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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with George Ball, 1986

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


George Ball was an international lawyer, diplomat and presidential adviser who served as Under Secretary of State from 1961-1966 and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, among other posts. In the interview he describes his promotion of the concept of a unified Europe, including Great Britain. He discusses President Kennedy’s views on sharing nuclear technology with the British, and Great Britain’s policy of keeping itself politically separate from the rest of Europe. He explains the proposed Multilateral Force, and his reasons for supporting a role for Germany. France’s policies are discussed at some length. Mr. Ball recalls that French reactions to American policies and especially President de Gaulle’s resentment of close U.S.-British ties created considerable concern among the allies. The French decision to create a “force de frappe,” to sign a treaty with Germany, and to block British membership in the European Economic Community were notable examples of Paris’ disconcerting actions. He reflects on the failure of U.S. attempts to unify Europe more thoroughly, concluding that it was due in part to the persistence of strong national identities across Europe.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Europe Goes Nuclear
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Interview with George Ball, 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


International relations
Gaillard, Felix, 1919-1970
Carstens, Karl
Deterrence (Strategy)
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963
Harlech, David Ormsby-Gore, baron, 1918-
Nuclear weapons
McNamara, Robert S., 1916-2009
Polaris (Missile)
United States
Thorneycroft, Peter
Gaulle, Charles de, 1890-1970
Macmillan, Harold, 1894-1986
Multilateral force (Nuclear strategy)
Great Britain
Monnet, Jean, 1888-1979
Washington, DC
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Ball, George (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with George Ball, 1986,” 12/10/1986, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with George Ball, 1986.” 12/10/1986. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with George Ball, 1986. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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