Contents - Previous - Next


This is the old United Nations University website. Visit the new site at http://unu.edu


4.9. The case of the US Strategic Defence Initiative

The US research programme for the Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI), known as 'Star Wars,' is the single most important case of the US technological strategy for a renewed international leadership. Launched by the speech of President Reagan on 23 March 1983, SDI is now a six-year (1984 - 90), $33 billion programme (Pike 1985a: 4). It is aimed to research, develop and test a new generation of high-technology weapons to be deployed in space and on earth, to defend the US from Soviet nuclear missiles. A final decision on the deployment is to be taken in the early 1990s.

The nature of a strategic defence system is still unclear. The initial mission of SDI was to provide a 'shield' over the whole American territory, but a 1985 report of the US Congress Office of Technology Assessment concluded that 'a strategic defense which could assure the survival of all or nearly all US cities in the face of unconstrained Soviet nuclear offensive forces does not appear feasible' (quoted in Kistiakowsky 1986: 10).

A 'reduced' version of SDI has then emerged, with the objective of defending selected areas, mainly the US missile sites. Rather than replacing the system of deterrence based on the 'Mutual Assured Destruction' (MAD) principle, and making nuclear weapons, in President Reagan's words, 'impotent and obsolete,' SDI has become a programme to 'enhance' nuclear deterrence, adding some defence to the traditional offensive forces. This brings also the US closer to a 'first strike' capability.

A discussion on the problems of feasibility of SDI, its strategic impact and political consequences, is beyond the scope of this section (see Union of Concerned Scientists 1984; E. P. Thompson 1985; Office of Technology Assessment 1985; Parnas 1985; Waller et al. 1986; Jasani 1986; Tirman 1986). The analysis here focuses on the economic and technological effects of Star Wars and on the consequences on US - European relations.

SDI economics

SDI is the largest single research programme ever developed by a Western government. It is managed by the US Defense Department through the SDI Organization (SDIO). Its funds have steadily increased from $1 billion in 1984, for the already-existing anti-missile programmes, to $1.6 billion in fiscal year 1985, $3 billion in 1986, $3.5 billion in 1987 and $3.9 billion in 1988, against the US administration's request of $5.7 billion. Table 4.6 shows the distribution of the requested funding in the five major areas of research: surveillance, acquisition, tracking and kill assessment (absorbing almost 30 percent of the funds); directed-energy weapons (about 30 per cent); kinetic energy weapons (about 20 per cent); systems concepts and battle management (less than 10 per cent); survivability, lethality and key-support technology (about 10 per cent).

The original SDI programme envisaged an expenditure of $33 billion for the 1984-90 period, and a total of $90 billion in the 1984-94 decade (Pike 1985a: 4). Past experience shows how normal time delays and cost overruns are in military research projects. If SDI encounters the same problems as other US high-technology military projects, it may become, according to John Pike, of the Federation of American Scientists, 'a 20 year, 225 billion dollar programme' which by 1990 will absorb one quarter of all R&D funds of the US Defense Department (ibid.: 4, 12).

Before the 1990s SDI is unlikely to lead to actual production and deployment. Estimates on the costs to produce and put in place a strategic defence system vary but are always enormous. SDIO director, General James Abrahamson, told the Appropriations Committee of the US Senate, on 15 May 1984, that a complete system of strategic defence may cost between $400 billion and $800 billion (DeGrasse and Dagget 1984: p.17). The magazine Aviation Week and Space Technology put the total cost at $ 1 trillion, with the system operational by the year 2000 (Aviation Week and Space Technology, 2 April 1984). According to estimates by former military officials and other analysts, 'the total cost could reach anywhere from 500 billion to 2 trillion dollars with still more needed to maintain and modernize it' (Kaplan 1986).

