The Origins of SDI 1944-1983

Donald R. Baucom

Richard W. Leopold Prize

Most people think Star Wars was Reagan's idea, but its roots reach decades farther back. Military historian Don Baucom traces them to the dawn of the atomic age in 1944.

“For the general reader interested in background and synthesis of U.S. ballistic missile defense efforts, this volume provides an excellent beginning.

—Public Historian

“Baucom uses statistics, anecdotes, and a wealth of background material to bring life this topic.

—Airpower Journal
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In this first scholarly account of the origins of SDI, Baucom brings together the political, technological, and strategic forces that have shaped the history of ballistic missile defenses from World War II to the present day. He chronicles major technological developments and shows how SDI emerged in 1983 from the technological and strategic legacies of the ICBM, ABM, SALT, and SAFEGUARD programs.

Surprisingly, Baucom concludes that arms control was the primary impetus for Star Wars. He argues that the SDI program grew out of Reagan's desire to see the country defended against nuclear attack, his strong faith in technology, his concern about the impact of Soviet SS-18 missiles, and most importantly, his realization that the policy of offensive nuclear deterrence was increasingly unpopular.

The Origins of SDI is not an evaluation of the Star Wars program. Instead, it is both the story of a policy and a case study of presidential decision making. Baucom bases his conclusions on historical research as well as interviews with the participants in the decision making process. As a result, he provides both the broad historical context for the emergence of Star Wars program and an insider's account, unique in its level of detail, of presidential decision making and the search for consensus.

About the Author

Lieutenant Colonel Donald R. Baucom is associate historian for NASA's Space Station History Project. He has taught military history and science, technology, and warfare at the Air Force Academy; served as historian at the Office of Air Force History and the Air War College; and directed the Airpower Research Institute.

Additional Titles in the Modern War Studies Series