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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Pete Wilson, 1987

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Pete Wilson served as a U.S. Senator from California from 1983-1991. At the start of the interview he talks about the Scowcroft Commission (to which he returns later), noting the mix of optimism and skepticism with which he met its conclusions. The need for mobility is another topic dealt with at some length. In that context he describes the appeal of the Rail Garrison system. He says the main problem of the Midgetman is its cost, which will keep Congress from funding it. He takes issue with the contention that an accurate counterforce capability is not necessary, arguing that an offensive weapon is needed as a deterrent. But he adds that a defensive capability is also necessary. The interview moves on to cover Reagan administration attitudes, congressional actions and Air Force politics on strategic matters including the question of adopting a smaller missile, among these specifically Midgetman. Senator Wilson describes issues of survivability and vulnerability, and how Reagan's decision to cancel the Utah and Nevada basing option shows how strong the opposition to a mobile system can be. He argues for testing because it has reduced the destructive capacity of the superpowers' arsenals. He then discusses the budgetary aspects of the nuclear program and describes some of the activities of the Scowcroft Commission and the Deutch panel.

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



Interview with Pete Wilson, 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 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. Congress. Senate. Committee on Armed Services
Multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles
Reagan, Ronald
United States. President’s Commission on Strategic Forces
Intercontinental ballistic missiles
Nuclear weapons
AuCoin, Les
Midgetman Missile
Soviet Union
Aspin, Les
United States
United States. Congress
Deterrence (Strategy)
United States. Air Force
MX (Weapons system)
Nuclear arms control
Democratic Party (U.S.)
Republican Party (U.S. : 1854-)
Strategic Defense Initiative
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Wilson, Pete, 1933- (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Pete Wilson, 1987,” 12/01/1987, GBH Archives, accessed June 19, 2024,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Pete Wilson, 1987.” 12/01/1987. GBH Archives. Web. June 19, 2024. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Pete Wilson, 1987. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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