Degree Name

Master of Arts (Hons.)


Department of Science and Technology Studies


In this thesis I consider the development of space-based ballistic missile defence in the late 1970's and early 1980's, leading up to President Reagan's speech on 23 March 1983, in which he announced a research and development programme to make nuclear weapons "impotent and obsolete". I focus on four groups, which I call the 'space-weapons lobby', which were pushing for the development of ballistic missile defence during this period: the 'laser lobby'. High Frontier, Edward Teller and his colleagues, and a group of strategists from the Hudson Institute. The study of these groups is used for two purposes. Firstly, to explain how and why space-based ballistic missile defence came to be a national priority in the United States. Secondly, to explore and extend a model of the weapons development process based mainly on the work of Mary Kaldor, Donald MacKenzie and Graham Spinardi, and Langdon Winner. I trace the evolution and progress of the 'space-weapons lobby', paying particular attention to the ideology of the different groups, the interests which they brought to bear on the problem of ballistic missile defence, and the way in which the ideology and interests of the different groups influenced the technologies which they were advocating for ballistic missile defence. I also consider the way in which the groups comprising the 'space-weapons lobby' attempted to sell the idea of space-based ballistic missile defence to the Reagan Administration, and the way in which the Army and the Air Force reacted to the proposals which they were putting forward. An interesting feature of this case study is that all of the groups which comprised the 'space-weapons lobby' shared a common ideology which led them to advocate ballistic missile defence. This ideology was just that of the Committee on the Present Danger, which formed in the mid-1970's and set as its mission the revival of concem about the Soviet threat, and the reassertion of US military superiority. Although the different groups shared a common ideology, they were all pushing for essentially different technologies to implement this BMD system. The reason for this seems to have been the interests that these groups brought to bear on the problem. Thus, while the broad nature of the BMD system was largely shaped by the ideology of the groups, the components of the system were largely shaped by the interests. The final 'shape' of the ballistic missile defence system that the different groups advocated reflected an interplay between the ideology and the interests.