Table 4.6: Strategic defense funding ($million)

Programme FY 1985 FY 1986 FY 1987 FY 1988
SDI Organization        
Surveillance, acquisition, tracking & kill assessment 545.950 856.956 1,262.413 1,558.279
Directed-energy weapons 337.599 844.401 1,614.955 1,582.037
Kinetic energy weapons 255.950 595.802 991.214 1,217.226
Systems concepts & battle management 100.280 227.339 462.206 563.998
Survivability, lethality & key support technology 108.400 221.002 454.367 523.654
Management HQ, SDI 9.120 13.122 17.411 18.118
Total 1,397.299 2,759.222 4,802.566 5,463.312
Department of Energy        
SDI-related programmes 224 228 603  


Source: Waller et al. 1986: 15

As an example of the amount of funds SDI may absorb, let us consider the simple problem of launching into space the hardware for the system. A congressional report to Senator Proxmire and others noted that the costs to bring a pound of material into orbit are between 1,500 and 3,000 dollars; the report argued that 'the Phase I architecture studies predicted that anywhere from 20 to 200 million pounds of SDI material would have to be put in space. That would conceivably mean 600 to 5,000 shuttle flights whose launch costs could run anywhere from 30 to 600 billion dollars at today's prices' (Waller et al. 1986: 56).

At the end of 1987, $12 to $14 billion have been appropriated for SDI research contracts with firms, laboratories and universities. Studies from the Council on Economic Priorities (CEP), in New York, have documented the distribution of the first $7 billion spent up to 1986. Table 4.7 shows the twenty companies that received the largest SDI contracts in the period 1983 6. Together, they received $5.4 billion, three-quarters of total expenditures. Lockheed, General Motors (through its Hughes division), the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories, Boeing and TRW are the first five recipients; all of them are already major Pentagon contractors.

SDI contracts are also strongly concentrated on a geographical basis: 83 per cent of them has gone to five states: California (with 44 per cent of all SDI expenditure), New Mexico (with the Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories), Massachusetts (with the MIT Lincoln Laboratory), Alabama (with the Army Strategic Defence Command) and Washington (with Boeing) (The Economist, 15 November 1986, p.23; Council on Economic Priorities 1987).

Major contracts for missile defence have gone to the same companies that produce US nuclear weapons: the MX missile (Rockwell, TRW, Avco, Martin Marietta), the B-1 bomber (Rockwell, Avco, Boeing, LTV), the Pershing (Martin Marietta), the Trident (Lockheed), cruise missiles (Boeing, Litton) (Hartung et al. 1985: 24). It is hard to imagine how companies with a major interest in the production of nuclear (attack) weapons could be the agent of a strategic transformations that would make such weapons 'obsolete.' Rather, such a concentration of current SDI research in the institutions and companies of the US 'military-industrial complex' is further evidence that Star Wars is essentially an extension into space of the arms race.

In fact, SDI can hardly be presented as a radical departure from previous military research; the same companies have been developing some anti-missile work for years. As John Pike noted:

many of the projects in the SDI are not new weapons, but have in fact been under development for many years, although for applications other than missile defense. However, these systems were far too advanced for these other applications and had failed to receive approval for actual development. In a sense, SDI has become a technological orphanage. By incorporating these projects into Star Wars, with its formidable operational requirements, these systems have gained a new lease of life.

(Pike 1985b: 12)

Table 4. 7 The top 20 SDI contractors. FY 1983-86 (thousands US dollars)

COMPANY

$ VALUE OF CONTRACTS FY 1983-FY 1986

% OF TOTAL CONTRACTS FY 1983-FY 1986

Lockheed* 720,961 9.8%
General Motors 612,698 8.4
DOE Lawrence Livermore Nat'l Lab* 375,433 5.1
Boeing 373,697 5.1
TRW 373,117 5.1
EG&G* 360,300 4.9
McDonnell Douglas 338,224 4.6
MIT Lincoln Lab 327,542 4.5
DOE Los Alamos Nat'l Lab* 285,588 3.9
General Electric 260,797 3.6
DOE Sandia Nat'l Lab* 226,530 3.1
Rockwell Int'l 197,405 2.7
Teledyne Inc. 181,145 2.5
Gencorp Inc. 175,455 2.4
SDI Institute 125,000 1.7
Textron 120,331 1.6
LTV Corp. 105,657 1.4
Flow General 90,226 1.2
Raytheon Co. 81,819 1. I
Martin Marietta 77,781 1.1
TOTAL $5,409.706 73.8%


*Data is from FY 1983-June 1986. Since the last four months of FY 1986 are not included in the estimates, final figures may differ from those listed here. Figures also include $549 million in FY 1987 priced contract options that have yet to be exercised. Of this, Lockheed is to receive $34 million, Lawrence Livermore $140 million, EG&G $154 million, Los Alamos $123 million and Sandia $99 million. These values will increase significantly after Congress determines SDI appropriations.

