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

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


John Deutch served as Undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Energy from 1977-1980, and on a number of presidential commissions in the 1980s. In the interview he discusses the problems facing intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) modernization during the Reagan Administration. He explains the impossibility of finding a perfect nuclear basing system in the U.S. political environment of the time, and the subsequent recommendations of the Scowcroft Commission of 1983, of which he was a member. The Commission’s task, Deutch says, was to identify a modernization program acceptable to all political factions, and he discusses the reasons why the MX was a key part of its recommendation. The Reagan administration’s Star Wars proposal, he recalls, “horrified” Commission members who were not consulted beforehand. He describes the Commission’s systematic approach to conferring with members of Congress, and particularly its work with junior congressional liaisons, including Norman Dicks, Les Aspin, and Al Gore. He explains Congress’ eventual acceptance of placing MX missiles in Minuteman silos, arguing that the original promise of complete survivability was oversold. He advocates an arms control approach that limits warheads rather than launchers. He strongly recommends the use of small ICBMs in hard mobile launchers, as the most survivable and effective option.

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



Interview with John Deutch, 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


Schlesinger, James R.
United States
Intercontinental ballistic missiles
Aspin, Les
Townes, Charles H.
Midgetman Missile
Brown, Harold, 1927-
Nuclear weapons
United States. Air Force
Dicks, Norman D.
Nuclear arms control
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles
Gore, Albert, 1948-
MX (Weapons system)
United States. President’s Commission on Strategic Forces
Soviet Union
United States. Congress
Reagan, Ronald
Minuteman (Missile)
Strategic Arms Limitation Talks
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Deutch, John M., 1938- (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with John Deutch, 1987,” 12/16/1987, GBH Archives, accessed July 19, 2024,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with John Deutch, 1987.” 12/16/1987. GBH Archives. Web. July 19, 2024. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with John Deutch, 1987. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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