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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Visions of War and Peace; Interview with Ashton Carter, 1987 [1]

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Ashton Carter was a Defense Department Consultant and a co-author of a 1984 study on the feasibility of a missile defense shield. The interview concentrates on the MX missile, basing modes, survivability, and related strategic and political questions. His work on the Office of Technology Assessment study looked at every possible basing mode including submarines, and treated connected topics such as launch-under-attack and the use of deception. In the interview he relates some of the criticisms against these options. Discussing MX, he explains how several of its problems derived at least partly from it having two very different missions. He notes that he can understand Soviet fears about the missile as a first-strike weapon, particularly if large numbers are contemplated and survivability does not appear to be a major U.S. concern. Returning to basing issues, he describes the Townes Panel, the Dense Pack option, and the Scowcroft Commission, calling the latter’s solution a “sad and pathetic end” to efforts to find a survivable basing mode. The discussion then turns to alternatives such as Midgetman and likely future threats to survivability, and from there to retaining a first-strike capability for Europe, counterforce issues, and targeting Soviet command-and-control. He compares Reagan and Weinberger to Carter and Brown – the former as ordinary citizens and the latter as experts who looked at the issues in far more scientific detail.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Visions of War and Peace
Program Number



Interview with Ashton Carter, 1987 [1]

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

Even in the best international atmosphere, the superpowers face continuing differences about hot to reduce the risk of nuclear war. This final episode analyzes the continuing themes of the nuclear age.

- American attitudes toward nuclear weapons are intertwined with American anxieties about the nature of the Soviet State. - NATO relies on a threat of first use of nuclear weapons in response to an attack even by conventional forces of the Warsaw Pact. - To date, there is no defense against nuclear missiles. - More and more nations are acquiring nuclear technology. - Many people confuse arms control with disarmament.

The challenge of the Nuclear Age is to find a new way for nations to resolve disputes so they will no longer resort to force.



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


Intercontinental ballistic missiles
Nuclear warfare
Strategic Defense Initiative
Nuclear weapons
Strategic Arms Limitation Talks II
Midgetman Missile
MX (Weapons system)
United States. Air Force
United States. Dept. of Defense
Weinberger, Caspar W.
Carter, Jimmy, 1924-
Nitze, Paul H.
United States. Navy
Townes Commission
Brown, Harold, 1927-
Schlesinger, James R.
Nuclear arms control
United States. Congress
Soviet Union
United States
Gorbachev, Mikhail
United States. Congress. Office of Technology Assessment
United States. President’s Commission on Strategic Forces
Reagan, Ronald
Garn, Jake
Laxalt, Paul
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Carter, Ashton B. (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Visions of War and Peace; Interview with Ashton Carter, 1987 [1],” 12/09/1987, GBH Archives, accessed December 8, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Visions of War and Peace; Interview with Ashton Carter, 1987 [1].” 12/09/1987. GBH Archives. Web. December 8, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Visions of War and Peace; Interview with Ashton Carter, 1987 [1]. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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