Source: Council on Economic Priorities 1987.

Under these conditions, SDI appears as a highly profitable operation for the major US military industries that, as Senator William Proxmire pointed out, 'look at SDI as an insurance policy that will maintain their prosperity for the next two decades' (quoted in Sanger 1985).

Military industries, however, are not the only beneficiaries of SDI contracts; US universities are increasingly involved in Star Wars research. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with its off-campus Lincoln Laboratory, in 1985 alone received contracts for $60 million. In 1986, on-campus SDI research in US universities has been funded with $200 million. Utah State University received $8 million; the University of Texas, $6 million; Georgia Tech (affiliated to the University of Georgia), $5.2 million; Johns Hopkins, $4.8 million; Stanford University, $3.3 million (The Economist, 15 November 1986, p.23).

To encourage SDI research in universities and in small laboratories, SDIO set up a separate agency, Innovative Science and Technology (IST), funded with 5 per cent of the total SDI budget. In 1985 IST gave $28 million to universities and in 1986 the amount rose to $100 million. So far, $62 million dollars have been assigned to six research consortia, including twenty-nine universities in sixteen states, working in the areas of non-nuclear space power, optical computing, electronic circuits, high speed electronic systems, composite materials and chemical lasers (CEP Newsletter, January 1986).

With such large funds, SDIO has been able to attract a very large number of academic researchers; by the fall of 1985 SDIO had already received 2,600 applications from individuals and universities (ibid.). For many academics, in fact, SDI represents one of the few available sources for new funds, as public support for basic research has been cut and the share of university research funded by the Defense Department has increased from 10 per cent in 1980 to 16 per cent in 1985. Together with SDI funds, new restrictions are entering US universities. Although most of current SDI research is not classified, a University of Texas electromagnetic 'rail gun' project is classified (The Economist, 15 November 1986) and restrictions are the rule in off-campus laboratories. Security clearances are also requested for the professors and graduate students involved in SDI research (Kistiakowsky 1986: 11).

In spite of this increasing dependence on military funds, the US academic world has remained largely opposed to Star Wars. A Cornell University study on 451 physicists, engineers, chemists and mathematicians in the National Academy of Sciences showed that 80 per cent are opposed to SDI and only 10 per cent support the current research programme (Kaplan 1986). Furthermore, 60 per cent of those polled think that funds for SDI should remain below $1.5 billion a year, about the same amount that was already spent on missile defence projects before the launch of Star Wars in 1983 (ibid.).

Opposition to SDI research in universities has also been explicit: 'some 6,700 scientists and engineers signed a pledge not to accept SDI money: these include more than half the faculty members in 110 university physics and engineering departments. Another 1,600 researchers at government and industrial laboratories appealed to Congress last June to reduce SDI financing because of a lack of technical scrutiny' (The Economist, 15 November 1986, p.23).

The budget appropriations, the pattern of contracts and the estimates on the cost of Star Wars provide the framework for an analysis of the economic effects of SDI (see also Pianta 1987a). In economic terms, Star Wars represents an increase of military spending in areas highly research- and capital-intensive. The number of new jobs generated in all sectors of the US economy by $1 million of military expenditure is estimated at about fourteen, both by the 'Defense Economic Impact Modeling System' used by DeGrasse and Dagget (1984: 56-7) and by a study by Bluestone and Havens (1986).

The former analysis estimated that in 1984 SDI may have contributed to the creation of 28,000 jobs and that the $5.4 billion requested by the administration for 1987 may lead to 11(1,000 jobs DeGrasse and Dagget 1984: 56-7).

