'Star Wars' and ocean wars tactics: good defense or not?

Within the planetary war machine at its most advanced, unstable state may lie the embryo of a new security order.m Daniel Deudney, Worldwatch Institute The film ''WarGames'' may be one of the summer's hottest diversions. But nuclear war by accident or design - especially fought in or from space - is an increasingly serious and controversial subject in Washington.

A few days ago, the Air Force successfully tested a laser to shoot down missiles. A dozen members of Congress are pushing a ''People Protection Act'' to reorganize and accelerate the development of laser, particle-beam, and microwave weapons (called ''directed energy'' devices) that would destroy enemy ballistic missiles, a la President Reagan's ''Star Wars'' speech of last March.

The Pentagon is scheduled to test its first antisatellite weapon this fall. But congressional skeptics, fearful of a new round in the arms race, are urging that antisatellite weapons testing be delayed. More than 100 House members recently wrote the President on this subject, and a group of prominent scientists also has asked Reagan to seek a moratorium by the United States and the Soviet Union on antisatellite testing.

Behind all of this is the concern that efforts to control nuclear armaments are being overtaken by advancing technology.

In a thoughtful and detailed just-released study, the Worldwatch Institute, a Washington-based think tank, reports that the ''transparency revolution'' is overtaking the ability to conceal strategic systems. By this the report means that the growing network of satellites, seismic detectors, underwater acoustic arrays, and long-range radars can find almost any potential military target.

The inability to hide land-based missiles, strategic bombers, and their controlling facilities is driving the nuclear superpowers in two dangerous directions: toward computer-controlled ''launch on warning'' (firing your missiles as soon as incoming enemy ICBMs have been detected); and into the ''global commons'' of sea and space.

''Nonweapons such as sensors, communications systems, and computers have become as important to the strategic balance as weapons improvements,'' this report warns. ''As a result, the measure of military strength has shifted away from the power and speed of weapons to the ability to detect and target the enemy's forces and to hide and communicate with one's own. . . . New information technologies are driving the strategic arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union to a higher level of danger and instability.''

Some see such technologies as the way for a nation to defend itself against nuclear attack. The ''High Frontier'' group, headed by retired Army Lt. Gen. Daniel Graham (former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency), supports this idea. President Reagan urged more research and development in this direction in his controversial March speech.

On Capitol Hill, a group of lawmakers is promoting space as the new area for national defense and urging the Pentagon to speed up its development and deployment plans for space-based weapons and other systems.

Rep. Ken Kramer (R) of Colorado has introduced the ''People Protection Act of 1983.'' This would establish a new federal agency to develop directed-energy systems, set up a Unified Space Command to deploy and operate all strategic defensive systems, and transfer military space shuttles from NASA to the Pentagon.

In a talk supportive of President Reagan's spring speech, Mr. Kramer told a Capitol Hill group last week, ''My ultimate hope with this legislation . . . is to make nuclear weapons obsolete.''

Others say it is impossible to totally defend against nuclear attack. There is always the chance that a few ballistic missile warheads could penetrate any defense system, some experts say, or that foreign agents could hide nuclear devices around the country.

In his book ''Fate of the Earth,'' Jonathan Schell concludes that we must disband nation-states and form a world government. But in the new Worldwatch report, senior researcher Daniel Deudney says this is not necessary.

''The same transparency technologies now pushing the superpower military competition to its most dangerous level can be used to construct an alternative security system,'' he says.

Mr. Deudney proposes a comprehensive freeze on new strategic weapons testing, a ban on weapons in space, an international satellite monitoring agency (as proposed by France but rejected by the US and the Soviet Union), and more cooperative scientifc research between the superpowers.

He urges a ''pacification of the commons,'' including the oceans, where submarine-free zones and submarine sanctuaries could be established. He says high-energy physics, oceanography, space sciences, and aeronautics are logical starting points for scientific cooperation.

At present, the US is clearly ahead in submarine and antisubmarine technology , as well as in most other military-related technologies, according to the Pentagon. But in most areas the Soviet Union is striving to catch up, particularly in the ''transparency revolution'' that is adding to nuclear instability.

''To begin fashioning a real security system, the superpowers must abandon their outdated and illusory ideas about military security,'' writes Deudney. ''Controls established now can prevent deployment of weapons in space and avoid the vastly more difficult task of regulating them once they are there.''

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