Garwin discourages the use of space weapons



While references to Star Wars might cause some to recall cinema, the phrase reminds Richard Garwin of the Reagan administration and complex space-based missile defense programs.

As part of the Yale Engineering Dean’s Distinguished Lecture Series, Garwin, a former member of the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States and a recipient of the National Medal of Science, spoke Wednesday afternoon in Davies Auditorium. Garwin said he did not believe space weapons should be part of the United States’ security strategy and the nation should lead the world in an effort to ban such weapons.

Garwin, who contributed to the design of the hydrogen bomb, has been involved in military science since he served on the President’s Science Advisory Board from 1962-65 and 1969-72. He said the question of missile defense has been approached poorly since the days of President Nixon, the first to attempt the establishment of a missile defense system. Garwin said the issue has always been more political than strategic, and political concerns have led the government to make scientifically inadvisable promises.

“Missile defense continues to be difficult and continues to be problematic because of the countermeasures involved,” Garwin said. “If you’re trying to defend the country, you don’t want to spend money [without] developing a system to deal with the countermeasures that will be in place before your system is fully developed.”

Despite its appeal in principle, space-based missile defense involves a host of problems, Garwin said. He said even the simplest defense — using an orbital laser to shoot down intercontinental ballistic missiles — is exceedingly difficult to engineer.

Most proposed space-based lasers would have to track a missile for around 10 seconds to be effective, Garwin said, and even then relatively simple measures, such as placing cork around a warhead, could render the defense useless.

Garwin said pursuing a space-based defensive strategy would be detrimental to national security. If the United States were to develop space weapons, he said, it would encourage other nations to attack U.S. space assets — involving the international community in a tangle of orbital countermeasures and counter-countermeasures, which could destroy the global satellite network.

“Non-space weapons will provide more capability — than space weapons,” he said. “Military space, which we now have, is not space weapons, and indeed I propose that we keep weapons out of space — I want to have an agreement — one that is enforceable by individual action — that people not destroy the satellites of other people.”

Paul Fleury, the dean of engineering at Yale, said Garwin’s presentation emphasized the need for governments to take scientific analysis into account when forming policy.

“I think he is absolutely right in saying that the leaders of our society, and indeed all other societies, should seek an honest analysis [of the situation],” Fleury said.

Seth Dworkin GRD ’09 said Garwin’s message extended beyond the topic of missile defense.

“The focus isn’t on missile defense,” he said. “It’s on ‘Should there be a larger influence of science on politics?’ and the answer is yes.”

Comments

  • Obama Man

    Great clips of a truly remarkable day… Nice job and thank you!

  • Anonymous

    what an amazing moment, or series of moments, to capture on this day!