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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; One Step Forward; Interview with John Foster, 1987

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


John S. Foster was director of Defense Research and Engineering at the Pentagon from 1965-1973, and earlier served as director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. In this interview he faces an array of questions about the Nixon administration’s approach to nuclear strategy and arms control. He describes his concerns about Soviet intentions and capabilities at the end of the 1960s, specifically the evidence that they were building more and more large ICBMs, as well as an ABM system. These developments stoked fears that the Kremlin was creating the capacity to attack the U.S. Minuteman force. He acknowledges indirectly the existence of pressures to continue building arms on both sides. He also admits that American strategists understood the attainment of slight differences in capacity “were not really very important” and would only result in “an enormous expenditure” of resources. Nevertheless, he maintains that it was important to aim for “technological superiority,” in part to mitigate the overwhelming secrecy surrounding the Soviet program. In addition, he offers his views on: the need for the SALT treaty, the differences between Soviet and U.S. MIRV activity, the paradox of targeting major Soviet facilities despite the belief that a limited nuclear war was not possible, the conundrum of being better able to defend the Minuteman field than the U.S. population, and the plusses and minuses of ABM defense. He defends the objective of pursuing military research and development even though it will almost certainly lead to increasingly deadly weapons.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
One Step Forward
Program Number



Interview with John Foster, 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

Soviet and American nuclear forces reach rough nuclear parity in the 1970’s. Each side, pursuing its own interest, negotiates the first successful arms control agreement, SALT I.

In May 1972 President Nixon found himself in Moscow delivering a message of peace and friendship. Nixon announced the first major superpower arms control agreements, SALT I and the Anti-Ballsitic Missile (ABM) treaty. Nixon described his feeling about negotiating with the Soviets. “I didn’t trust the Russians. But I recognized that ... there was no alternative but to have some relationship of ‘live and let live’ between the two superpowers.” Two years after the historic meeting in Moscow, Nixon was forced to resign due to Watergate. ABM silos in the United States were shut down but the production of ballistic missiles armed with multiple nuclear warheads (MIRV’s) contributed to a massive increase in weapons in both the United States and the Soviet Union.



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


Nuclear weapons
Nuclear warfare
McNamara, Robert S., 1916-2009
Nuclear arms control -- Verification
Minuteman (Missile)
SS-9 Missile
Laird, Melvin R.
Multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles
Nixon, Richard M. (Richard Milhous), 1913-1994
Mutual assured destruction
Antimissile missiles
Polaris (Missile)
Strategic Arms Limitation Talks
Kissinger, Henry, 1923-
Chicago, IL
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Foster, John S., 1922- (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; One Step Forward; Interview with John Foster, 1987,” 01/13/1987, GBH Archives, accessed May 21, 2024,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; One Step Forward; Interview with John Foster, 1987.” 01/13/1987. GBH Archives. Web. May 21, 2024. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; One Step Forward; Interview with John Foster, 1987. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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