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

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


R. Z. Sagdeev (Sagdeyev) is a plasma physicist, who served as Science Adviser to Soviet President Gorbachev, and Director of the Space Research Institute of the USSR Academy of Sciences. In this second interview he begins with his reactions to President Reagan’s SDI speech and his thoughts on the idea of the United States sharing nuclear information with the Soviets. He and his colleagues concluded that SDI was an attempt to achieve nuclear superiority, even though it appeared to be essentially impossible to produce, and he personally saw nuclear sharing as an unrealistic concept. He disagrees with the notion that SDI was likely to create serious economic difficulties for the Soviets, arguing that Moscow never chose to pursue that line of technological development. He describes some possible configurations for SDI and potential countermeasures, though he insists it is premature to speak too concretely. He denies the Soviets are engaged in research on space warfare. Continuing with SDI, he comments on his various conversations he has had with American scientists, members of Congress and arms negotiators (at Geneva, for example) on the subject. He then speculates on the thinking behind the Soviet decision to develop thermonuclear weapons.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Reagan's Shield
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Interview with Roald Sagdeev, 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


Hydrogen bomb
Oppenheimer, J. Robert, 1904-1967
United States. Congress
Nuclear weapons
Soviet Union. Treaties, etc. United States, 1972 May 26 (ABM)
Gorbachev, Mikhail
Teller, Edward, 1908-2003
United States
Kurchatov, I. V. (Igor Vasil'evich), 1903-1960
Mutual assured destruction
Soviet Union
Nuclear arms control
Sakharov, Andrei, 1921-1989
Reagan, Ronald
Strategic Defense Initiative
Moscow, Russia
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Sagdeev, R. Z. (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Roald Sagdeev, 1987,” 12/24/1987, GBH Archives, accessed June 14, 2024,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Roald Sagdeev, 1987.” 12/24/1987. GBH Archives. Web. June 14, 2024. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Roald Sagdeev, 1987. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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