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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Missile Experimental; Interview with Caspar Weinberger, 1987 [2]

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Caspar Weinberger served as U.S. president Ronald Reagan’s secretary of defense from 1981 to 1987. In the interview he conducted for War and Peace in the Nuclear Age: “Reagan’s Shield,” Weinberger explains how deployment of the MX missile stopped the Soviet Union from believing it could successfully launch a first strike, which he feels is “the essence of deterrence.” A better alternative to “mutual assured destruction,” he argues, is the Strategic Defense Initiative, the Reagan administration’s hotly contested proposal to design space-based weapons that could shoot down attacking missiles. Weinberger recalls coming into office only to discover that all three legs of the strategic triad—land, sea, and air systems—were obsolete. He argued for a dramatic increase in the U.S. nuclear-weapons arsenal, “almost as if we had started from scratch,” and during his tenure he presided over $2 trillion in military spending. Weinberger strongly advocated for the MX missile to replace the Minuteman missile, which had been the backbone of the U.S. land-based deterrent since the 1960s. Although the idea that existing Minutemen silos were vulnerable to a Soviet attack was a cornerstone of his and President Reagan’s strategic policies, Weinberger explains that the decision to house the MX in those silos was a temporary measure to meet a “critical deficiency.” Immediate MX deployment, Weinberger believed, would provide some insurance against the Soviet Union delivering a first strike with impunity. Meanwhile, the Reagan administration could persuade Congress to adopt a more survivable basing mode, such as the rail-based system. Reacting to the recommendations of the Scowcroft Commission, Weinberger was satisfied that it endorsed the president’s modernization plan to close the “window of vulnerability,” but he objected to the Midgetman mobile missile, proposed to placate MX opponents. He describes the compromise as an expensive missile that was only partially designed, added little deterrent value, and was popular principally because “it was a missile we didn’t have.”

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Missile Experimental
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Interview with Caspar Weinberger, 1987 [2]

Series Description

The first atomic explosion in the New Mexico desert on July 16, 1945, changed the world forever. This series chronicles these changes and the history of a new era. It traces the development of nuclear weapons, the evolution of nuclear strategy, and the politics of a world with the power to destroy itself.

In thirteen one-hour programs that combine historic footage and recent interviews with key American, Soviet, and European participants, the nuclear age unfolds: the origin and evolution of nuclear weapons; the people of the past who have shaped the events of the present; the ideas and issues that political leaders, scientists, and the public at large must confront, and the prospects for the future. Nuclear Age highlights the profound changes in contemporary thinking imposed by the advent of nuclear weapons. Series release date: 1/1989

Program Description

Does the United States really plan to use nuclear weapons? Or is their only purpose to deter others from using them? These questions fuel debate over the Mobile Missile known as the MX.

The MX was designed in 1975 to counter the threat of large accurate missiles being bult in the Soviet Union. General Russell Dougherty of the Strategic Air Command recalls, “We had to have some more warheads ... with more accuracy. That was the rational for ... the MX.” It faced ten years of difficult questions in Congress, withing the military and from civilians. Was the missile meant to deter a Soviet attack or to survive one? One question led to another. There was one practical question: where to put the 200,000 pound 100 foot long missiles? In 1983 Congress approved production of 100 MX Peacekeeper missiles and based the first 50 in existing Minuteman silos.



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


Townes, Charles H.
Intercontinental ballistic missiles -- Mobile basing
Pershing (Missile)
Soviet Union
United States. President’s Commission on Strategic Forces
Strategic Arms Limitation Talks
Reagan, Ronald
Trident (Weapons systems)
Nuclear warfare
Mutual assured destruction
Carter, Jimmy, 1924-
Antimissile missiles
Nuclear arms control
First strike (Nuclear strategy)
United States. Congress
Deterrence (Strategy)
Nuclear weapons
MX (Weapons system)
Midgetman Missile
Strategic Defense Initiative
Minuteman (Missile)
Washington, DC
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Weinberger, Caspar W. (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Missile Experimental; Interview with Caspar Weinberger, 1987 [2],” 12/04/1987, WGBH Media Library & Archives, accessed October 28, 2016, http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_7674D82E560744B9958A7E235FD89A63.
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Missile Experimental; Interview with Caspar Weinberger, 1987 [2].” 12/04/1987. WGBH Media Library & Archives. Web. October 28, 2016. <http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_7674D82E560744B9958A7E235FD89A63>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Missile Experimental; Interview with Caspar Weinberger, 1987 [2]. Boston, MA: WGBH Media Library & Archives. Retrieved from http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_7674D82E560744B9958A7E235FD89A63
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