The latter study, already reviewed in section 3.5, analysed the employment effect of the $35 billion increase in US total defence expenditure between 1981 and 1985. The total appropriations requested by the Defense Department for SDI in the 1984 90 period, $33 billion, are of the same magnitude, but the R&D nature of SDI expenditure and the lower share of wages and salaries in the value added would reduce the number of jobs created for each million dollars of expenditure. It follows that the expenditure for Star Wars is likely to have a smaller effect on economic growth and on employment than that produced in the first half of the 1980s by a similar amount spent in other military programmes. Moreover, the effect will be substantially smaller than that of an alternative civilian programme to rebuild US infrastructures and expand public services, as a simulation by Bluestone and Havens has shown (Bluestone and Havens 1986: 1). With increasing problems in financing public expenditures, SDI does not appear as a particularly efficient way of expanding the US economy and creating new employment.

The new jobs offered by SDI research are largely for scientists and engineers that in the US are already substantially absorbed by military production; it has been estimated that SDI 'could require roughly 4% of all new engineers between 1984 and 1987. During that period, the Defense Department will likely take up a third of all new engineers' (DeGrasse and Dagget 1984: 3). Thus, in this area of highly qualified work, the net employment effect of SDI is likely to be even smaller, while the competition for attracting the best scientists and technicians will intensify, with the result of diverting even more highly qualified workers from civilian activities.

SDI research requires also a high capital investment by private companies. Robert Reich, of Harvard, estimated that SDI will control 'roughly 20% of US high technology venture capital over the next four years. The problem is that never before on this scale have we entrusted so much technological development to the Pentagon in such a short time' Quoted in CEP Newsletter, January 1986, p.6).

SDI technology

The technological results of Star Wars are highly controversial. On the one hand its supporters claim that the new SDI technologies - electronics, lasers, materials - will lead to radical innovations in all fields, with a major impact on the whole economy. On the other hand, SDI is a classic example of development of new military technologies, diverting resources from civilian innovation and distorting the pattern of technological change (see section 4.3).

The CEP study noted that 'in 1984, SDI funding represented about 1% of the nation's total R&D expenditures. But 1986 it will exceed 3%, even assuming continued rapid growth of total R&D' (DeGrasse and Dagget 1984: 1-2). As a share of the Defense Department Research, Development, Test and Evaluation budget, SDI will grow from 3.7 per cent in 1984 to 15.7 per cent in 1989 (ibid.).

Such greater concentration of US research into the highly specific and exotic projects of Star Wars is likely to limit its impact on the civil economy. Ann Markusen argued that 'there is little chance that the Strategic Defense Initiative will provide many commercial spin-offs' (Markusen 1986: 506). The growing divergence between the criteria and requirement for the development of military and civilian technologies is a major constraint for civilian spin-offs. As John Pike argued, in a testimony before a congressional committee:

Star Wars computers must be able to survive the effects of nuclear explosions, and so the SDI is putting money into research on radiation-hardened gallium-arsenide computer chips. But banks and insurance companies don't need computers that can continue working during World War 111. Directed energy systems can also have industrial and medical uses. But the military needs weapons with power outputs of many millions of Watts that will operate for a few minutes, whereas civilian tools must operate for months or years at powers of only a few Watts.

(Pike 1985b: 10)

According to Nathan Rosenberg, SDI 'represents a highly inefficient way of organising support for the civilian economy' (Rosenberg 1986: 30).

The commercial impact of SDI research is reduced also by the secrecy surrounding the programme and by the strict control that the US Department of Defense is imposing on all uses of the results of Star Wars research (see Stowsky 1986: 701).

The burden of the institutions and traditional practices of US military research is a major problem for SDI research. This has been stressed even by an official report, the Eastport Study, reviewing the prospects for SDI:

it will be necessary to propagate a different culture of system development that will exploit the emerging technologies... The endless demands of project schedules, the lack of capable staff, the lack of capital equipment, the 'not invented here' syndrome, the conservatism in procurement decisions, and bureaucracy have created a culture that resists change and takes only naive risks. SDIO must create a new culture that can adapt to changes more effectively.

(Quoted in Waller et al. 1985: 59)

The roots of the problem are in the technological 'style' of the US military, described in section 4.3, that is increasingly an obstacle not only to the civilian use of military-originated technology but also to the development of SDI technology itself. The congressional report to Senator Proxmire noted that

in order to make the tens of thousands of SDI missiles and satellites affordable, SDI officials say that 'Henry Ford production methods' will have to be introduced into the way these vehicles are produced. The aerospace and defense industry will have to undergo fundamental changes in their methods of production so a missile will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars instead of millions, and a satellite will cost millions of dollars instead of hundreds of millions.

