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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Zero Hour; Interview with Lothar Ruhl, 1987

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Lothar Ruhl was a journalist before becoming a spokesman for the government of the Federal Republic of Germany in the 1970s. He served as State Secretary of Defense from 1982-1989. Most of the interview relates to the Euromissile crisis of the late 1970s and early 1980s. He explains that Helmut Schmidt's 1977 speech was occasioned by a feeling that the SALT negotiations were bypassing European interests, and that Soviet SS-20 missiles posed a threat to the continent. Asked why Carter changed his mind about deploying Cruise missiles, he cites a U.S. Defense Department review that indicated U.S. SLBMs were not accurate enough and bombers not protected enough to provide the necessary deterrence. He explains that arms control was added to the equation in hopes of gaining Soviet agreement to withdraw the weapons. Meanwhile, Schmidt pushed for other countries to accept Cruise missiles in order to make them harder to defend against, and to respond to political pressures regarding Germany's hosting of the missiles. Dr. Ruhl explains the zero option. He then goes on to discuss the impact of the Reagan administration's accession to power, then details the events and implications surrounding the 1983 deployments of the missiles. From there he turns to German reactions to the Reykjavik summit, which featured concern over, in his view, the possible removal of the best means of delivering extended deterrence for Europe. He notes a degree of surprise that surfaced in Europe at the speed with which the Soviets went along with the zero-zero option. He responds to questions about divergences in interest between Germany and other European states, and about the current state of the flexible response doctrine. He then draws lessons from recent events, including the conclusion that arms control is not simply a political ploy. In his view, the U.S. has, for the most part, done well in leading the alliance. Closing the interview, he discusses the benefits of the neutron bomb and the impact of the Euromissile crisis on European politics.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Zero Hour
Program Number



Interview with Lothar Ruhl, 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 and Soviet Secretary Gorbachev sign the INF Agreement to eliminate an entire class of nuclear weapons from Europe. No one had expected the European Missile Crisis to end this way.

The story begins in 1979, when the Western Allies were worried about the Soviet Union’s buildup of SS-20 nuclear missiles aimed at Western Europe. Under pressure from the Carter Administration, NATO issued a threat, if the SS-20s were not removed, NATO would install new American missiles in Europe. The threat revived the dormant anti-nuclear movement in Western Europe, giving them an anti-American tone. In 1981, President Reagan made a proposal that the US would cancel deployment of the missiles if the Soviet Union would dismantle all the intermediate range missiles it had pointed at Europe. This was the “zero-zero” option. The Soviet Union was entering a period of change with three leaders dying in three years. In 1986 Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev offered to accept the “zero-zero” option and in 1987 the INF agreement was signed.



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


United States
Neutron bomb
Kohl, Helmut, 1930-
Reagan, Ronald
Brown, Harold, 1927-
Carter, Jimmy, 1924-
Schmidt, Helmut, 1918 Dec. 23-
Haig, Alexander Meigs, 1924-2010
Great Britain
Nuclear weapons
Gorbachev, Mikhail
Soviet Union
Nuclear arms control
Pershing (Missile)
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Cruise missiles
Shultz, George Pratt, 1920-
Summit meetings--Iceland--Reykjavik
Bonn, Germany
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Ruhl, Lothar, 1927- (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Zero Hour; Interview with Lothar Ruhl, 1987,” 10/21/1987, GBH Archives, accessed July 19, 2024,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Zero Hour; Interview with Lothar Ruhl, 1987.” 10/21/1987. GBH Archives. Web. July 19, 2024. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Zero Hour; Interview with Lothar Ruhl, 1987. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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