WASHINGTON — President Reagan has launched a concerted effort to lock future Administrations into his flawed "Star Wars" program. As revealed over the past few weeks, the Administration now plans to reorient the Strategic Defense Initiative from a long-term exploratory research effort to a phased early-deployment program.
By refocusing the program on near-term objectives, the Administration apparently hopes to stimulate congressional and public support for a program of such magnitude that its momentum will be unstoppable. To eliminate legal barriers, the Administration also plans unilaterally to reinterpret key provisions of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in a manner that would destroy the treaty's intent and lead to its early demise.
Pursuit of this plan will destroy any lingering prospects for progress in arms control under Reagan. Such disregard for international commitments, as demonstrated by the tortuous reinterpretation of the ABM Treaty, will further reduce U.S. international credibility, already severely weakened by the Iran- contra scandal. If the plan should succeed, Reagan's legacy will be a major acceleration in the strategic arms race, vast new military demands on the budget and a major reduction in U.S. security.
Formal announcement of these decisions has been slowed, but not altered, by extremely negative reactions from congressional leaders and North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies, who had not been consulted. On Feb. 6, in a remarkably blunt letter, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) warned the President that a unilateral reinterpretation of the treaty as ratified by the Senate "would provoke a constitutional confrontation of profound dimensions." Moreover, lack of support from the military services has complicated the Administration's plans. The day before, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in congressional testimony, did not support making any early deployment decision, because sufficient information was not available.