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

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Stansfield Turner was the Director of Central Intelligence from 1977-1981. In the interview he discusses the ICBM modernization debate. He describes making intelligence reports to the White House about the Soviet trend toward more accurate weapons, which prompted the development of the MX Missile. He explains the American nuclear strategy, which is based on deterrence and does not forgo a first-strike capability. He goes into great detail about the MX basing modes, especially the multiple protective shelters, and provides alternatives he would prefer, including small ballistic missile submarines. He speaks passionately on the nature of nuclear warfare and the inherent differences between conventional and nuclear strategy.

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



Interview with Stansfield Turner, 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


Intercontinental ballistic missiles
Nuclear arms control
MX (Weapons system)
Carter, Jimmy, 1924-
Multiple Protective Structures (Missile basing system)
Chernobyl Nuclear Accident, Chornobyl, Ukraine, 1986
Brezhnev, Leonid Il'ich, 1906-1982
United States. Air Force
Soviet Union
Reagan, Ronald
United States
Strategic Arms Limitation Talks II
National Security Council (U.S.)
Gorbachev, Mikhail
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Nuclear weapons
Multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles
United States. Central Intelligence Agency
Deterrence (Strategy)
First strike (Nuclear strategy)
Brown, Harold, 1927-
Soviet Union. Treaties, etc. United States, 1987 December 8
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Turner, Stansfield, 1923- (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Stansfield Turner, 1987,” 12/01/1987, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Stansfield Turner, 1987.” 12/01/1987. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Stansfield Turner, 1987. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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