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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Zero Hour; Interview with James Thomson, 1989

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


James Thomson was President and CEO of the RAND Corp., a member of the National Security Council staff at the White House from 1977-1981, primarily responsible for defense and arms control matters related to Europe, and an Analyst in the Office of the Secretary of Defense from 1974-1977. In the interview he begins with a discussion of the Carter administration's reevaluation of arms control policy through Presidential Review Memorandum 38. He moves on to NATO nuclear strategy and U.S. relations with the NATO allies. He describes the White House's reaction to the Soviet deployment of SS-20s and the deployment of Pershing and Cruise missiles in Europe. He explains his theory behind the neutron bomb incident during the Carter administration, and describes the European, especially German, concern about the supposed lack of U.S. commitment to the protection of Western Europe. Dr. Thomson also describes the nuclear stockpile in the early 1970s, and various countries' views on its strategic purpose. He explains various disagreements between the U.S. and its NATO allies, and discusses the best ways for the U.S. to remain in control of its nuclear forces, without shutting the European countries out of the decision-making process.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Zero Hour
Program Number



Interview with James Thomson, 1989

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 and Soviet Secretary Gorbachev sign the INF Agreement to eliminate an entire class of nuclear weapons from Europe. No one had expected the European Missile Crisis to end this way.

The story begins in 1979, when the Western Allies were worried about the Soviet Union’s buildup of SS-20 nuclear missiles aimed at Western Europe. Under pressure from the Carter Administration, NATO issued a threat, if the SS-20s were not removed, NATO would install new American missiles in Europe. The threat revived the dormant anti-nuclear movement in Western Europe, giving them an anti-American tone. In 1981, President Reagan made a proposal that the US would cancel deployment of the missiles if the Soviet Union would dismantle all the intermediate range missiles it had pointed at Europe. This was the “zero-zero” option. The Soviet Union was entering a period of change with three leaders dying in three years. In 1986 Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev offered to accept the “zero-zero” option and in 1987 the INF agreement was signed.



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


Strategic Arms Limitation Talks II
Great Britain
Nuclear nonproliferation
Nuclear weapons
Deterrence (Strategy)
Carter, Jimmy, 1924-
Quinlan, Michael, 1930-2009
United States
Tactical nuclear weapons
United States. Army
Nuclear warfare
Nuclear arms control
Warfare, Conventional
United States. President (1977-1981 : Carter). Presidential Directive 59
North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Nuclear Planning Group
Pershing (Missile)
Cruise missiles
Soviet Union
Norstad, Lauris, 1907-1988
Schlesinger, James R.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Flexible response (Nuclear strategy)
Reagan, Ronald
Neutron bomb
Nunn, Sam
Schmidt, Helmut, 1918 Dec. 23-
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Thomson, James A., 1945- (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Zero Hour; Interview with James Thomson, 1989,” 12/03/1989, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Zero Hour; Interview with James Thomson, 1989.” 12/03/1989. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Zero Hour; Interview with James Thomson, 1989. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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