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

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Evgeny Velikhov trained as a theoretical physicist, beginning his career in the early 1960s. He was the Founder and director of the Soviet Nuclear Safety Institute; Vice president of the Soviet/Russian Academy of Science, and Founder of the Committee of Soviet Scientists for Peace and Against the Nuclear Threat. He begins by asserting that the Krasnoyarsk radar was designed for observing space objects and verifying arms agreements. He denies that the USSR is engaged in any kind of anti-satellite work, and offers his views on whether the total elimination of nuclear weapons is possible. He also disagrees with the proposition that Reagan was thrown off by proposals from Gorbachev that were perceived to be impractical. SDI, in his view, is a complex and "contradictory" phenomenon that, among other things, could theoretically become an offensive system. He believes the Americans and Soviets see the basic issues in the same way but has the opinion that group interests play a part in the U.S. but not in the USSR. On matters of testing, his argument is that economic and ideological factors are influencing the Reagan administration in the direction of continuing the arms race. The Soviets are not trying to expand their superiority in conventional weapons, he contends, (and he challenges the presumption of superiority), rather they are trying to reduce all armaments levels, noting that conventional arms are extremely costly.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Reagan's Shield
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Interview with Evgeny Velikhov, 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


Warsaw Treaty Organization
Strategic Defense Initiative
Strategic Arms Limitation Talks II
Teller, Edward, 1908-2003
Great Britain
Nuclear weapons
Weinberger, Caspar W.
Reagan, Ronald
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
United States
Gorbachev, Mikhail
Soviet Union. Treaties, etc. United States, 1972 May 26 (ABM)
Summit meetings--Iceland--Reykjavik
Chernobyl Nuclear Accident, Chornobyl, Ukraine, 1986
Perle, Richard Norman, 1941-
Soviet Union
Nuclear disarmament
Nuclear arms control
Moscow, USSR
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Velikhov, E. P. (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Evgeny Velikhov, 1986,” 12/15/1986, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Evgeny Velikhov, 1986.” 12/15/1986. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Evgeny Velikhov, 1986. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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