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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with Abram Chayes, 1986

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Abram Chayes was a Legal Adviser to the US State Department under the Kennedy Administration. In the interview he explains the US government’s approach to legally justifying the Cuban blockade of 1962, which was defined as “a use of force” under the United Nations Charter. Rather than relying on a self-defense case, which would have raised questions about the placement of American missiles in Europe, US lawyers recommended that the White House seek authorization for a blockade from the Organization of American States. Mr. Chayes recalls a lively discussion of every legal option by the Executive Committee before a decision was reached to proceed on that basis. This course of action had the benefit of demonstrating that the US was taking the legal aspect seriously. He describes running the signed OAS resolution to the White House and watching President Kennedy drop everything to sign the historic quarantine proclamation. Mr. Chayes also describes how the involvement of nuclear weapons, particularly Kennedy’s reluctance to risk a Soviet attack on the US mainland, forced some of the decisions that were made. He explains the compromises made by both the Soviet Union and the United States in resolving the crisis, but ultimately concludes that “all of us won, because we’re all still here.” He notes that the resolution of the crisis allowed President Kennedy to go forward with the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Europe Goes Nuclear
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Interview with Abram Chayes, 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

France and England rush to acquire their own nuclear weapons, NATO worries about the threat from the East, and Europe becomes the most nuclear-saturated place on Earth.

British and American scientists worked side by side to build the first nuclear bombs. “There was a strong desire on the British side for that collaboration to continue into peacetime. There was no such desire on the part of the United States,” recalls British diplomat Roger Makins, Lord Sherfield. Britain decided to proceed on its own and in 1952 joined the US and the Soviets in what pundits would call “the nuclear club.” General Charles De Gaulle, president of France, wanted to join the club, too, and not rely on the US for nuclear protection. Prestige was also an issue. In 1960, France exploded its first atomic weapon. Since World War II the Soviet Union had had a superiority in conventional forces in Europe. NATO countered by deploying thousands of nuclear weapons. “They were accepted as being perfectly reasonable weapons to use in a tactical battle in continental Europe,” said Sir Richard Powell of the British Defense Ministry.



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Raw video

Media Type


Khrushchev, Nikita Sergeevich, 1894-1971
United States. Dept. of State
United States. Navy
International relations
Organization of American States
Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (1963)
United States. Dept. of Defense
Rusk, Dean, 1909-1994
Nuclear weapons
Bundy, McGeorge
Kennedy, Robert F., 1925-1968
United States
Soviet Union
Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963
Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962
United Nations
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Chayes, Abram, 1922-2000 (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with Abram Chayes, 1986,” 02/28/1986, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with Abram Chayes, 1986.” 02/28/1986. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with Abram Chayes, 1986. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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