Cover image for A shield in space? : technology, politics, and the strategic defense initiative : how the Reagan Administration set out to make nuclear weapons "impotent and obsolete" and succumbed to the fallacy of the last move
A shield in space? : technology, politics, and the strategic defense initiative : how the Reagan Administration set out to make nuclear weapons "impotent and obsolete" and succumbed to the fallacy of the last move
Lakoff, Sanford A.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Berkeley : University of California Press, [1989]

Physical Description:
xv, 409 pages ; 23 cm.
General Note:
Includes index.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
UG743 .L33 1989 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



In March 1983, Ronald Reagan made one of the most controversial announcements of his presidency when he called on the nation's scientists and engineers to develop a defensive shield so impenetrable as to make nuclear weapons "impotent and obsolete."

This book provides the first comprehensive review and evaluation of the project launched to implement that announcement --the project officially known as the Strategic Defense Initiative and more popularly as "Star Wars." The authors--a political scientist and a physicist who has played a key role in developing military technologies--provide an intriguing account of how political rather than technical judgment led to the initial decision, and they explain the technical issues in terms accessible to nonspecialists.

Judging SDI as "a classic example of misplaced faith in the promise of technological salvation," the authors examine the implications of the program for strategy, arms control, the unity of the Western alliance, its prospective economic impact, and the way the American political process has dealt with all these issues.

Author Notes

Sanford Lakoff is Professor of Political Science at the University of California, San Diego, and co-editor of Strategic Defense and the Western Alliance (1987); Herbert F. York is Director of the Institute of Global Conflict and Cooperation at UCSD and author of Making Weapons, Talking Peace: A Physicist's Odyssey from Hiroshima to Geneva (1987).

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara has called this book the best he has seen on the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). High praise, but deserving, as the authors, both at the University of California at San Diego, critically review and evaluate SDI since its inception in 1983 under Reagan to its diminishing support under the Bush administration. SDI is plagued by its dependence on technologies years away from realization. The transition to a strategic defense from an offense would cause strategic instability for the superpowers and their allies. This work also clearly documents that security cannot be achieved through technological development; such faith in technology is illusory. Highly recommended.-- D. Felbel, Univ. of Manitoba Libs., Winnipeg (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

A thoughtful, comprehensive, technologically detailed, and easily understood argument against the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). According to Lakoff and York, SDI is technologically infeasible, easily overcome by countermeasures, destabilizing because it violates the so-called bargain of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), and inspires both sides to engage in a new defensive arms race. The authors lament Reagan's ill-conceived grasping for a technological solution to the dilemma of MAD: each side relies on threats of nuclear war to deter war rather than finding a way to make nuclear weapons obsolete by creating defenses against their use. The authors reject SDI because of its weak technological and strategic underpinnings and because of its negative impact on Soviet-US relations, NATO, and the arms control process. Lakoff and York suggest that more promising avenues for deterrence and defense (and improved Soviet-US relations) lie in the arms control area. In the call for a rejection of an "illusory faith in security through technology," they take refuge in the beliefs that MAD still deters and that the ABM treaty and offensive weapons cuts provide more security than SDI. A must holding for all libraries with collections on national security. -L. S. Hulett, Knox College(IL)