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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Missile Experimental; Interview with Robert C. McFarlane, 1987

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Robert McFarlane was National Security Advisor to President Reagan from 1983-1985, and a leading architect of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). In the interview he discusses Reagan’s strategic modernization program. He notes the president’s response to the nuclear freeze movement, and the freeze movement’s response to Reagan’s proposal for strategic reductions. He moves onto SDI, which he says was designed as a military solution and as a moral alternative to nuclear weapons. He describes the evolution of Soviet-American arms control negotiations, which he credits Reagan with planning from the very beginning. He notes the political ramifications of this shift in tone, and the specific reactions of some of Reagan’s cabinet members, especially Caspar Weinberger. He also describes Gorbachev as a politician, and explains his popularity.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Missile Experimental
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Interview with Robert C. McFarlane, 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

Does the United States really plan to use nuclear weapons? Or is their only purpose to deter others from using them? These questions fuel debate over the Mobile Missile known as the MX.

The MX was designed in 1975 to counter the threat of large accurate missiles being bult in the Soviet Union. General Russell Dougherty of the Strategic Air Command recalls, “We had to have some more warheads ... with more accuracy. That was the rational for ... the MX.” It faced ten years of difficult questions in Congress, withing the military and from civilians. Was the missile meant to deter a Soviet attack or to survive one? One question led to another. There was one practical question: where to put the 200,000 pound 100 foot long missiles? In 1983 Congress approved production of 100 MX Peacekeeper missiles and based the first 50 in existing Minuteman silos.



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Raw video

Media Type


Antinuclear movement
Brezhnev, Leonid Il'ich, 1906-1982
Weinberger, Caspar W.
International relations
Gromyko, Andrei Andreevich, 1909-1989
Soviet Union
Antimissile missiles
Strategic Defense Initiative
Thatcher, Margaret
Gorbachev, Mikhail
Nuclear arms control
Korean Air Lines Incident, 1983
Great Britain
Reagan, Ronald
United States
United States. Joint Chiefs of Staff
Watkins, James D., 1927-2012
Teller, Edward, 1908-2003
Nuclear weapons
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Soviet Union. Treaties, etc. United States, 1987 December 8
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
McFarlane, Robert C. (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Missile Experimental; Interview with Robert C. McFarlane, 1987,” 12/18/1987, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Missile Experimental; Interview with Robert C. McFarlane, 1987.” 12/18/1987. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Missile Experimental; Interview with Robert C. McFarlane, 1987. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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