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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Haves and Have-Nots; Interview with David Aaron, 1986

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


David Aaron was the Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs from 1977 to 1981. In the interview he discusses the Carter Administration’s attempts to develop a strategic arms agreement with the Soviet Union, using the “normal National Security Council machinery” and the Cabinet level Special Coordinating Committee. He explains the issues surrounding the development and eventual deployment of the MX missile, and compares the Carter Administration’s strategies to those of the Reagan Administration’s, including both presidents’ initial desire to implement dramatic reductions in nuclear weapons systems, and concerns about the vulnerability of US ICBMs. He also assesses the importance of the SALT Treaty. Aaron goes on to discuss the 1978 war between Ethiopia and Somalia, including Cuba’s involvement, and its impact on the way people perceived the Soviet Union’s strategy as one of grand design versus opportunistic seizures of power. A key concept that arose in the context of regional conflicts, Aaron explained, was that of linkage with arms control. On a similar topic, he describes Soviet and Chinese concerns about their respective relations with Washington, and more generally the impact of US and Soviet relations with other countries including China, Cuba, and Afghanistan. He specifically deals with the significance of Soviet involvement in regional crises such as Afghanistan (including killing SALT) and Iran, and confirms that the president understood that the Carter Doctrine implied the possibility that nuclear weapons would be used in defense of the Persian Gulf. He also touches on the flap over the Soviet brigade in Cuba, the controversial Presidential Directive 59 (PD-59), and the Neutron Bomb.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Haves and Have-Nots
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Interview with David Aaron, 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

A case study of the dynamics of nuclear proliferation: China triggers India and India triggers Pakistan in the competition to have their own nuclear weapons.

In 1953 President Eisenhower announced the Atoms for Peace program. This marked a total reversal of American foreign policy. Americans would give material to allow countries to build reactors. “So overnight we passed from nuclear middle age to nuclear renaissance,” recalls French atomic scientist Bertrand Goldschmidt. The Soviet Union started its own program and helped China learn to build a bomb. The first Chinese nuclear blast was in 1964. Indian defense expert K. Subrahmanyam recalls that a nuclear China prompted India to set off a “peaceful” nuclear explosion in 1974. “There is no such thing as a peaceful nuclear explosion,” responds General A. I. Akram of the Armed Forces of Pakistan. “’74 was a watershed. It brought the shadow of the bomb to South Asia, and that shadow is still there.”



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


International relations
Ogaden (Ethiopia)
Cold War
Nuclear weapons
Horn of Africa
Vance, Cyrus R. (Cyrus Roberts), 1917-2002
Carter, Jimmy, 1924-
Jackson, Henry M. (Henry Martin), 1912-1983
Intercontinental ballistic missiles
Soviet Union
Military weapons
Brzezinski, Zbigniew, 1928-
National Security Council (U.S.)
Warnke, Paul C., 1920-2001
Nitze, Paul H.
MX (Weapons system)
United States
Brown, Harold, 1927-
Mengistu Haile-Mariam, 1937-
Persian Gulf
Neutron bomb
Strategic Arms Limitation Talks
Deng, Xiaoping, 1904-1997
Strategic Arms Limitation Talks II
Arms control
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Aaron, David, 1938- (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Haves and Have-Nots; Interview with David Aaron, 1986,” 11/10/1986, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Haves and Have-Nots; Interview with David Aaron, 1986.” 11/10/1986. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Haves and Have-Nots; Interview with David Aaron, 1986. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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