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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with Kenneth Hunt, 1986

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Kenneth Hunt was a British military planner for NATO. In the interview he describes NATO nuclear strategy and the role of American nuclear weapons. He begins by describing scenarios for the use of atomic artillery weapons on the battlefield, noting the uncertainty over whether higher authorities would ever approve their use, given the numbers of weapons contemplated and the devastation they could bring to allied territory. He describes the alliance’s changing nuclear strategy based on the growing Soviet threat since the mid-1950s. Once Moscow developed the capability to fire back, in his words, NATO did not know what to do – a problem that he argues still has not been solved. Among the concepts that has taken hold is that Europe should maintain “conventional insufficiency” in order to convince the Soviet Union of its willingness to use nuclear weapons to compensate. A fascinating part of the interview deals with the relationship between the United States and other NATO countries, especially in terms of controlling the use of nuclear weapons. The Europeans, he asserts, have favored a nuclear deterrent while the Americans have been wary about having to defend the continent because of the risk of being drawn into a nuclear conflict themselves. Mr. Hunt describes the U.S. flexible response doctrine, and the European reaction to it, which resulted in the adoption of an altered version. Parenthetically, he criticizes the Kennedy administration’s “whiz kids” for being “intolerably arrogant intellectually.” Among other topics, he describes the British government’s relationship with the nuclear disarmament movement, and notes that British and French nuclear forces are too small to be an important part of NATO strategy, which relies on American weapons; in fact, their real purpose has been to deter attacks on their own countries.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Europe Goes Nuclear
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Interview with Kenneth Hunt, 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

France and England rush to acquire their own nuclear weapons, NATO worries about the threat from the East, and Europe becomes the most nuclear-saturated place on Earth.

British and American scientists worked side by side to build the first nuclear bombs. “There was a strong desire on the British side for that collaboration to continue into peacetime. There was no such desire on the part of the United States,” recalls British diplomat Roger Makins, Lord Sherfield. Britain decided to proceed on its own and in 1952 joined the US and the Soviets in what pundits would call “the nuclear club.” General Charles De Gaulle, president of France, wanted to join the club, too, and not rely on the US for nuclear protection. Prestige was also an issue. In 1960, France exploded its first atomic weapon. Since World War II the Soviet Union had had a superiority in conventional forces in Europe. NATO countered by deploying thousands of nuclear weapons. “They were accepted as being perfectly reasonable weapons to use in a tactical battle in continental Europe,” said Sir Richard Powell of the British Defense Ministry.



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


Antinuclear movement
Nuclear weapons
Norstad, Lauris, 1907-1988
Soviet Union
Tactical nuclear weapons
Hydrogen bomb
United States
Nuclear warfare
McNamara, Robert S., 1916-2009
Weinberger, Caspar W.
Nuclear disarmament
Military weapons
Great Britain
Nuclear arms control
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Hunt, Kenneth (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with Kenneth Hunt, 1986,” 10/27/1986, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with Kenneth Hunt, 1986.” 10/27/1986. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with Kenneth Hunt, 1986. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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