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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Carter's New World; Interview with Paul Warnke, 1986

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Paul Warnke was chief negotiator for the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) II during the Jimmy Carter administration and director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency from 1977 to 1979. In the interview Warnke conducted for War and Peace in the Nuclear Age, he explains the purpose and promise of arms control and shares his view that it’s a “step-by-step process,” like getting down from a tree one branch at a time to “end up on solid ground.” Warnke challenges his critics, many of whom argued that the United States must develop more weapons to close a “window of vulnerability.” In arms control negotiations, he feels that each side must possess the “strategic comfort” that its retaliatory capability is preserved, and at the same time must accept that neither country can gain and maintain strategic nuclear superiority. Warnke warns against an unconstrained arms race that could lead to a dangerous hair-trigger stance or a preemptive first strike. He reiterates the often harsh debate between the Carter administration and Congress over strategic policy, weapons development, linkage, and arms negotiations. Warnke himself faced some tough challenges. He defends his advocacy of “reciprocal restraint” and his support during the 1960s and 1970s of particular weapons systems, rejecting the stance that these were “decades of neglect.” Warnke recounts President Carter’s initial proposals to bypass SALT II in favor of deeper arms reductions, explains why the Soviet Union rejected the comprehensive package, and discusses the return to the Vladivostok agreement of 1974. He also contrasts the political climate, public mood, and presidential power that ensured the ratification of SALT I but disabled SALT II. During his career, Warnke remained a strong proponent of SALT II for the reductions it achieved and the framework it established for subsequent negotiations.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Carter's New World
Program Number



Interview with Paul Warnke, 1986

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 Carter comes to office determined to reduce the number of nuclear weapons and to improve relations with the Soviet Union. His frustrations are as grand as his intentions.

Carter had hoped the United States and the Soviet Union would reduce their reliance on nuclear weapons. He stopped production of the B-1 bomber. He believed the SALT II negotiations would be a step toward eliminating nuclear weapons. But his intentions were frustrated by Soviet actions and by a lack of consensus among his own advisors, including Chief SALT II negotiator Paul Warnke and national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski (who was dubious about arms control). Carter balanced Soviet aggression in Africa by improving American relations with China. He withdrew SALT II treaty from Senate consideration but its terms continued to serve as general limits on strategic nuclear force levels for both the United States and the Soviet Union.



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Raw video

Media Type


United States. Congress
Perle, Richard Norman, 1941-
Nitze, Paul H.
First strike (Nuclear strategy)
Strategic Arms Limitation Talks
Submarine-launched ballistic missiles
Deterrence (Strategy)
Gromyko, Andrei Andreevich, 1909-1989
Reagan, Ronald
Carter, Jimmy, 1924-
McNamara, Robert S., 1916-2009
United States
Soviet Union. Treaties, etc. United States, 1972 May 26 (ABM)
Cruise missiles
Nuclear warfare
Soviet Union
Intercontinental ballistic missiles
Nuclear arms control
Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962
Trident (Weapons systems)
Nixon, Richard M. (Richard Milhous), 1913-1994
Nuclear weapons
Mormon Church
Neutron bomb
Multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles
Strategic Arms Limitation Talks II
Washington, DC
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Warnke, Paul C., 1920-2001 (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Carter's New World; Interview with Paul Warnke, 1986,” 11/19/1986, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Carter's New World; Interview with Paul Warnke, 1986.” 11/19/1986. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Carter's New World; Interview with Paul Warnke, 1986. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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