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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Zero Hour; Interview with Richard Burt, 1987

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Richard Burt was the State Department's Director of Politico-Military Affairs from 1981-1982, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs from 1983-1985, Ambassador to Germany from 1985-1989, and a chief negotiator for the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. In the interview he discusses Soviet-American arms control negotiations over nuclear weapons in Europe. He describes the double track decision, the zero option, and the double zero option, including Reagan administration attitudes toward them. He explains that the administration's approach to arms control is closely tied to its defense policy, namely that without a strong defense policy a strong arms control outcome is not possible. He describes the polarized European response to the deployment of Pershing missiles in Germany, and the reaction to bilateral Soviet-American negotiations, including at Reykjavik. In his view, the Soviets were unlikely to negotiate seriously until they saw evidence that the West was prepared to deploy the missiles. The Soviet walkout at Geneva in 1983 was, in his words, "an incredibly stupid thing to do." Moscow's attempt to link INF questions to other talks was "unfortunate." He discusses the idea of decoupling German national security from that of the United States. He gives his views on flexible response strategy. He also describes the recent changes in Soviet policy from Brezhnev to Gorbachev as primarily occurring in the field of public diplomacy.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Zero Hour
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Interview with Richard Burt, 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


Gorbachev, Mikhail
Nuclear weapons
Antinuclear movement
Summit meetings--Iceland--Reykjavik
Nitze, Paul H.
Mitterrand, Francois, 1916-1996
Peace movements
Shultz, George Pratt, 1920-
Shevardnadze, Eduard Amvrosievich, 1928-
Carter, Jimmy, 1924-
International relations
Flexible response (Nuclear strategy)
Thatcher, Margaret
Strategic Defense Initiative
Bush, George, 1924-
United States
Pershing (Missile)
SS-20 Missile
Gromyko, Andrei Andreevich, 1909-1989
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Nuclear disarmament
Intermediate-range ballistic missiles
Kohl, Helmut, 1930-
Brezhnev, Leonid Il?ich, 1906-1982
Nuclear arms control
United States. Dept. of State
Schmidt, Helmut, 1918 Dec. 23-
Neutron bomb
Soviet Union
United States. Dept. of Defense
Reagan, Ronald
Bonn, Germany
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Burt, Richard (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Zero Hour; Interview with Richard Burt, 1987,” 10/20/1987, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Zero Hour; Interview with Richard Burt, 1987.” 10/20/1987. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Zero Hour; Interview with Richard Burt, 1987. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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