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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; One Step Forward; Interview with Sidney Drell, 1987

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Sidney Drell is a theoretical physicist and arms control expert who was a member of, or consultant to, a number of governmental boards and councils, including the National Security Council. He begins the interview with some reactions to the Star Wars speech of 1983, acknowledging that numerous technological developments in the 1970s justified the admin's focus on nuclear defense. He discusses the concept of Mutual Assured Destruction and whether technology can help provide adequately for nuclear security. In his opinion nuclear arms are more significant as political tools than military ones. He offers some insights into the development of the ABM system and potential countermeasures against him, then goes into detail in assessing the SDI idea, as well as the arguments put forward by those with other opinions, concluding that not enough time has passed to make a judgment as to whether an effective nationwide defense system is feasible. In his view, the solution for the United States is not just to develop new technologies but to determine the right mix of diplomacy and technology to "make the world safer." He does not believe that an early version of SDI will make much difference because the Soviets are already effectively deterred from attacking. He provides an assessment of the reasons behind Reagan's about-face on nuclear issues, then responds to the allegation that the Russians cannot be trusted by saying that arms control treaties do not depend on trust but on verification. He ends with some thoughts about how the Reagan period will be viewed in 50 years' time.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
One Step Forward
Program Number



Interview with Sidney Drell, 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

Soviet and American nuclear forces reach rough nuclear parity in the 1970’s. Each side, pursuing its own interest, negotiates the first successful arms control agreement, SALT I.

In May 1972 President Nixon found himself in Moscow delivering a message of peace and friendship. Nixon announced the first major superpower arms control agreements, SALT I and the Anti-Ballsitic Missile (ABM) treaty. Nixon described his feeling about negotiating with the Soviets. “I didn’t trust the Russians. But I recognized that ... there was no alternative but to have some relationship of ‘live and let live’ between the two superpowers.” Two years after the historic meeting in Moscow, Nixon was forced to resign due to Watergate. ABM silos in the United States were shut down but the production of ballistic missiles armed with multiple nuclear warheads (MIRV’s) contributed to a massive increase in weapons in both the United States and the Soviet Union.



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


Nuclear weapons
Deterrence (Strategy)
Multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles
Gorbachev, Mikhail
Soviet Union. Treaties, etc. United States, 1972 May 26 (ABM)
Soviet Union
Reagan, Ronald
Eisenhower, Dwight D. (Dwight David), 1890-1969
Sakharov, Andrei, 1921-1989
Intercontinental ballistic missiles
Strategic Defense Initiative
United States
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Drell, Sidney D. (Sidney David), 1926- (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; One Step Forward; Interview with Sidney Drell, 1987,” 12/15/1987, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; One Step Forward; Interview with Sidney Drell, 1987.” 12/15/1987. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; One Step Forward; Interview with Sidney Drell, 1987. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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