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Spy Satellites and Other Intelligence Technologies That Changed History.

Spy Satellites and Other Intelligence Technologies That Changed History. By Thomas Graham, Jr., and Keith A. Hansen. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2007. Photographs. Notes. Appendices. Glossary. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xvi, 171. $14.95 Paperback ISBN: 978-0295-98686-7

The adage that "good things come in small packages" certainly holds true for this book. At first glance, some readers might question whether so slender a volume has substantial value. Within the first dozen pages, however, most will recognize they are holding a real nugget. The authors, both veterans of strategic arms control and disarmament negotiations over several decades, deliver a straightforward analysis of the importance of intelligence-collection technologies to making arms control possible at the height of the Cold War. Had it been otherwise, the proliferation of nuclear weapons might have undermined international peace and security.

While numerous books over the past dozen years have explored the development of reconnaissance satellites and a few, like David Lindgren's Trust But Verify (2000), have provided some explication of the relationship between that technology and Cold War strategies or policies, Spy Satellites has a distinctive focus. It emphasizes the centrality of satellites and other intelligence-collection systems in promoting arms control and disarmament. Graham and Hansen carefully define and explain how "national technical means" (NTM), a purposeful euphemism for a host of space, air, sea, and ground sensor systems, enabled the United States and the Soviet Union to verify each other's compliance with arms-control agreements. Space-based systems, more than anything else, ensured "verification"--the essential ability to unilaterally and reliably determine that other signatories remained faithful to treaty obligations and did not jeopardize national security.

The authors explain how secrecy, historically, has had deleterious effects on verification. In the 1950s, the inability of Western intelligence organizations to collect sufficient critical information about Soviet nuclear-delivery capabilities increased the risk of the United States overestimating Soviet strength and misdirecting resources to unnecessarily expand its own nuclear forces. Conversely, as happened during the mid-1970s, poor data and analytical inattention risked underestimating Soviet capabilities and, ultimately, leaving the United States vulnerable to a Soviet first strike. Employment of sophisticated NTM reduced the risk of miscalculation by American and Soviet leaders. Furthermore, by ensuring credible, effective verification of compliance, NTM paved the way for arms-control and disarmament agreements from SALT I to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

This little book contributes in a big way to helping us understand how NTM, especially reconnaissance satellites, were every bit as important as nuclear weapon systems in deterring major war between the Soviet Union and the United States. The ability to peer into each other's homeland and accurately measure the other side's strategic forces, thereby avoiding potentially catastrophic miscalculations, allowed the superpowers to change the course of history. Punctuating this history lesson, however, is the disquieting acknowledgment of limited NTM capability to monitor the presence and proliferation of "weapons of mass destruction" (WMD), particularly the chemical and biological variety, among rogue nations and terrorist groups.

The three-page postscript to Spy Satellites warns, furthermore, that the relentless progression of weapons technology is making space a more dangerous place. An arms race in space would undermine that domain as a sanctuary for "important national monitoring capabilities," which it has been since the 1960s. The authors insist that preservation of international peace and security in the twenty-first century depends on long-term preservation of space-based monitoring and verification capabilities. Albeit a complicated undertaking with many interests to protect, they suggest crafting a "non-armament" agreement for space akin to the Antarctic Treaty of 1961 and, perhaps, built upon the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. This might be the only way to prevent a costly, destabilizing "weaponized space free-for-all" that would destroy the foundations previously laid for a comprehensive, treaty-based arms control and disarmament regime.

Dr. Rick W. Sturdevant, Deputy Director of History, HQ Air Force Space Command
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Author:Sturdevant, Rick W.
Publication:Air Power History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2008
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