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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with Robert C. Richardson, 1986

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Robert C. Richardson, III was a U.S. Air Force General whose areas of expertise from the 1950s to 1970s included tactical nuclear combat, long-range planning, and NATO issues. The interview covers each of those broad areas. One of the central questions is the impact of nuclear weapons on warfare. In addition, he discusses the idea behind the Lisbon Force Goals of 1952 and the underlying choice NATO members faced between expanding conventional forces and relying on nuclear weapons, which were largely untested at that point. He also explains the rapid growth in tactical warhead numbers in Europe over the next several years. Among other Europe-related topics, he covers the Multilateral Force, France's decision to leave NATO, and the failure of the European Defense Community. He makes the intriguing remark that the best planning for nuclear war was done before its impact was understood by the military bureaucracies. He also laments the difficulties of coordination among the services and explains the complexities of dealing with the impact of nuclear weapons on force posture.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Europe Goes Nuclear
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Interview with Robert C. Richardson, 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

France and England rush to acquire their own nuclear weapons, NATO worries about the threat from the East, and Europe becomes the most nuclear-saturated place on Earth.

British and American scientists worked side by side to build the first nuclear bombs. “There was a strong desire on the British side for that collaboration to continue into peacetime. There was no such desire on the part of the United States,” recalls British diplomat Roger Makins, Lord Sherfield. Britain decided to proceed on its own and in 1952 joined the US and the Soviets in what pundits would call “the nuclear club.” General Charles De Gaulle, president of France, wanted to join the club, too, and not rely on the US for nuclear protection. Prestige was also an issue. In 1960, France exploded its first atomic weapon. Since World War II the Soviet Union had had a superiority in conventional forces in Europe. NATO countered by deploying thousands of nuclear weapons. “They were accepted as being perfectly reasonable weapons to use in a tactical battle in continental Europe,” said Sir Richard Powell of the British Defense Ministry.



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Raw video

Media Type


Gaulle, Charles de, 1890-1970
United States. Dept. of Defense
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Flexible response (Nuclear strategy)
Multilateral force (Nuclear strategy)
McNamara, Robert S., 1916-2009
United States. Navy
United States. Army
Nuclear weapons
Warsaw Treaty Organization
United States. Air Force
Soviet Union
United States
Deterrence (Strategy)
Strategic Defense Initiative
Warfare, Conventional
Norstad, Lauris, 1907-1988
Eisenhower, Dwight D. (Dwight David), 1890-1969
Tactical nuclear weapons
Nuclear warfare
Polaris (Missile)
German rearmament
Harriman, W. Averell (William Averell), 1891-1986
World War II
United States. Air Force. Strategic Air Command
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Richardson, Robert (Robert Charlwood), 1918- (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with Robert C. Richardson, 1986,” 12/11/1986, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with Robert C. Richardson, 1986.” 12/11/1986. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with Robert C. Richardson, 1986. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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