MX purpose: fighting, not survivability

In spite of an overwhelming array of expert disagreement, the President's MX is now well on the way to eventual deployment. To understand the full implications of this situation, one must recognize that the placing of 100 MX missiles in Minuteman silos will have nothing to do with improving deterrence by enhancing the survivability of this country's ICBM forces. Rather, the only real purpose for MX will be to fulfill distinctive counterforce mission objectives, i.e., to destroy Soviet nuclear weapons and control systems during a nuclear war.

Nuclear war-fighting, not survivability, is the true purpose of MX. Indeed, the decision to place the new missiles in existing silos will degrade deterrence by occasioning a US shift to ''launch on warning'' or ''launch under confirmed attack'' strategies. With the adoption of such strategies, this country's strategic forces - because of their presumed vulnerability - might be launched before Soviet weapons actually struck their targets. It follows that a predictable consequence of MX deployment would be a greatly heightened probability of accidental nuclear war or even a Soviet first strike. If the Soviets decided to respond to US moves with their own launch on warning strategies (a response that could be instigated by the hard target, countersilo qualities of the MX as well as by US acceptance of launch on warning), this country's MX deployment might even heighten the likelihood of a US first strike.

The assessment that the United States is preparing to deploy MX as a war-fighting weapon system is supported by other recent developments. These include the President's recent characterization of Soviet-American rivalry in starkly apocalyptic terms and his curious plans for an expanded defense of the US. Further contradictions can be found in the administration's plans for new antisatellite weapons, continuing expansion of countersilo capabilities with Trident II and MK-12A RV weapons, and reinforced commitment to intermediate retaliatory options in Europe.

This assessment is also supported by the administration's position on the nuclear freeze. The freeze is objectionable to President Reagan, not because it would create the conditions under which the US would forfeit its capacity to devastate the Soviet Union after absorbing a first strike (it clearly would not create such conditions), but because it might preclude the prospect of ''dominating escalation'' during a nuclear war. In short, the freeze is rejected because it would interfere with the capacity to wage nuclear war ''rationally.''

Supporters of the MX who are honest enough to acknowledge its purpose as a nuclear war-fighting weapon argue that there is no reason to make Soviet targets safe from US ICBMs when comparable targets in this country are at risk from Soviet ICBMs. This argument, however, substitutes monkey-see-monkey-do logic for a well-reasoned deescalation of nuclear competition. In developing a long-term defense program vis-a-vis the Soviet Union, the US should be guided exclusively by a careful comparison of the costs and benefits of alternative strategies. Even if our worst-case assumptions about Soviet military objectives were correct , it does not necessarily follow that American security is best served by policies of reflexive imitation.

To meet its deterrence objectives, the US needs to ensure that its strategic forces can assuredly destroy an aggressor after riding out a first-strike attack. It does not need to take steps, such as MX, to threaten the other side's retaliatory forces. Such steps are manifestly contrary to the requirements of successful deterrence, since they would heighten Soviet inclinations to preempt. And these inclinations are apt to be even greater if MX is deployed before survivability can be reasonably assured.

In the final analysis, nuclear weapons can serve the requirements of deterrence only where they threaten life and property. Since they are inappropriate tools for the military commander, these weapons make the idea of counterforce highly suspicious. Ironic as it may seem, the only relatively sane strategy for nuclear weapons is represented by the acronym MAD (mutual assured destruction).

Violence is not power. Sometimes these are opposites; the less the power, the greater the inclination to violence. Understood in terms of the administration's commitment to MX, it is time for Americans to understand that the prospects for prolonged survival may vary inversely with the prospects for waging a prolonged nuclear war.

Nuclear strategy is a game that sane people may play, but not - as the Reagan administration suggests - with frivolity. By arguing for the MX without an appropriate basing scheme, the administration provides new legitimacy for the Orwellian logic of our time, the logic of doublethink. With such logic, myths are no longer distinguished from realities, and ''facts'' are advanced with inexplicable disregard for what is known.

The Reagan administration has been thinking against itself. To survive into the future, the US will require a new consciousness, one tuned to ever-higher pitches of strategic refinement. To avoid further contamination by the superstitions of those who urge acceptance of MX, America must resist confronting the apocalypse as healer. Its sole ambition must be to prevent the incurable.

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