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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Barney Frank, 1987

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Barney Frank was a U.S. Representative from Massachusetts from 1981-2013. In the interview he discusses the development of the MX Missile system. He says that he thinks the Reagan Administration’s strategic plan was only a plan of more – “more on land, more on sea, more in the air,” which he does not consider to have been a solid plan. He also criticizes the Scowcroft Commission (and commissions in general) because they “fuzz up” major issues, adding that the Scowcroft report implied that the U.S. did not need to make a massive expenditure on a new land-based missile, but refused to say it outright for fear of directly contradicting the president. He counters multiple arguments for the development of the MX Missile system, including as a bargaining chip in arms control talks and to show national resolve. He is especially adamant that at a time of nuclear parity, when there is already a very strong air and sea component to nuclear defense, spending billions on a land-based system with no guarantee of producing the results promised, is a “dubious” concept considering the many other societal problems the money could go towards. Among other comments about the political dynamics surrounding military issues, he notes how difficult it is to “say no” to the president when he proposes a major weapons system. He adds that the Reagan administration’s expansion of the U.S. strategic arsenal has done nothing to make the Soviets back down on any issue. (Asked whether it brought the Soviets to negotiate the INF Treaty, he says that Moscow came to terms because Gorbachev understood better the costs to the Soviet system of continually building its military power.) He goes on to describe an amendment he proposed to cut all spending on the MX system, which almost made it through the House before Reagan’s team took back some of the swing votes. He ends the interview hopeful that with a new round of budget cuts approaching, the MX and Midgetman missile programs will be cut.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Reagan's Shield
Program Number



Interview with Barney Frank, 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 introduces the controversial Strategic Defense Initiative, an idea he believes will make nuclear weapons”Impotent and Obsolete.”

In 1983 President Reagan envisioned a Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) that could intercept and destroy Soviet strategic ballistic missiles before they reached the United States. Skeptics dubbed the idea “Star Wars.” It was hard for Reagan to accept the idea of deterrence based on mutual destruction. He believed SDI offered a solution. His science advisor George Keyworth says SDI was “thoroughly created and invented in Ronald Reagan’s own mind and experience.” According to defense scientist Ashton Carter, “The concept is fine. What is not fine is implying to the public that the solution to the nuclear puzzle is at hand.” SDI became the focus of a national debate about nuclear weapons and nuclear strategy, and a stumbling block in strategic arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union. The final months of the Reagan Administration brought a drastic reduction in the scope and size of SDI efforts.



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


Gorbachev, Mikhail
Weinberger, Caspar W.
Cruise missiles
United States. Congress
Intercontinental ballistic missiles
Woolsey, R. James, 1941-
Aspin, Les
Trident (Weapons systems)
Warsaw Treaty Organization
United States. President’s Commission on Strategic Forces
United States. Congress. House
Nuclear weapons
Midgetman Missile
MX (Weapons system)
Closely-spaced basing (Nuclear basing mode)
United States
Nuclear arms control
Reagan, Ronald
Dicks, Norman D.
Soviet Union. Treaties, etc. United States, 1987 December 8
Turner, Stansfield, 1923-
Soviet Union
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Frank, Barney, 1940- (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Barney Frank, 1987,” 12/12/1987, GBH Archives, accessed February 25, 2024,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Barney Frank, 1987.” 12/12/1987. GBH Archives. Web. February 25, 2024. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Barney Frank, 1987. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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