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

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Albert Carnesale served on the U.S. delegation to the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT I) and led the delegation to the International Nuclear Fuel Cycle Evaluation (INFCE). The interview deals mostly with questions of nuclear strategy and the MX missile, along with its various basing options. Issues of vulnerability and survivability receive detailed consideration. He discusses arguments about the purported purpose and utility of the MX, including why it is useful even though there are thousands of other weapons in the U.S. arsenal. Discussing whether the MX is a first-strike weapon, he advances the “Carnesale theorem” – that weapons are dangerous only if they belong to the adversary. The politics of MX is another topic of discussion. He disagrees with Gen. Scowcroft’s view that the MX was important from the point of view of world perceptions of U.S. capabilities. He provides a colorful scenario of a Soviet adviser proposing to the Soviet leader taking out America’s ICBM force and ultimately getting thrown out of the office because of the patent infeasibility of the idea. He also discusses the MX’s possible use as a first-strike weapon in Europe. He notes the contradiction between working toward a world where neither side has an advantage in using nuclear weapons, and simultaneously relying on those arms to deter aggression. He closes with a discussion of the issues connected with the concept of counterforce.

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



Interview with Albert Carnesale, 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


Scowcroft, Brent
Committee on the Present Danger (U.S.)
MX (Weapons system)
Nuclear weapons
United States
Strategic Defense Initiative
Soviet Union
Multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles
United States. Congress
Midgetman Missile
Carter, Jimmy, 1924-
Nuclear warfare
Nuclear arms control
United States. Air Force
Schlesinger, James R.
Soviet Union. Treaties, etc. United States, 1972 May 26 (ABM)
Minuteman (Missile)
Reagan, Ronald
United States. President’s Commission on Strategic Forces
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Nitze, Paul H.
Intercontinental ballistic missiles
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Carnesale, Albert (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Albert Carnesale, 1987,” 12/12/1987, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Albert Carnesale, 1987.” 12/12/1987. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Albert Carnesale, 1987. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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