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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Carter's New World; Interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski, 1986

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Zbigniew Brzezinski, a Polish-American political scientist and geostrategist, was national security adviser to U.S. president Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1981. In the interview he conducted for War and Peace in the Nuclear Age, Brzezinski reveals the prominent role he played in shaping foreign policy in the Carter administration. He chastises those who would make “a fetish out of arms control” and forget the far-reaching competitive relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union. Reflecting an internal dispute within the administration, Brzezinski amplifies his views that the Soviet Union, building upon post-Vietnam malaise, was aggressively expanding its sphere of influence through proxi-military forces. Of particular concern was Soviet expansion in the Horn of Africa, which Brzezinski sees as key to flagging interest in arms-control talks and dwindling public confidence in détente. “SALT lies buried in the sands of Ogaden,” he maintains. He challenges those who believed that Strategic Arms Limitation Talks with the Soviet Union should have impacted the timing of China’s Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping’s visit to Washington. He further recounts the process for normalizing U.S. relations with the People’s Republic of China, which insisted that it be regarded as the sole legal government of China. Brzezinski also discusses his support for the large, super-accurate MX missile that the United States created to expand its strategic options and to avert a situation in which “your only option is responding with everything you have or not responding at all.” These views culminated in August 1980’s Presidential Directive 59 (PD 59), which introduced into the basic nuclear-war plan the idea of striking at the Soviet command structure. For Brzezinski, PD 59 provided “enhanced deterrence” by presenting greater war-fighting flexibility during a protracted limited war.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Carter's New World
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Interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski, 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

President Carter comes to office determined to reduce the number of nuclear weapons and to improve relations with the Soviet Union. His frustrations are as grand as his intentions.

Carter had hoped the United States and the Soviet Union would reduce their reliance on nuclear weapons. He stopped production of the B-1 bomber. He believed the SALT II negotiations would be a step toward eliminating nuclear weapons. But his intentions were frustrated by Soviet actions and by a lack of consensus among his own advisors, including Chief SALT II negotiator Paul Warnke and national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski (who was dubious about arms control). Carter balanced Soviet aggression in Africa by improving American relations with China. He withdrew SALT II treaty from Senate consideration but its terms continued to serve as general limits on strategic nuclear force levels for both the United States and the Soviet Union.



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Raw video

Media Type


Nixon, Richard M. (Richard Milhous), 1913-1994
International relations
Schmidt, Helmut, 1918 Dec. 23-
Intercontinental ballistic missiles
Nuclear warfare
Kohl, Helmut, 1930-
Horn of Africa
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Neutron bomb
Nuclear weapons
Great Britain
Deng, Xiaoping, 1904-1997
Ogaden (Ethiopia)
First strike (Nuclear strategy)
Ford, Gerald R., 1913-2006
Carter, Jimmy, 1924-
United States
Strategic Arms Limitation Talks II
MX (Weapons system)
Brezhnev, Leonid Il?ich, 1906-1982
Nuclear arms control
Warnke, Paul C., 1920-2001
Cruise missiles
Vietnam War, 1961-1975
Washington, DC
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Brzezinski, Zbigniew, 1928- (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Carter's New World; Interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski, 1986,” 11/19/1986, GBH Archives, accessed March 2, 2024,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Carter's New World; Interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski, 1986.” 11/19/1986. GBH Archives. Web. March 2, 2024. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Carter's New World; Interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski, 1986. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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