(Waller et al. 1986: 53)

The problems SDIO officials have with the traditional procurement practices that are making Star Wars unaffordably expensive may press the introduction of 'Fordist' methods in the production of aerospace and military hardware. While this might have been the best way of rationalizing production and cutting costs a few decades ago, following the example of commercial manufacturing, it is doubtful that a 'high-tech military Fordism' may solve the problems of mass production of space weapons, especially when commercial industry has already gone through the crisis of standardized mass production systems and is moving now towards more flexible forms of production. The idea of a 'Star Wars assembly line' looks like the misleading solution to a wrong problem.

The exotic areas of research, the extreme performance requirements and the direction of SDI-sponsored innovation suggest that SDI is likely to have very little civilian spin-off. Rather, its major technological consequence may be on the direction of progress at the technological frontier, influencing the allocation of innovative resources, the selection of sectors and the 'style' of new technologies. In this way Star Wars becomes important as a technological strategy aiming to set the ground for the international competition among advanced industrial countries, chosing the areas where the US is in the better position vis--vis Europe and Japan: military-oriented high technology. While Star Wars as a military programme aims to re-establish US military superiority on the Soviet Union, Star Wars as a technological strategy aims to re-establish US control over the direction of technical progress.

SDI and Europe

The US strategy for setting the ground for the new technological competition in high technology is the necessary context for the controversy over the European participation in SDI. In March 1985 US Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger asked the NATO countries, and Israel' Japan, South Korea and Australia, to join SDI research.

In December 1985 the director of the SDI Organization, James Abrahamson, explained before a House subcommittee that the offer to the US allies was made because "we believe that their involvement will certainly lead to a more in-depth understanding of the program and the technical basis for defense as well as its military basis. This understanding will be a vital underpinning of a future decision to proceed into development' (Abrahamson 1985: 14). This shows the basic political aim of the US offer; the promise of sharing the marvels of Star Wars technology stirs a concrete interest of European firms and governments, and creates domestic constituencies across the Atlantic with a vested interest in SDI. This involvement facilitates the European acceptance of a programme with such dramatic political and strategic consequences in East-West and US-European relations.

The European cooptation in Star Wars was especially needed after the widespread criticisms that the SDI programme has received across the Atlantic. In Britain, the closest US ally in Western Europe, the foreign secretary, Geoffrey Howe, in a speech on 15 March 1985, argued that 'there would be no advantage in creating a new Maginot line of the twenty-first century, liable to be outflanked by relatively simpler and demonstrably cheaper countermeasures... The allies must ask whether the enormous funds to be devoted to such systems might be better employed on other forms of deterrence' (quoted in de Montbrial 1986: 510).

In its testimony before a US House subcommittee, Samuel Wells, associated director of the Woodrow Wilson International Centre in Washington, noted that 'the vast majority of political leaders, government officials, strategic analysist and scientific specialists have significant reservations about the way in which SDI was introduced, its impact on the stability of the strategic balance and its implications for other economic and security issues' (Wells 1985: 1). He listed the 'total lack of consultation', the impact of SDI on deterrence, in whose name European governments were still deploying the Euromissiles, the costs and the strategic implications of SDI as major areas of European concern.

Wells concluded that 'finally, the Europeans are concerned that SDI will give the US a significant economic advantage by stimulating a massive American development of new technology that under our current policies on technology transfer would limit the commercial exploitation of technology developed in the US and even that developed in Europe under contract with SDI' (ibid.: 2). Abrahamson himself left little doubt on this; he stated in his testimony that the role of the allies in SDI research should be 'consistent with US law, security interests in protecting sensitive technology' (Abrahamson 1985: 16).

The conditions demanded by Europe for joining SDI research have insisted on the possibility of fair partnership, free flows of technology and opportunity for European firms to have a sizeable share of the contracts. In political terms, Europe stressed the need to respect the ABM treaty and to preserve NATO unity and a common security framework (see Lucas 1986).

