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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Zero Hour; Interview with David Owen, 1987

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


David Owen was the British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs from 1977-1979, a period of some tension among NATO allies. The interview begins with the London summit of 1977 where President Carter met with sharp dissention on the part of Helmut Schmidt and Giscard d'Estaing over his views on civil nuclear power, specifically his resistance to fast breeder reactors which the Germans and French considered essential to their energy needs. This antagonism fed into further differences between the United States and its NATO partners, for example at the subsequent Guadeloupe summit. Turning to the issue of Euromissiles, he discusses Schmidt's Harvard speech and Mr. Owen's disagreement with the underlying concept of a European strategic balance. He claims the British came up with the two-track approach, by insisting that a weapons buildup be accompanied by arms negotiations. On the importance of the SS-20 missile, he states that many Europeans believed the Pershing should be modernized regardless. There follows a discussion of British decision-making over the acquisition of missile systems in the 1960s and 1970s. Mr. Owen next describes Anglo-French nuclear cooperation and its significance in the light of the Reykjavik summit, which showed that the U.S. and Soviet Union were capable of striking a deal strictly between themselves that might put European interests at risk. This leads to the point that Europeans should take greater responsibility for their own security. Another featured topic of the interview is the neutron bomb episode, including the harsh British and German reaction to Carter's reversal of position.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Zero Hour
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Interview with David Owen, 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


Giscard d'Estaing, Valery, 1926-
Gaulle, Charles de, 1890-1970
SS-20 Missile
Attlee, C. R. (Clement Richard), 1883-1967
Reagan, Ronald
United States
Trident (Weapons systems)
Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (1968)
Thatcher, Margaret
Polaris (Missile)
Nuclear nonproliferation
Carter, Jimmy, 1924-
Summit meetings--Iceland--Reykjavik
Callaghan, James, 1912-2005
Cruise missiles
Nuclear arms control
Nuclear weapons
Nixon, Richard M. (Richard Milhous), 1913-1994
Schmidt, Helmut, 1918 Dec. 23-
Antimissile missiles
Great Britain
Nuclear energy
Pershing (Missile)
Vance, Cyrus R. (Cyrus Roberts), 1917-2002
Gorbachev, Mikhail
Mitterrand, Francois, 1916-1996
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Soviet Union
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Owen, David, 1938- (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Zero Hour; Interview with David Owen, 1987,” 10/13/1987, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Zero Hour; Interview with David Owen, 1987.” 10/13/1987. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Zero Hour; Interview with David Owen, 1987. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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