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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Zero Hour; Interview with Leslie Gelb, 1987

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Leslie Gelb was the director of Policy Planning and Arms Control for International Security Affairs at the Department of Defense from 1967-1969, and Assistant Secretary of State in charge of politico-military affairs from 1977-1979. Before and after his Carter administration tour he was a journalist at The New York Times. The interview focuses largely on U.S.-European tensions in the arms control sphere during the late 1970s. A fundamental issue at the time, he explains, was the European fear that the U.S. was not committed to its deterrent role in Europe. Discussing the pivotal speech by German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt in 1977, he recalls that it “hit us like a thunderbolt.” Seen by some as a challenge to Carter, the speech created considerable confusion, even among the Germans. He blames U.S. mishandling of the neutron bomb episode for crystalizing the Europeans’ lack of confidence in U.S. contributions to European security. This led Washington to make the political decision to deploy intermediate range nuclear weapons in Europe. He adds that since it was clear NATO would not allow the missiles to be deployed without an accompanying arms control proposal to the Soviet Union, the U.S. conspired with the British, French, and Germans to craft a proposal that mainly functioned as a political “smokescreen” for allowing the missiles to be deployed. Mr. Gelb concludes by describing the multilayered reasoning behind the deployment of U.S. missiles in Europe, and agrees with public opinion that President Carter did not do the best job of pulling together all of the opinions within the U.S. government to give the country a clear direction to follow.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Zero Hour
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Interview with Leslie Gelb, 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


Nuclear weapons
Schmidt, Helmut, 1918 Dec. 23-
Bartholomew, Reginald
United States
Nuclear arms control
Kissinger, Henry, 1923-
Soviet Union
Vance, Cyrus R. (Cyrus Roberts), 1917-2002
Cruise missiles
SS-20 Missile
Brown, Harold, 1927-
Neutron bomb
Brzezinski, Zbigniew, 1928-
Carter, Jimmy, 1924-
Intermediate-range ballistic missiles
Great Britain
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Gelb, Leslie H. (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Zero Hour; Interview with Leslie Gelb, 1987,” 10/30/1987, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Zero Hour; Interview with Leslie Gelb, 1987.” 10/30/1987. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Zero Hour; Interview with Leslie Gelb, 1987. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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