Boris: 432 missiles isn’t a credible enough threat for a counterstrike. The Soviet leadership may have been willing to accept the casualties that 432 missiles would inflict if they thought they could ‘win’. That was certainly the Pentagon analysis. In any event, you’d always have a few boats in port, and the Soviets had some pretty good hunter-killer subs that might have taken out a few more. Who knows how many would actually get their missiles away?
The Trident subs were important because they did complicate the enemy’s war plan. I don’t know exactly what they were typically targeted at, but it may have been industrial infrastructure or something like that so that if there WAS a first strike we might still win a conventional war.
Falcon: You don’t get it. We only ‘remove the threat against us’ if we have a 100% shield, which we were never planning to have. A more realistic goal would have been a defensive umbrella that could stop maybe 70-80% of the missiles. If they launch 10,000, we’re still getting hit by 2000-3000 missiles, which is plenty enough to deter us from first striking. But THEY can’t first strike, because we can still launch 2000 missiles back. It forces a STALEMATE, which was our nuclear policy back from the days of McNamara.
DavidForster: See my comments above. We would never have a missile system that would let us live without fear. Just one that would prevent them from eliminating our retaliatory capability. This was the same strategy proposed for the MX ‘racetrack’ missile, and for the super-hardened silo missiles. If you can put a 10% uncertainly into the ‘kill’ of a missile in the ground, you can guarantee a retaliatory strike of 700 missiles (plus the 432 Trident warheads). They can’t first strike, but we’d still be obliterated if WE struck first. Stalemate.
Moriah: You are exactly correct. SDI created a new arms race. But it was an arms race of defensive systems, which HAS to be morally superior to an offensive arms race. But more importantly, it was a technological race, and in that area the Soviets were hopelessly outclassed. Our problem with the Soviet Union is that we could never match them tank-for-tank, soldier-for-soldier, etc. They would always outnumber us as long as they were willing to spend 50% of their GDP on the military. So Reagan used an end-around tactic - stop competing with them on that playing field, and change the game to one where WE have the overwhelming superiority. That is why the Soviets were terrified of SDI. Not because they thought we could first-strike them once we had it, but because they just couldn’t compete with us technologically. And if they tried to compete through brute force, the mathematics would have bankrupted their economy.
Economically, a technological arms race has a very important side-effect: Your country is spending its money on research and development, which trickles down into the economy, instead of just building more boats and planes, which doesn’t. There have actually been a large number of SDI spinoffs that have been commercially successful.
In any event, does anyone not remember that Reagan promised to GIVE the Soviets their own copy of our SDI system once it was in place? He couldn’t do this if it made a first strike more likely.