear that if SDI is developed, it will be used to protect ourselves and launch a first-strike attack on the Soviet Union. I believe their fears are groundless, but they are real nonetheless.

Why do you believe SDI is too costly?

Former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger has said a reasonable maximum increase in defense research and development programs is 35 percent a year. We voted $1.4 billion in fiscal year 1985, and more than doubled that to over $3 billion in 1986. Now the Reagan administration is requesting $5.4 billion for 1987. We are bound to be wasting an awful lot of money.

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