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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with Wilhelm Grewe, 1986

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Wilhelm Grewe was a German diplomat actively involved in negotiations relating to post-war Germany. He was Ambassador to Washington from 1958-1962, and Permanent Representative to North Atlantic Council at NATO headquarters from 1962-1971. In this interview, he describes the atmosphere of French-German talks over the European Defense Community and related issues such as Germany’s concessions relating to nuclear weapons. He denies there were any missed opportunities for an early Soviet pull-out, discusses Chancellor Adenauer’s rather vague military intentions, and talks briefly about military exercises in Germany that incorporated the possible use of tactical nuclear weapons. He notes there was a large domestic split over nuclear weapons already in the 1950s. He discusses Germany’s broad priorities in foreign policy and, more specifically, Bonn’s reaction to the concept of flexible response. An underlying dilemma for Germans, he notes, is the need for external assistance with defense and the realization that using nuclear weapons would mean the destruction of the country. He recalls meetings between top German and U.S. leaders on all of these subjects. He touches on the attitudes of Franz Josef Strauss and other leaders toward the concept of Germany’s possession of nuclear weapons. In the context of President de Gaulle’s influence on Adenauer, he discusses the tense period of the 1960s when the French were considering withdrawal from NATO, and the nature of the differences between those two governments and the British and Americans. He believes a nuclear contingency may have been raised during the Berlin crisis but was not seriously considered. He ends with a brief discussion about Ostpolitik.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Europe Goes Nuclear
Program Number



Interview with Wilhelm Grewe, 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.



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


Great Britain
Eden, Anthony, Earl of Avon, 1897-1977
Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963
International relations
Warfare, Conventional
McNamara, Robert S., 1916-2009
Dulles, John Foster, 1888-1959
Stalin, Joseph, 1879-1953
Adenauer, Konrad, 1876-1967
Gaulle, Charles de, 1890-1970
North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Nuclear Planning Group
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Nuclear weapons
Strauss, Franz Josef, 1915-1988
Soviet Union
United States
Bowie, Robert R. (Robert Richardson), 1909-
Peace movements
Brandt, Willy, 1913-1992
Nuclear warfare
Taylor, Maxwell D. (Maxwell Davenport), 1901-1987
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Grewe, Wilhelm Georg, 1911- (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with Wilhelm Grewe, 1986,” 10/27/1986, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with Wilhelm Grewe, 1986.” 10/27/1986. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with Wilhelm Grewe, 1986. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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