SINCE PRESIDENT REAGAN first proposed it in March 1983, the Star Wars weapons system has virtually become all things to all people. To the president and his hardest core of ideological disciples, it is a panacea to rid the world of nuclear weapons and a patriotic challenge much like the Kennedy-era race to the moon. To fundamentalist TV preachers, it is an answer to the indefensible morality of nuclear deterrence. To Cold Warriors it is a new and advantageous framework for U.S.-Soviet conflict. To big business it is a high-tech economic bonanza. To some scientists it is an opportunity to pursue previously under-funded pet projects.
That litany, of course, omits the one thing that the Star Wars program, or SDI (Strategic Defense Initiative), most assuredly and verifiably is - the next stage of the arms race. And it is not off in a distant George Lucas future. It is the arms race already upon us. Billions of dollars in Star Wars contracts have already been let out. Powerful lobbies for the program are in place.
It is still not too late to re-examine the Star Wars dream and turn back from it. But the time is growing short.
If this new stage of the arms race goes ahead as planned, it will, like all previous escalations of the last 40 years, lead to Soviet responses and countermeasures. Those will lead to American claims of a "strategic defense gap," or perhaps an oxymoronic "space gap." And the vicious cycle of military threats and counter-threats will continue - a cycle that seemingly can only end in war.