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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; One Step Forward; Interview with Sidney Drell, 1986

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Sidney Drell is a theoretical physicist and arms control expert who was a member of, or consultant to, a number of governmental boards and councils, including the National Security Council. The principal focus of this interview is anti-ballistic missile defense. Asked about public and congressional involvement in the issue during the Nixon years, he believes it peaked because the concept entailed major missile deployments near cities, which generated deep misgivings. This was one of two cases he recalls in which public reactions influenced policy (the other being opposition to atmospheric testing starting in the 1950s). Dr. Drell discusses the different challenges of defending silos versus population centers, and specifically covers the Safeguard defense system, which he studied at one time in an official capacity. He also discusses at length basic strategic concepts that were in play in the 1970s, and includes his assessments of how to decrease U.S. strategic vulnerabilities. Dr. Drell describes his experiences as part of a group of scientists formed by Henry Kissinger to discuss ABM and other issues. He goes into detail about the group's conclusions, including his own reactions to the implicit acknowledgement embodied in the ABM treaty that the U.S. government "would not try to defend the American people." He closes by looking ahead to the prospects for arms control, which he sees as necessarily focusing on deterrence while working towards eventual disarmament.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
One Step Forward
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Interview with Sidney Drell, 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

Soviet and American nuclear forces reach rough nuclear parity in the 1970’s. Each side, pursuing its own interest, negotiates the first successful arms control agreement, SALT I.

In May 1972 President Nixon found himself in Moscow delivering a message of peace and friendship. Nixon announced the first major superpower arms control agreements, SALT I and the Anti-Ballsitic Missile (ABM) treaty. Nixon described his feeling about negotiating with the Soviets. “I didn’t trust the Russians. But I recognized that ... there was no alternative but to have some relationship of ‘live and let live’ between the two superpowers.” Two years after the historic meeting in Moscow, Nixon was forced to resign due to Watergate. ABM silos in the United States were shut down but the production of ballistic missiles armed with multiple nuclear warheads (MIRV’s) contributed to a massive increase in weapons in both the United States and the Soviet Union.



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


Smith, Gerard C.
Intercontinental ballistic missiles
Multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles
Kissinger, Henry, 1923-
Cooper, John Sherman, 1901-1991
Antimissile missiles
Soviet Union. Treaties, etc. United States, 1972 May 26 (ABM)
Strategic Arms Limitation Talks II
United States. President’s Science Advisory Committee
Packard, David
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Drell, Sidney D. (Sidney David), 1926- (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; One Step Forward; Interview with Sidney Drell, 1986,” 03/04/1986, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; One Step Forward; Interview with Sidney Drell, 1986.” 03/04/1986. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; One Step Forward; Interview with Sidney Drell, 1986. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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