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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Zero Hour; Interview with Michael Heseltine, 1987

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Lord Michael Heseltine was a member of Parliament for Henley from 1974 to 2001. He held many senior political positions in the British government, including secretary of state for the environment (1979 to 1983 and 1990 to 1992), secretary for defense (1983 to 1986), president of the Board of Trade (1992 to 1995), and deputy prime minister (1995 to 1997). In the interview Heseltine conducted for War and Peace in the Nuclear Age: “Zero Hour,” he describes how historically, patterns of public response to military buildup and weapons development repeat themselves. In a period of military modernization, he explains, the public is predictably often initially hesitant or even opposed. However, helping people understand modernization in the broader context of the fundamental policies of nuclear deterrence can relieve public anxiety. He describes his entry into the anti-nuclear-weapons debate and his tactics to turn public opinion against the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). Heseltine expresses his belief that the continuity of protest against Conservative Party defense decisions in the 1930s, 1960s, and 1980s require “the courage to go through with what you believe is right.” In his interview, Heseltine also addresses the “twin-track” decision that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) would not produce Cruise and Pershing missiles if the Soviet Union withdrew its SS-20s aimed at Europe. Heseltine sees the American commitment to Europe manifested in the 300,000 U.S. troops stationed there at the time of his interview. He concludes by reaffirming the deterrence posture to which he subscribes: that it is through the array of weapons systems and response strategies that an opponent will not risk attack against the alliance.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Zero Hour
Program Number



Interview with Michael Heseltine, 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

President Reagan and Soviet Secretary Gorbachev sign the INF Agreement to eliminate an entire class of nuclear weapons from Europe. No one had expected the European Missile Crisis to end this way.

The story begins in 1979, when the Western Allies were worried about the Soviet Union’s buildup of SS-20 nuclear missiles aimed at Western Europe. Under pressure from the Carter Administration, NATO issued a threat, if the SS-20s were not removed, NATO would install new American missiles in Europe. The threat revived the dormant anti-nuclear movement in Western Europe, giving them an anti-American tone. In 1981, President Reagan made a proposal that the US would cancel deployment of the missiles if the Soviet Union would dismantle all the intermediate range missiles it had pointed at Europe. This was the “zero-zero” option. The Soviet Union was entering a period of change with three leaders dying in three years. In 1986 Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev offered to accept the “zero-zero” option and in 1987 the INF agreement was signed.



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Ruddock, Joan, 1943-
Peace movements
United States
Deterrence (Strategy)
SS-20 Missile
Soviet Union. Treaties, etc. United States, 1987 December 8
Great Britain
Pershing (Missile)
Cruise missiles
Soviet Union
Nuclear arms control
Flexible response (Nuclear strategy)
Nuclear weapons
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Heseltine, Michael, 1933- (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Zero Hour; Interview with Michael Heseltine, 1987,” 04/11/1987, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Zero Hour; Interview with Michael Heseltine, 1987.” 04/11/1987. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Zero Hour; Interview with Michael Heseltine, 1987. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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