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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Zero Hour; Interview with James Callaghan, 1987

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


James Callaghan, Baron Callaghan of Cardiff, was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1976-1979. In the interview he describes some of the issues, disagreements and personal dynamics that arose at several NATO summits, particularly the London Summit of May 1977 and the Guadalupe Summit of January 1979. At the latter meeting, difficulties grew out of Carter’s unrealistic hopes that the Europeans would support U.S. policy with a unified view, whereas the British, French and Germans each had their own approaches to the subjects of arms control and dealing with the Soviet Union. Asked about the relationship between President Carter and German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, Mr. Callaghan describes Schmidt’s growing disillusionment with Washington’s economic policies, and comments on the two leaders’ different personal temperaments. He denies that Schmidt lost respect for Carter. He goes on to describe both men in positive terms. On nuclear policy, Mr. Callaghan recalls Schmidt’s October 1977 speech calling into question the reliability of the U.S. nuclear umbrella over Europe. He describes the SALT II process, explaining the views of the main European countries, and notes that England would have been willing to deploy U.S. nuclear weapons on its territory in the absence of an agreement from Moscow that would withdraw Soviet weapons behind the lines of Europe. He discusses the question of replacing Polaris missiles with Tridents, describes his views about the flexible response doctrine and notes his support for the current INF treaty. He admits that he did not foresee that difficulties that faced center-left administrations in Europe over the Euromissile crisis. Mr. Callaghan talks about developments since both he and President Carter left office in 1980-1981. He notes that changing leaderships can bring great swings in international relations and in public opinion, voices his belief that a steadier course would be more beneficial, especially in dealing with the Soviet Union on arms control. He recalls one of his favorite slogans in the arena of international affairs: “Our relationship with the Soviet Union should be to cooperate where we can, and compete where we must, recognizing that the systems are different.”

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Zero Hour
Program Number



Interview with James Callaghan, 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


Trident (Weapons systems)
Neutron bomb
United States
Nuclear disarmament
Nuclear arms control
Pershing (Missile)
Giscard d'Estaing, Valery, 1926-
Reagan, Ronald
SS-4 Missile
Intermediate-range ballistic missiles
Brezhnev, Leonid Il'ich, 1906-1982
Carter, Jimmy, 1924-
Great Britain
F-111 (Jet fighter plane)
London Economic Summit (1984)
Gelb, Leslie H.
International relations
Flexible response (Nuclear strategy)
SS-5 Missile
Soviet Union. Treaties, etc. United States, 1987 December 8
SS-20 Missile
Cruise missiles
Polaris (Missile)
Ford, Gerald R., 1913-2006
Schmidt, Helmut, 1918 Dec. 23-
Nuclear weapons
Strategic Arms Limitation Talks II
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Callaghan, James, 1912-2005 (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Zero Hour; Interview with James Callaghan, 1987,” 11/26/1987, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Zero Hour; Interview with James Callaghan, 1987.” 11/26/1987. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Zero Hour; Interview with James Callaghan, 1987. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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