RONALD REAGAN had two dreams, not just one, involving ballistic missiles. An interlocked complex of industrial, military and congressional interests is keeping alive his dream of a "Star Wars" defense. But how many pursue his dream to replace "these God-awful missiles" through disarmament?
President Bush and Russian President Boris Yeltsin talk of their "alliance" as "partners." With circumstances so changed for the better, we must now revisit Reagan's visionary proposal at Reykjavik.
Elimination of nuclear-armed ballistic missiles, on a worldwide basis, would certainly be a cheaper and more reliable solution than defense against them, not only for us but for a dozen other states. But is it strategically, politically and technically feasible?
From a strategic point of view, all of the major nuclear powers, including Israel, would be safer relying on aircraft to deliver their nuclear weapons than to continue living under the dangers of nuclear-armed ballistic missile attack. It is easy, today, to forget the world's alarm in the 1960s over the introduction of nuclear-armed ballistic missiles. But the tons of ink spilled on this issue were justified, and we should attempt to return to the earlier period when we relied solely on aircraft.
From a political point of view, the pieces of this solution may be falling into place. After all, if Russia stays on the Yeltsin path, America, Britain and France will have nothing to target their thousands of ballistic-missile warheads on. They don't have the slightest intention of using nuclear-armed ballistic missiles in the Third World, even to pre-empt an emerging nuclear power.
The administration is already working to eliminate multiple-warhead ballistic missiles, at least on land. Why not continue to work against single-warhead missiles of all kinds? How long should nuclear-armed submarine crews be required to sit underwater for no purpose -- if, indeed, through disarmament, we can eliminate the ballistic-missile threat to a bomber deterrent?
Moreover, the fear that all of the major nuclear powers suffer today -- of nuclear-armed ballistic missiles among emerging nuclear powers -- provides major political motivation. Significantly, the administration has already endorsed the concept of eliminating missiles in the Middle East. If this arrangement is good for the Middle East, why is it not good for the world?
Such an effort could involve various treaties with bilateral inspections, supplemented with inspections from a suitable new international organization designed for that purpose. Inspections would be facilitated by the fact that missile flight tests are essential to develop and maintain missile forces and, happily, highly visible; moreover, space launch tests are done from fixed and known centers.
New adherents to a military missile ban would require that major missile powers agree, over some time period, to dismantle their own ballistic missile warheads and missiles. For example, the five major nuclear powers might agree to a loosely coordinated 10-year plan of steady reduction of the numbers of their ballistic missiles to zero. But the complete fulfillment of any agreement would be contingent on the major nuclear power securing sufficient compliance by states relevant to its security. This contingency, and other joint pressures, would encourage such states as Israel, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and India to cooperate in working out regional agreements.
However this is accomplished, all would gain. Nuclear-armed ballistic missiles, like the Colt revolver in the Old West, are a great equalizer. The nuclear powers would maintain a greater advantage over new nuclear states if they could hold down the proliferation of nuclear-armed missiles. And the price they pay for this greater advantage is no price at all; relying on bomber forces for deterring attack can save them money.
Meanwhile, other Third World states, nuclear-armed or not, would benefit from a world order that precluded a ballistic-missile arms race.
Statesmen may not be able to eliminate nuclear weapons for a long time. And they will never be sure that a global missile defense, even if built at great cost, would ever operate effectively when and if needed. But a sustained worldwide effort to achieve Ronald Reagan's disarmament dream could make his "Star Wars" dream unnecessary.
The writer is president of the Federation of American Scientists.