The combination of US political pressure and the promise of technological gains for Europe has led a few countries to join the US programme. By 1986 'memorandums of understanding' on SDI participation were signed by Britain, West Germany, Israel, Japan and Italy. However, the Netherlands, Denmark, Canada and Australia (all but the latter with conservative governments) made clear that they had no intention of joining Star Wars.

Many European industries have been trying to obtain the much-promised SDI contracts that, however, have been much smaller than the claims of both US and European governments. By 1986 Britain had received $40 million for Star Wars research. Nine contracts have been assigned to private firms, for $15.5 million; $10 million went to the British Ministry of Defence for the European architecture study, 85 per cent of which has been subcontracted to eighteen private companies; a further $10 million has been spent on laser research at a government laboratory (The Economist, 15 November 1986).

West Germany received $30 million; 21 million went to Dornier and $4 million to Messerschmitt-Bolkow-Blohm. Israel received contracts for $10 million, France $3.4 million (without signing any official agreement with the US), Italy $2.2 million.

In December 1986, seven contracts, worth $2 million each, were awarded to consortia of different firms, for studying the architecture of a European strategic defence. The seven groups include fifty-one companies, twenty-nine of which are European. The groups are headed by Messerschmitt-Bolkow-Blohm of Germany; Aerospatiale and Thomson of France; Snia BPD, a Fiat subsidiary, of Italy; and by four US companies: LTV; Science Applications International; RCA; Lockheed and Hughes, a division of General Motors (Cushman 1986).

The total value of the European contracts for Star Wars for the five years up to 1990 is expected to be no more than $300 million, 1 per cent of total SDI expenditures (Pike 1985b: 3 4; The Economist, 15 November 1986).

In spite of the negligible share of Star Wars research to be performed in Europe, the SDIO has apparently succeeded in involving some of the major European high-technology industries in its research programme. With limited resources for R&D and innovation, participation in Star Wars will mean a reduced European effort to develop new commercial technologies in other fields. Furthermore, accepting the terms set by the US for participation in SDI research - secrecy, control of the results by the US Department of Defense, specific requirements and criteria for development - will result in some sort of integration of European companies and institutions into the 'style' of American military technology.

Eureka and the European strategy

The launch of SDI and the US offer to join in the research programme has stimulated a new European awareness on the need for high-technology programmes. In his testimony, Samuel Wells reported that early in 1985, a study by the French Foreign Ministry Centre for Analysis and Planning found that

SDI would exacerbate Europe's technological backwardness because it would draw off top talent and would likely constrain or prevent the commercial application in Europe of technologies developed under SDI contracts. The best response to the challenge posed by SDI, the study concluded, was European co-operation in a project of high technology development linked to promising consumer markets.

(Wells 1985:6)

As E. P. Thompson noted:

Seen in this light, the aim of SDI is not to 'enhance deterrence,' but to enhance the competitiveness and technological supremacy of United States industry. It is a means of organizing research and development to the decisive advantage of the USA into the twenty-first century, so that both economic and security controls would ensure a one-way traffic.

(Thompson 1985: 119)

From this awareness a French proposal of a European high technology programme in civilian sectors emerged; 'Eureka' (European Coordinating Agency) was launched by the French president, Francois Mitterrand, three weeks after the US proposal in March 1985 to join in SDI research. Started as the 'European response' to SDI, Eureka is an open invitation to a high-technology club, which has as his mission the support of research projects in high-technology by European firms. Besides the twelve EEC countries, also Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria and later Finland and Turkey are part of some research projects (see Pianta 1988). The original proposal listed five areas of research:

1. 'Euromatique' includes large vectorial computers, highly parallel computer architecture, multiprocessor synchronous architecture, mass memory, software engineering, symbolic machines, multilingual information, industrial management, new microprocessors, memory and gallium arsenide chips.

2. 'Eurobot' includes factory automation, agricultural robots, security robots, high-power industrial lasers.

3. 'Eurocom' relates to communications, with data-processing networks, digital switches, wideband communication between data processing and office automation systems, broadband transmission.

4. 'Eurobiot' includes researches in biotechnologies and artificial insemination.

5. 'Euromat' includes industrial materials, turbines and high-speed trains (Electronics, 22 July 1985, p.30).

