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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Zero Hour; Interview with James Schlesinger, 1987 [2]

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


James Schlesinger served as Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission from 1971-1973, Director of Central Intelligence for several months in 1973, Secretary of Defense from 1973-1975 and Secretary of Energy from 1977-1979. In this second interview, he opens by assessing the impact of parity, namely that it made irrelevant the doctrine of massive retaliation, and raised doubts about the U.S. ability to defend Europe. The conversation turns to the so-called Schlesinger doctrine of expanding nuclear options, followed by a discussion of the NATO stockpile and his attempts to modernize it, including developing the controversial neutron bomb. At the time, he explains, the Europeans were generally more amenable to America taking the lead on nuclear decisions. He declares his lack of concern over the absence of American intermediate-range weapons in Europe in the early 1970s, even though he acknowledges that a great deal of time was spent “brooding” about Soviet capabilities in that area. The development of the SS-20 quickly eroded American confidence that their overall capabilities could compensate for a “local monopoly” of that kind. He goes on to relate the difficulties between Helmut Schmidt and Jimmy Carter, which manifested themselves at this time. The discussion then migrates to various aspects of the American security guarantee, including as reflected in the debate over intermediate missiles (the American deployment being mostly a political move) and against the later backdrop of Reykjavik. He is surprised at the degree of European concern over the INF agreement, though he points back to Reykjavik as part of the reason. He closes with a comment about Germany’s tendency to overrate its “singularity.”

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Zero Hour
Program Number



Interview with James Schlesinger, 1987 [2]

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


United States. Congress
Great Britain
Pershing (Missile)
McNamara, Robert S., 1916-2009
United States
Schmidt, Helmut, 1918 Dec. 23-
Carter, Jimmy, 1924-
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Summit meetings--Iceland--Reykjavik
Reagan, Ronald
Gorbachev, Mikhail
Nuclear weapons
Haig, Alexander Meigs, 1924-2010
Rand Corporation
Neutron bomb
Nuclear arms control
Soviet Union
Kissinger, Henry, 1923-
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Schlesinger, James R. (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Zero Hour; Interview with James Schlesinger, 1987 [2],” 10/28/1987, GBH Archives, accessed March 22, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Zero Hour; Interview with James Schlesinger, 1987 [2].” 10/28/1987. GBH Archives. Web. March 22, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Zero Hour; Interview with James Schlesinger, 1987 [2]. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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