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Anti-ballistic missiles and strategy

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Woods Hole; working on classified problems
Murray Gell-Mann Scientist
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I was at Woods Hole working on classified problems. I had done the same in the summer of—when was it? ’62? I forget. Anyway, the problem was the strategic significance of active anti-ballistic missile defense of cities. And I was convinced, like a number of other scientists, that it was a… a very poor idea, and that if both the US and the Soviet Union could refrain from deploying such systems it would be a big help to the stability of the security situation. The systems could never actually protect populations in a serious way because there were so many different ways to defeat them and to run around them. What they could do though, was to provoke in the minds of military planners on the other side a fear that the retaliatory strike would be blunted, and therefore it would step up the arms competition in strategic arms greatly. And also, it would reduce crisis stability. The temptation to strike first would be greater because you might possibly be able to cope with the remnant of the enemy's force after you had carried out a first strike using your active anti-ballistic missile defense of cities; whereas you could never hope to cope with the full arsenal on the other side.

New York-born physicist Murray Gell-Mann is known for his creation of the eightfold way, an ordering system for subatomic particles, comparable to the periodic table. His discovery of the omega-minus particle filled a gap in the system, brought the theory wide acceptance and led to Gell-Mann's winning the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1969.

Listeners: Geoffrey West

Geoffrey West is a Staff Member, Fellow, and Program Manager for High Energy Physics at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He is also a member of The Santa Fe Institute. He is a native of England and was educated at Cambridge University (B.A. 1961). He received his Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1966 followed by post-doctoral appointments at Cornell and Harvard Universities. He returned to Stanford as a faculty member in 1970. He left to build and lead the Theoretical High Energy Physics Group at Los Alamos. He has numerous scientific publications including the editing of three books. His primary interest has been in fundamental questions in Physics, especially those concerning the elementary particles and their interactions. His long-term fascination in general scaling phenomena grew out of his work on scaling in quantum chromodynamics and the unification of all forces of nature. In 1996 this evolved into the highly productive collaboration with James Brown and Brian Enquist on the origin of allometric scaling laws in biology and the development of realistic quantitative models that analyse the influence of size on the structural and functional design of organisms.

Tags: Woods Hole, USA, Soviet Union

Duration: 1 minute, 55 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008