WASHINGTON — A group promoting President Reagan's space-based Strategic Defense Initiative announced Monday that it will try to place a resolution on California's ballot in November, 1988, urging quick deployment of the missile defense system.
High Frontier, which credits itself with originating the idea that became Reagan's SDI plan, said it hopes to begin soon trying to collect the 360,000 signatures needed to get the issue on the ballot. The private, nonprofit group's chairman, retired Army Lt. Gen. Daniel O. Graham, said $2.74 million would be spent on the initiative campaign.
The resolution would call upon California's governor to send a letter to the President and Congress urging the government to deploy the controversial multibillion-dollar system.
Although the measure would carry no legal weight, it is certain to feed the high-volume battle on the merits and costs of the untested missile defense program.
Graham said the group is starting in California because the state's voters are familiar with ballot initiatives. Graham also noted that "things tend to start on the West Coast and sweep east."
Graham said the California campaign would show the nation that a clear majority supports the SDI program.
The initiative could, however, draw opposition from SDI supporters who contend that deployment of a limited system in the 1990s would absorb much of the research funding needed to create an effective shield for the next century. It probably also will rouse the anti-nuclear forces who backed the nuclear weapons freeze movement in the early 1980s.
California voters narrowly approved a ballot initiative in 1982 that called on the governor to write to federal officials urging an immediate ban on the production, testing and deployment of nuclear weapons by the United States and the Soviet Union.
"We welcome the opportunity for debate to expose further what a colossal waste of money and an insane idea the Star Wars plan is," said David Cortright, executive director of the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy, a Washington group that opposes SDI and nuclear weapons.
Graham said his polls show that California voters favor the Star Wars program by a 60% to 30% margin. "That's a resounding advantage," he said. "It's ours to blow."
One of the battlegrounds of the campaign will be the cost of the system. Graham contends that a three-layered ground- and space-based missile defense can be put in place in seven years for no more than $60 billion.
The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates, however, that a workable system--if it can be built at all, which the group doubts--would cost at least $300 billion. Some anti-SDI organizations say the program Graham foresees would cost $1 trillion and take more than 15 years to build.