The projects are managed by a small secretariat, that is independent from the EEC Commission, that is already in charge of a number of other high-technology programmes. The funding is provided by the participating industries and is matched by the governments of their countries on a project-by-project basis. France launched the programme with a commitment of F.1 billion; West Germany offered DM1 billion for 1986 and promised DM10 million in a six-year period.

A large number of contracts has so far been awarded in Eureka, and most of the European high-technology firms have been involved, but the technological outcome is still to be seen.

The image of Eureka as the European civilian response to SDI, however, has quickly faded. Some of the Eureka projects, particularly in high-speed computers, semiconductors and lasers, can have military outcomes, and in a few cases have even come to look similar to some SDI research, even though this aspect is usually ignored in the current discussion on Eureka. Passed are the times of the opposition between Star Wars and Eureka; now many European governments and companies have agreed to participate in both (see Pianta 1988).

Such an attitude is epitomized by the Christian Democrat chancellor of West Germany, Helmut Kohl, who shortly before signing the agreement on SDI with the US in September 1985, gave his support also to Eureka, arguing that 'the common security interests of Europe and the US also demand a comparable state of the respective economic and technological developments. If we want to strengthen the European pillar of the transatlantic bridge, it also presupposes that we must increase the technological and industrial efficiency in Europe' (quoted in Wells 1985: 7).

Without entering into the details of the evolution of the European debate (see Lucas 1986), there is now a general agreement among governments and corporations that participation in SDI and Eureka are not 'incompatible.' Rather than confronting SDI with alternative priorities and another direction of technological change, Eureka has become a set of projects in some way complementary to Star Wars.

Nevertheless, the initial response of the US to Eureka has been highly suspicious. Wells noted that

the United States will not achieve its stated objectives if we continue at one and the same time to ask for greater European defense expenditure, pursue a tough policy on technology transfer, insist on political support for SDI, and resist steps for European defense and economic co-operation as we have in our opposition to the revival of the West European Union and our coolness toward Eureka.

(Wells 1985: 17)

In his view the choice is between 'more autonomous allies or reluctant and somewhat rebellious clients in Europe' (ibid.).

The issue of European participation in SDI and Eureka has explicitly put European governments and corporations before the problem of the direction of technological progress. Two main attitudes have emerged. On the one hand, the traditional Atlanticist view of a large section of European political and economic forces has suggested to join SDI, following as usual the US lead, and stressed the benefits of US political support and of the promised economic and technological gains.

On the other hand, the supporters of a revived European nationalism, well aware of their growing strength, have denounced the danger of US control over European technology, but they fell in the same trap of the reproduction of the US 'style' when they argued for independent European projects in the same high technologies.

Both attitudes in fact are still captive of the framework of Atlantic technological relations: the former has led many countries to surrender to the political pressure from the US, and to join Star Wars; the latter has led to a growing emphasis in Eureka on the same technological ground of the US strategy and SDI. The political power and the technological strategy of the US have succeeded, to a certain extent, in shaping the agenda also in Europe.

The response from Japan, which also formally joined the SDI programme, has shown a much better understanding of the issues at stake: the direction of technological change and the ground of future competition in high technology. The Japanese response to Star Wars has been a high-technology project of a different nature, the 'Human frontier' programme, focusing on biotechnologies, from molecular biology to human biological functions. With $1 million for the feasibility study in 1987, the project is at an early stage - as the Japanese participation in SDI is - and it is difficult to assess its scope and influence on the overall direction of Japanese high technology (Nature, 5 March 1987, p.8; see Pianta 1988).

An alternative direction and 'style' of technological progress is possible also for Europe. The US Star Wars strategy imposes upon Europe heavy political costs, with a renewed dependency on unilateral US policies. In economic terms, Europe is forced to enter the ground of competition most favourable to the declining US economy, embarking on the road of falling productivity and growing dependency on military programmes. In technological terms, the Star Wars strategy will extend to Europe the distortions and inefficiencies of the US military-oriented model of high technology.

This is the road for Europe that results from the US technological policies, with SDI and the controls on technology transfer. The conclusions, in the next chapter, will summarize the US strategy and discuss the alternatives for the future of Europe.


Contents - Previous - Next