Ronald Reagan's space weapons plan is unlikely to ever block a nuclear warhead in the heavens, but it may prove to be an effective shield against any possibility of an arms agreement here on earth. Reagan's intransigence on the issue of weapons in space continues to be the greatest obstacle to U.S.-Soviet progress toward negotiated disarmament.
On January 15, Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev announced a dramatic proposal designed to lead to the abolition of all nuclear weapons by the end of this century. The Gorbachev initiative was well-received by the Reagan administration and gave promise of a potential breakthrough in the nuclear logjam, except for one major catch: Star Wars. Gorbachev stressed that preventing the escalation of the arms race into space was an essential component of the plan. Reagan replied that U.S. space weapons research was "non-negotiable."
Along with the three-stage disarmament plan, the Soviet leader announced a three-month extension to March 31 of the unilateral Soviet nuclear test moratorium that was slated to expire December 31, 1985. The test ban is the most crucial component of the Soviet initiative and the step that would be the easiest to accomplish. To finally achieve a ban on nuclear testing, a goal that has been pursued for more than 30 years, now requires only a decision by President Reagan to end tests.
The Pentagon has claimed a test ban "would entail serious risks to the safety and reliability of our nuclear deterrent forces." Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) replied that such arguments were "a smokescreen the Pentagon and the weapons labs have developed to try to defuse the growing public clamor for a test ban." Markey said, "The administration's real reason for opposing a test ban [is] its desire to develop new counterforce weapons like the Trident 2 [missile], and its fascination with nuclear star wars weapons such as the X-ray laser."