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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Missile Experimental; Interview with Les Aspin, 1987

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Les Aspin was a U.S. senator from Wisconsin from 1971 to 1993. He then served as President Bill Clinton’s secretary of defense from 1993 to 1994. In the interview he conducted for War and Peace in the Nuclear Age, Aspin tracks the decade-long debate over the function, funding, basing, and quantity of the new, super-accurate missile. The absence of progress on arms control, coupled with some 34 basing modes proposed to house the MX missile, created public and congressional discontent and distrust. While Aspin supported producing 100 MX missiles, he was prepared to cap the number at 50 to halt the endless congressional floor fights. He explains the difficulty of reaching and sustaining a complex compromise given the turnover of elected and appointed personnel. Overall, he says, “to solve the vulnerability problem, you need a combination of cuts and deployments.” For this reason, he supported the MX missile—which might be traded away for reductions in Soviet heavy missiles—and the design of the smaller, mobile Midgetman. Creating such survivable systems, he explains, is expensive. Aspin reflects on the validity of the “window of vulnerability” claimed by Ronald Reagan’s administration, and comments on the formation of the Scowcroft Commission to resolve the protracted debate about the MX missile. He expressed little patience with the proposal to close the Reagan administration’s “window” by pursuing the exponentially more costly Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) instead of the Midgetman. The “SDI Mafia,” Aspin concludes, “is just twisting the whole argument in order to justify building SDI to defend missiles. Make them mobile—it’s a lot cheaper.”

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Missile Experimental
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Interview with Les Aspin, 1987

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


Soviet Union
MX (Weapons system)
Intercontinental ballistic missiles
Nuclear arms control
Nuclear warfare
Reagan, Ronald
Strategic Arms Limitation Talks II
United States. Congress
Strategic Arms Limitation Talks
Nuclear weapons
United States
United States. Air Force
Cruise missiles
Weinberger, Caspar W.
Nuclear survivability
United States. President’s Commission on Strategic Forces
Midgetman Missile
Strategic Defense Initiative
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Aspin, Les (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Missile Experimental; Interview with Les Aspin, 1987,” 12/15/1987, WGBH Media Library & Archives, accessed October 23, 2016, http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_B8F588B69E1447829185545573699830.
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Missile Experimental; Interview with Les Aspin, 1987.” 12/15/1987. WGBH Media Library & Archives. Web. October 23, 2016. <http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_B8F588B69E1447829185545573699830>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Missile Experimental; Interview with Les Aspin, 1987. Boston, MA: WGBH Media Library & Archives. Retrieved from http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_B8F588B69E1447829185545573699830
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