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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Haves and Have-Nots; Interview with Edward L. Rowny, 1986 [1]

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Edward L. Rowny was the Joint Chiefs of Staff representative to the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) from 1972 to 1979. From 1981 to 1984, during U.S. president Ronald Reagan’s administration, he was chief negotiator for the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START). In his interview conducted for War and Peace in the Nuclear Age, Rowny describes why the Joint Chiefs of Staff selected him to join the SALT II delegation. He also discusses his misgivings about Paul Warnke, chief negotiator during President Jimmy Carter’s administration. Rowny supported the initial proposal that the United States presented in Moscow in March 1977, which would have reduced Soviet heavy missiles by half. Had the U.S. team persevered, he maintains, it would have secured the agreement and successfully closed the “window of vulnerability” facing U.S. land-based missiles. Although he was not alone in his objections to the SALT II Treaty, others endorsed it as a modest but useful step to a further agreement. The tipping point for Rowny came in the 1978 Christmas negotiations, during which the Soviets retained the right to encrypt signals for their missile tests. His frustration with U.S. concessions, process, and misconceptions of Soviet thinking, all of which ultimately led to his resignation after the SALT II Treaty was signed. In the end, Rowny viewed the treaty as a “chasm” and an “impediment” for three reasons. First, it granted the Soviets the unilateral right to heavy missiles. Second, it discounted the intercontinental capabilities of the Soviet Backfire bomber, which was the focus of a hotly contested arms-control debate that Rowny explores in his interview. Third, permitting the missile-test encryption created a loophole in U.S. verification of Soviet compliance. Rowny also criticizes the timing of opening relations with China, and he maintains the inevitability of some degree of linkage between arms control and other areas of U.S.-Soviet relations. He concludes his interview with his take on how to conduct successful negotiations with the Soviet Union.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Haves and Have-Nots
Program Number



Interview with Edward L. Rowny, 1986 [1]

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

A case study of the dynamics of nuclear proliferation: China triggers India and India triggers Pakistan in the competition to have their own nuclear weapons.

In 1953 President Eisenhower announced the Atoms for Peace program. This marked a total reversal of American foreign policy. Americans would give material to allow countries to build reactors. “So overnight we passed from nuclear middle age to nuclear renaissance,” recalls French atomic scientist Bertrand Goldschmidt. The Soviet Union started its own program and helped China learn to build a bomb. The first Chinese nuclear blast was in 1964. Indian defense expert K. Subrahmanyam recalls that a nuclear China prompted India to set off a “peaceful” nuclear explosion in 1974. “There is no such thing as a peaceful nuclear explosion,” responds General A. I. Akram of the Armed Forces of Pakistan. “’74 was a watershed. It brought the shadow of the bomb to South Asia, and that shadow is still there.”



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


Horn of Africa
Cruise missiles
Gromyko, Andrei Andreevich, 1909-1989
United States
United States. Central Intelligence Agency
Soviet Union. Treaties, etc. United States, 1972 May 26 (ABM)
Minuteman (Missile)
Nuclear weapons
Antimissile missiles
Multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles
Strategic Arms Limitation Talks II
Reagan, Ronald
United States. Joint Chiefs of Staff
Jackson, Henry M. (Henry Martin), 1912-1983
Warnke, Paul C., 1920-2001
Brown, Harold, 1927-
Nuclear arms control
Perle, Richard Norman, 1941-
Soviet Union
Nuclear warfare
Nixon, Richard M. (Richard Milhous), 1913-1994
Intercontinental ballistic missiles
Carter, Jimmy, 1924-
International relations
Washington, DC
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Rowny, Edward L., 1917- (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Haves and Have-Nots; Interview with Edward L. Rowny, 1986 [1],” 12/04/1986, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Haves and Have-Nots; Interview with Edward L. Rowny, 1986 [1].” 12/04/1986. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Haves and Have-Nots; Interview with Edward L. Rowny, 1986 [1]. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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