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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; One Step Forward; Interview with Gerard Smith, 1986

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Gerard Smith was the lead SALT negotiator from 1969-1972. In the interview, he begins with his experiences prior to SALT, then the state of affairs in 1969 as the negotiations got underway. He then turns to issues of verifiability, linkage and leverage, among others that surfaced during the process. He discusses U.S. objectives for SALT and some of his own views on related topics, for example his support for banning ABM systems. A number of questions deal with the negotiations themselves: what it was like to face the Soviets, how the sessions unfolded, what Soviet concerns were, and how the two delegations behaved toward each other, including their awareness of likely Soviet bugging attempts. Also covered are the internal dynamics within the Nixon administration, including the relative unimportance of NSC meetings, where he says decisions generally were not made on arms control. He recounts a memorable session with the president that demonstrated the tensions that sometimes built up. The celebrated "back channel" orchestrated by Henry Kissinger created significant problems, in his view. So did the intervention of Sen. Henry Jackson after the SALT I treaty was signed. He also addresses a range of issues such as the phenomenon of arms control agreements tending to lead to pressure to acquire more arms, how to promote nonproliferation, and how his views on arms control have changed over time.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
One Step Forward
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Interview with Gerard Smith, 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

Soviet and American nuclear forces reach rough nuclear parity in the 1970’s. Each side, pursuing its own interest, negotiates the first successful arms control agreement, SALT I.

In May 1972 President Nixon found himself in Moscow delivering a message of peace and friendship. Nixon announced the first major superpower arms control agreements, SALT I and the Anti-Ballsitic Missile (ABM) treaty. Nixon described his feeling about negotiating with the Soviets. “I didn’t trust the Russians. But I recognized that ... there was no alternative but to have some relationship of ‘live and let live’ between the two superpowers.” Two years after the historic meeting in Moscow, Nixon was forced to resign due to Watergate. ABM silos in the United States were shut down but the production of ballistic missiles armed with multiple nuclear warheads (MIRV’s) contributed to a massive increase in weapons in both the United States and the Soviet Union.



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


Nuclear arms control
Jackson, Henry M. (Henry Martin), 1912-1983
Dobrynin, Anatoly, 1919-2010
Soviet Union
Nitze, Paul H.
Deterrence (Strategy)
United States
Multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles
Kremlin (Moscow, Russia)
Allison, Royal Bertram
Antimissile missiles
Kissinger, Henry, 1923-
Photographic reconnaissance systems
Laird, Melvin R.
Nixon, Richard M. (Richard Milhous), 1913-1994
Haig, Alexander Meigs, 1924-2010
United States. Dept. of Defense
United States. Congress
Strategic Arms Limitation Talks II
Thompson, Llewellyn, 1904-1972
Carter, Jimmy, 1924-
Soviet Union. Treaties, etc. United States, 1972 May 26 (ABM)
Nuclear weapons -- Testing
Vietnam War, 1961-1975
Rogers, William P. (William Pierce), 1913-2001
Trident (Weapons systems)
United States. Joint Chiefs of Staff
Cruise missiles
Intercontinental ballistic missiles
Semyonov, Vladimir Semyonovich
Nuclear survivability
Nuclear weapons
Strategic Arms Limitation Talks
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Smith, Gerard C. (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; One Step Forward; Interview with Gerard Smith, 1986,” 12/02/1986, GBH Archives, accessed December 6, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; One Step Forward; Interview with Gerard Smith, 1986.” 12/02/1986. GBH Archives. Web. December 6, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; One Step Forward; Interview with Gerard Smith, 1986. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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