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The cruise missile: a simple analysis

Jon Spencer — November 1983

Many people wonder why so many concerned citizens are protesting the testing of the cruise missile in Canada. The issue is a complex one, and a short answer is only a beginning, but one has to start somewhere. There are four principal arguments against the testing of the air-launched cruise missile (ALCM). Here they are, in abbreviated form.

1 — Verification. Weapons-limitation treaties are a crucial step toward balanced nuclear disarmament. Many people are frustrated by the slow process of negotiations, but it must be remembered that neither the U.S. nor the U.S.S.R. has violated any of the 14 treaties signed since the development of atomic weapons.

By using satellites and other surveillance methods, each superpower can maintain reasonably reliable estimates of the size of their opponent’s arsenal.

The ALCM would change all that. Current surveillance technology cannot detect the 6-metre-long cruise missile. Because of its small size, any number of ALCMs could be secretly stored in trailer trucks, warehouses and the like.

Once each side loses the ability to verify the number of missiles held by its opponent, treaties become meaningless. Why bother to negotiate the reduction of intercontinental missiles when your opponent could be stockpiling thousands of cruise missiles? The ALCM, when perfected, will jeopardise future arms reduction treaties, dooming the planet to an ever-increasing number. of nuclear weapons. The arms race is out of hand now, and it will only get worse when treaties are things of the past. It must stop sometime, and now is our best chance.

2 — Launch detection. The ALCM is a sophisticated weapon. It can fly undetected by enemy radar, following the terrain at tree-top level. The guidance system of the ALCM distinguishes it from all previous weapon technologies — it is a new breed

“Hey, Vladimir, I have two fairly reliable witnesses who called to report seeing a cigar- shaped missile in the air, headed our way.” “Fuddle-duddle, lvan, there must be 200 more that we can’t spot on our radar screens. We’ve got five minutes or less to decide whether to retaliate or not. How reliable are these sources of yours? Should we take their word for it?”

The scene above is exaggerated, but it does convey the source of the problem.

From January 1979 to June 1980, U.S. early-warning systems detected 147 false Soviet attacks. Imagine a nation that cannot rely on radar to detect enemy missile launchings, but has to depend on less reliable sources of information.

3 — Accuracy. The ALCM can hit its .target with pinpoint accuracy. If a nuclear weapon is to be used for retaliatory purposes, it needs only to land in the general vicinity of its target. A missile with that much firepower doesn’t need precision in order to inflict “unacceptable damage’,’ the threat of which is the basis of deterrence. .

There is only one possible reason for such an accurate weapon destroying ‘hardened’ military targets, such as missile silos. The cruise doesn’t fit in with the official policy of nuclear deterrence, for if it were launched in retaliation, it would only be destroying empty missile silos.

It is noteworthy that the U.S. has not agreed to a “no-first-use” policy,. as the Soviets have done. In the Soviet case, it may be empty words, but in the U.S. ‘s case, this refusal (along with the structure of their arsenal) guarantees them the ability to escalate from conventional to nuclear warfare.

4 — Canada’s role. Canada is not obliged to test the cruise. Several of our NATO allies have refused to participate in the deployment of cruise technology, and they remain members of NATO in good standing. Still other NATO nations are questioning their support for these NATO policies.

At its testing site in the western United States, the ALCM has not passed its tests. It is no. perfected yet. And the U.S. government needs Canadian airspace to run the ALCM through its final tests, because our terrain and weather are similar to those of the Soviet Union. If the cruise is not tested here, the U .S. will have to find a new test site, delaying the point of no return.

The U.S.S.R. is developing its own version of a cruise missile and theirs is not perfected yet either. If the U.S. was unable to test the ALCM, they would be in an excellent position to negotiate with the Soviet Union that neither side should develop such a weapon.

Supporters of cruise missile testing are reluctant to address these arguments, especially the first two. When they do, they indicate their lack of understanding of these issues by mixing the arguments up. More often, they stick to safer ground — addressing issues that are of little importance. thereby giving the impression that the peace movement’s concern is based on these issues. (Our favorite is: The U.S. will not be testing armed missiles here. What are you worried about?”) By ‘replying’ to imaginary arguments. and by avoiding the real issues, cruise supporters have confused the Canadian public.

The implications of cruise missile testing are frightening. But perhaps more frightening is the lack of concern Canadians demonstrate about the issue. For if nobody has presented a logical argument demonstrating that the cruise is verifiable and that it won’t make the Soviets more trigger-happy, then every Canadian should be opposed to the testing.

We haven’t yet heard any cruise supporters answer these specific arguments, but we’d like to. If we receive any logical responses, we’ll print them. (Take this as a challenge if you will). We don’t think cruise supporters can afford to address these issues, without losing the debate.