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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Thomas Simons, 1986

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Thomas Simons was a career Foreign Service Officer from 1963-1998, during which time he served as Assistant Secretary of State with responsibility for Eastern Europe and the USSR (1986-1989). In the 1990s, he was Ambassador to Poland and Pakistan. Most of the interview covers the Reykjavik summit in 1986, beginning with an assessment of Mikhail Gorbachev’s motivations for attending, and disagreeing with the Soviet notion that their side came prepared and the Americans did not. He describes what it is like to prepare for and attend a summit, then moves to a depiction of the actual meetings between the two leaders. He notes the Soviets presented two surprises – treating INF issues as part of a larger comprehensive package, and returning to consideration of 50% reductions. He provides a detailed chronological account and analysis of how the Reagan administration shifted from its “evil empire” rhetoric in 1981 to a willingness to reach broad agreements with the new Soviet leader in 1985. He then returns to an equally thorough recounting of key parts of the summit itself. Included is a brief sketch of Richard Perle, whom he calls “a creative and constructive” participant in the process, contrary to most expectations. In conclusion, he believes considerable progress was made in Iceland but falls short of calling it a breakthrough. His final remarks consist of an assessment of Gorbachev, his rise to power, and his prospects.

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



Interview with Thomas Simons, 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

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


Sakharov, Andrei, 1921-1989
Bessmertnykh, Aleksandr, 1933-
Soviet Union
Akhromeev, Sergei Fedorovich, 1923-
Nuclear arms control
Gromyko, Andrei Andreevich, 1909-1989
Velikhov, E. P.
United States
Shevardnadze, Eduard Amvrosievich, 1928-
United States. Dept. of State
Korean Air Lines Incident, 1983
Strategic Defense Initiative
Perle, Richard Norman, 1941-
Gorbachev, Mikhail
Reagan, Ronald
Vorontsov, IU. M.
Daniloff, Nicholas, 1934-
Shultz, George Pratt, 1920-
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Simons, Thomas (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Thomas Simons, 1986,” 03/13/1986, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Thomas Simons, 1986.” 03/13/1986. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Thomas Simons, 1986. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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