The Soviet Union and Strategic Missile Guidance
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The Soviet Union and Strategic Missile Guidance Donald MacKenzie F e w issues have been of greater importance in Western, especially American, defense debates than Soviet missile accuracy and its implications for nuclear strategy. For thirty years the magnitude of the threat posed to the American deterrent by the Soviet missile force has been the subject of fierce if intermittent controversy.’ How accurate Soviet missiles are, and how accurate they may become, have been central topics in this controversy.2 Soviet missile accuracy is of intellectual as well as policy importance. The relative roles in the arms race of technology and of politics is a persistent question. Missile accuracy has been a key case for those who argue that technology is the determining factor. An inherent logic of technical advance, so this argument goes, has pushed missile accuracies beyond the relatively modest requirements for the retaliatory destruction of cities. This technical advance has thus made possible--even required-new nuclear strategies focusing on the more demanding counterforce role: more demanding because very high accuracies are required to destroy missiles in their si10s.~ I would like to thank the Nuffield Foundation, who supported the research drawn on here, and my colleagues at the Centre de Sociologie de I’lnnovation, Ecole Nationale Superieure des Mines de Paris, who provided me with hospitality while the paper was being written. I am indebted to David Holloway for help in the early stages of this research, to Wolfgang Riidig for assistance with the German materials, and to Lynn Eden for perceptive comments on the original draft of the paper. Above all, I am grateful to the members of the guidance and intelligence communities without whose generous cooperation this paper could not have been written. Responsibility for the arguments in it, however, of course remains mine. Donald MacKenzie, Lecturer in Sociology at the Uniuersifyof Edinburgh, researches the sociology and social history of science mid technology. 1. See, for example, the conflicting analyses uf George Rathjens and Albert Wohlstetter, and the resulting controversy: Operations Research Society of America, Ad Hoc Committee on Professional Standards, “Guidelines for the Practice of Operations Research,” Operations Research Letters, Vol. 19 (September 1971), pp. 1123-1258. 2. One of the major issues raised by the so-called “B-team” of critics of the CIA was whether the latter was systematically underestimating the accuracy of Soviet missiles. See John Prados, The Soviet Estimate: U.S. Intelligence Analysis and Sooiet Stvategzc Forces (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986), p 251-252. 3. The best sources on t1e technical issues involved in high-accuracy missile guidance and counter-silo attacks are D.G. Hoag, ”Ballistic-MissileGuidance,” in Bernard T. Feld, et al., eds., Impact of New Technologies on the Arm Race (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1971), pp. 19-108; Matthew Interrzational Securzty, Fall 1988 (Vol. 13, No. 2) 0 1988by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and of the Massachusetts Insbtute o f Technology. 5 International Security 13:2 1 6 Proponents of this “technological determinism” are countered by those who see the armament process as ultimately shaped by strategic doctrine, or more generally by politics. There has, in particular, been a deep and abiding Western suspicion that the Soviet Union embraces a dangerous and threatening doctrine. The Soviet Union, it has been argued, is prepared to fight, and plans to win, a nuclear war.4If this were correct, then extreme accuracy in Soviet missiles might be less the product of an inherent logic of technology than a disturbing symptom of the dominance of a war-fighting, perhaps even a first-strike, nuclear strategy. Soviet strategic writings have been anxiously scrutinized for omens on these matters5Some attempts have also been made to correlate these writings with Soviet operations research and with the evidence of Soviet deployments and exercises.6 Yet while voluminous estimates of the accuracy of Soviet missiles have been ~ompiled,~ there has been no systematic attempt Bunn and Kosta Tsipis, Ballistic Missile Guidance and Technical Uncertainties of Countersilo Attacks, Program in Science and Technology for International Security, Report No. 9 (Cambridge: MIT Program in Science and Technology for International Security, August 1983); and Kosta Tsipis, Arsenal: Understanding Weapons in the Nuclear Age (New York...