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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Richard Perle, 1987 [1]

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Original tape dropout affects quality of picture throughout the interview. Richard Perle was an aide to U.S. senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson from 1969 to 1980 and assistant secretary of defense from 1981 to 1987. In the interview he conducted for War and Peace in the Nuclear Age, Perle details the military and political deficiencies that the incoming Reagan administration confronted, which he mainly attributed to inadequate budget allocations by previous administrations. It was an error, he believes, to overstate the differences between the policies of Carter and Reagan, since Reagan essentially continued the military doctrine and programs begun by his predecessor. Perle defends the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) proposed by President Ronald Reagan during his first term. He challenges those who assert that SDI would inevitability trigger an out-of-control arms race, and he takes on the argument that SDI is “only worth pursuing if it can lead to perfection.” Known for his strong views on defense policy, Perle rejects the notion that arms-control agreements have limited either superpower’s military programs and can ensure U.S. security, which he believes is rooted solely in U.S. military power. He praises the effort to research, develop, and test the feasibility of strategic defense. However, Perle wishes that President Reagan had consulted Congress, the country’s allies, and the Department of Defense and prepared a working SDI program before publicly announcing the idea in a speech on March 23,1983. Perle views the Soviet Union’s opposition to SDI as hypocritical, and he puts forth that the Reyjkavik Talks had a “good outcome for the president … but a bad outcome for [Soviet Union general secretary Mikhail] Gorbachev.” Perle views the nuclear-freeze movement as “more of a nuisance than anything else,” and he feels that it was driven by “ignorance and fear in equal measure.” He concludes that an effective U.S. strategic posture requires a dynamism that a nuclear freeze would have made difficult.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Reagan's Shield
Program Number



Interview with Richard Perle, 1987 [1]

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
Antimissile missiles
Carter, Jimmy, 1924-
Soviet Union
Deterrence (Strategy)
Brown, Harold, 1927-
Gorbachev, Mikhail
Mutual assured destruction
Rockwell B-1 (Bomber)
Summit meetings--Iceland--Reykjavik
Antinuclear movement
Reagan, Ronald
Nuclear weapons
Strategic Defense Initiative
Korean Air Lines Incident, 1983
Nuclear arms control
Soviet Union. Treaties, etc. United States, 1972 May 26 (ABM)
Washington, DC
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Perle, Richard Norman, 1941- (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Richard Perle, 1987 [1],” 12/18/1987, GBH Archives, accessed December 3, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Richard Perle, 1987 [1].” 12/18/1987. GBH Archives. Web. December 3, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Richard Perle, 1987 [1]. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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