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Debating military use of space

The Militarization of Space: US policy, 1945-84, by Paul B. Stares. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press. 253 pp. $25. In his amply documented book, Dr. Stares, a research associate at the Brookings Institution, tracks the policies and perceptions of the Soviet nuclear threat that led to the development of United States antisatellite weapons. He focuses on these because, of the weapons he mentions (ASATs, orbital bombardment systems, and weapons to defend against ballistic missiles), he says that ``the most extensive development work was carried out on antisatellite systems.'' As a result, ballistic-missile defenses ar e given relatively short shrift, until he writes about the Reagan administration. But that does not undercut the book's value in adding perspective to debates on the military use of space, where people often argue that militarization is something that must be prevented. In fact, it's been under way for over two decades.

In his concluding chapter, Stares is justifiably pessimistic about banning antisatellite weapons. But he suggests that the US and Soviet Union might try to agree to limit themselves to the systems they have now. In addition, a treaty might impose limits on the range of ASATs to protect crucial early-warning satellites in geosynchronous orbit. He contends that while limits on the number of ASATs would be too hard to verify, such limits on quality would not be, and hence may provide the most promising pat h to stalling an arms race in orbit.

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A word about the book's style: It is not reader friendly. Some of this stems from the nature of the subject: The widespread use of acronyms is unavoidable when writing about the military, and this book is peppered with them. It's often necessary to go back to an earlier chapter to review what an acronym stands for. In other instances, the difficulty stems from organization. Several times the reader is hit with an acronym or a cryptic reference to a project and told to see a later chapter for details. It

makes the book rough going, but ultimately it's worth the effort.

Peter Spotts is a member of the National News editing staff.