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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Education of Robert McNamara, The; Interview with Moshe Milhstein, 1986 [2]

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Moshe Milhstein was an officer in Soviet military Intelligence, the GRU. In this interview, he offers his view on the Soviets’ relative advantage in conventional numbers early in the post-war period, saying that the justification was that the United States had a nuclear monopoly. Reflecting on the causes of Cold War, he generally points to the U.S. and the West as initiating the competition. He discusses the impact of the rearmament of Germany, and notes that the formation of NATO represented a turning point in the period, leading eventually to the creation of the Warsaw Pact. He then explains the Pact’s response to massive retaliation and to the introduction of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. Two other major events in the Cold War, in his view, were Britain and France’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, which had a marked effect on Soviet military thinking. He denies the Soviets made a nuclear threat over Suez. In general, he views Soviet weapons decisions as responses to Western moves, and he contends that the missile gap was deliberately manufactured by the Kennedy administration to justify a buildup of Minuteman, Polaris and other systems.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Education of Robert McNamara, The
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Interview with Moshe Milhstein, 1986 [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

In the 1960’s Secretary of Defense Robert Mcnamara confronts the possibility of nuclear war and changes his views on questions of strategy and survival.

McNamara was Secretary of Defense for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson from 1961 to 1968. By the 1960’s the Soviets’ increased nuclear capabilities raised disturbing questions. What would the United States do if attacked? American strategy had been “massive retaliation.” But, as McNamara explains, it became increasingly apparent to the Soviets that the US was unlikely to respond. If the United States did launch a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, the remaining Soviet forces would destroy the US. McNamara’s Defense Department developed a new strategy. “Flexible response” was based on a “ladder of escalation” from conventional to nuclear options. But by 1967, McNamara, who tried to create rules for limited nuclear war, concluded, “The blunt fact is that neither... can attack the other without being destroyed in retaliation. And it is precisely this ... that provides us both with the strongest possible motives to avoid a nuclear war.”



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


Polaris (Missile)
Kissinger, Henry, 1923-
Tactical nuclear weapons
United States
Dulles, John Foster, 1888-1959
Nuclear weapons
McNamara, Robert S., 1916-2009
Warsaw Treaty Organization
Nuclear warfare
Intercontinental ballistic missiles
Soviet Union
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Great Britain
Minuteman (Missile)
Berlin (Germany)
Moscow, Russia
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Milhstein, Moshe (Mikhail M) (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Education of Robert McNamara, The; Interview with Moshe Milhstein, 1986 [2],” 12/19/1986, WGBH Media Library & Archives, accessed April 26, 2019, http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_AB9E2C853CA64E7FB94CC78C224C2C23.
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Education of Robert McNamara, The; Interview with Moshe Milhstein, 1986 [2].” 12/19/1986. WGBH Media Library & Archives. Web. April 26, 2019. <http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_AB9E2C853CA64E7FB94CC78C224C2C23>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Education of Robert McNamara, The; Interview with Moshe Milhstein, 1986 [2]. Boston, MA: WGBH Media Library & Archives. Retrieved from http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_AB9E2C853CA64E7FB94CC78C224C2C23
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