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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Richard Pipes, 1986

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Richard Pipes was a history professor at Harvard University who took part in the 1976 Team B study of the Soviet military threat and later served as Director of East European and Soviet Affairs on the National Security Council staff from 1981-1982. In this second interview, he discusses Soviet thinking on military and strategic matters. He believes Moscow chooses its objectives around the world carefully because of its limited resources, then presses as far as it can until it meets resistance. The Soviets’ strategic buildup of the 1970s, in his view, was a drive for superiority not just parity, and their interest in any arms control arrangement is purely tactical, designed to hinder U.S. weapons programs and freeze their own superiority. From this he offers thoughts about what it all means for the United States and how Washington should formulate strategy accordingly. Third World issues are also discussed. His opinion on Afghanistan is that the Kremlin views it as a stepping stone to the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean. Concluding, he notes that the 1970s were a dangerous time, but not so much because of what the Soviets did as because of American demoralization and its effects on U.S. policy.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Reagan's Shield
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Interview with Richard Pipes, 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 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


United States
Bush, George, 1924-
Vance, Cyrus R. (Cyrus Roberts), 1917-2002
Soviet Union. Treaties, etc. United States, 1972 May 26 (ABM)
Soviet Union
Nuclear arms control
Sakharov, Andrei, 1921-1989
Horn of Africa
United States. President (1977-1981 : Carter). Presidential Directive 59
Nuclear weapons
Civil defense
Nitze, Paul H.
Strategic Arms Limitation Talks II
Carter, Jimmy, 1924-
Committee on the Present Danger (U.S.)
Brzezinski, Zbigniew, 1928-
SS-18 Missile
South Africa
United States. Congress
Warnke, Paul C., 1920-2001
Cambridge, MA
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Pipes, Richard (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Richard Pipes, 1986,” 12/05/1986, GBH Archives, accessed July 15, 2024,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Richard Pipes, 1986.” 12/05/1986. GBH Archives. Web. July 15, 2024. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Richard Pipes, 1986. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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