Able Archer 83

Able Archer 83 is the codename for a command post exercise carried out in November 1983 by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).[1][2] As with Able Archer exercises from previous years, the purpose of the exercise was to simulate a period of conflict escalation, culminating in the US military attaining simulated DEFCON 1 coordinated nuclear attack.[3] Coordinated from the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) headquarters in Casteau, Belgium, it involved NATO forces throughout Western Europe, beginning on November 7, 1983, and lasting for five days.

The 1983 exercise introduced several new elements not seen in previous years, including a new, unique format of coded communication, radio silences, and the participation of heads of government. This increase in realism, combined with deteriorating relations between the United States and the Soviet Union and the anticipated arrival of Pershing II nuclear missiles in Europe, led some members of the Soviet Politburo and military to believe that Able Archer 83 was a ruse of war, obscuring preparations for a genuine nuclear first strike.[3][4][5][6] In response, the Soviet Union readied their nuclear forces and placed air units in East Germany and Poland on alert.[7][8] The apparent threat of nuclear war ended with the conclusion of the exercise on November 11.[9][10][11]

Historians such as Thomas Blanton, Director of the National Security Archive, and Tom Nichols, a professor at the Naval War College, have since argued that Able Archer 83 was one of the times when the world has come closest to nuclear war since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.[12][13] Other incidents that also brought the world close to such a war include the Soviet nuclear false alarm incident that occurred a month earlier and the Norwegian rocket incident of 1995.[14]

Prelude to NATO exercise

Operation RYaN

KGB Report on 1981
A KGB report from 1981 reporting that the KGB had "implemented measures to strengthen intelligence work in order to prevent a possible sudden outbreak of war by the enemy." To do this, the KGB "actively obtained information on military and strategic issues, and the aggressive military and political plans of imperialism [the United States] and its accomplices," and "enhanced the relevance and effectiveness of its active intelligence abilities."[15]

The greatest catalyst to the Able Archer war scare occurred more than two years earlier. In a May 1981 closed-session meeting of senior KGB officers and Soviet leaders, General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev and KGB chairman Yuri Andropov bluntly announced that the United States was preparing a secret nuclear attack on the USSR.[16]

To combat this threat, Andropov announced, the KGB and GRU military foreign intelligence arm would begin Operation RYaN. RYaN (РЯН) was a Russian acronym for "Nuclear Missile Attack" (Ракетное Ядерное Нападение); Operation RYaN was the largest, most comprehensive peacetime intelligence-gathering operation in Soviet history. Agents abroad were charged with monitoring the figures who would decide to launch a nuclear attack, the service and technical personnel who would implement the attack, and the facilities from which the attack would originate. It is possible that the goal of Operation RYaN was to discover the first intent of a nuclear attack and then preempt it.[16][17]

The exact impetus for the implementation of Operation RYaN is not known for sure. Oleg Gordievsky, the highest-ranking KGB official ever to defect, attributed it to "a potentially lethal combination of Reaganite rhetoric and Soviet paranoia."[17] Gordievsky conjectured that Brezhnev and Andropov, who "were very, very old-fashioned and easily influenced ... by Communist dogmas", truly believed that an antagonistic Ronald Reagan would push the nuclear button and relegate the Soviet Union to the literal "ash heap of history".[18][19][20] Central Intelligence Agency historian Benjamin B. Fischer lists several concrete occurrences that likely led to the birth of RYaN. The first of these was the use of psychological operations (PSYOP) that began soon after Reagan took office.

In his report, Fischer also writes that another CIA source was, at least partially, corroborating Gordievsky's reporting. This Czechoslovak intelligence officer—who worked closely with the KGB on RYaN—"noted that his counterparts were obsessed with the historical parallel between 1941 and 1983. He believed this feeling was almost visceral, not intellectual, and deeply affected Soviet thinking."[21]

Psychological operations

Psychological operations (PSYOP) by the United States began in mid-February 1981 and continued intermittently until 1983. These included a series of clandestine naval operations that stealthily accessed waters near the Greenland–Iceland–United Kingdom (GIUK) gap, and the Barents, Norwegian, Black, and Baltic seas, demonstrating how close NATO ships could get to critical Soviet military bases. American bombers also flew directly towards Soviet airspace, peeling off at the last moment, sometimes several times per week. These near-penetrations were designed to test Soviet radar vulnerability as well as demonstrate US capabilities in a nuclear war.[22]

"It really got to them," said Dr. William Schneider, [former] undersecretary of state for military assistance and technology, who saw classified "after-action reports" that indicated U.S. flight activity. "They didn't know what it all meant. A squadron would fly straight at Soviet airspace, and other radars would light up and units would go on alert. Then at the last minute the squadron would peel off and return home."[22]

FleetEx '83

In April 1983, the United States Navy conducted FleetEx '83-1, the largest fleet exercise held to date in the North Pacific.[23][24] The conglomeration of approximately 40 ships with 23,000 crewmembers and 300 aircraft was arguably one of the most powerful naval armadas ever assembled. U.S. aircraft and ships attempted to provoke the Soviets into reacting, allowing the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence to study Soviet radar characteristics, aircraft capabilities, and tactical maneuvers. On April 4 at least six U.S. Navy aircraft flew over Zeleny Island, one of the Kurile Islands. In retaliation the Soviets ordered an overflight of the Aleutian Islands. The Soviet Union also issued a formal diplomatic note of protest, which accused the United States of repeated penetrations of Soviet airspace.[25]

Korean Air Lines Flight 007

On September 1, 1983, the Korean Air Lines Flight 007 (KAL 007) was shot down by a Soviet interceptor over the Sea of Japan near Moneron Island (just west of Sakhalin island) while flying over prohibited Soviet airspace. All 269 passengers and crew aboard were killed, including Congressman Larry McDonald, a sitting member of the United States House of Representatives from Georgia and President of the anti-communist John Birch Society.

Weapons buildup

From the start, the Reagan administration adopted a bellicose stance toward the Soviet Union, one that favored seriously constraining Soviet strategic and global military capabilities. The administration's rigorous focus on this objective resulted in the largest peacetime military buildup in the history of the United States. It also ushered in the final major escalation in rhetoric of the Cold War. On June 8, 1982, Reagan, in a speech to the British House of Commons, declared that, "... Freedom and democracy will leave Marxism and Leninism on the ash heap of history."[26]

On March 23, 1983, Reagan announced one of the most ambitious and controversial components to this strategy, the Strategic Defense Initiative (labeled "Star Wars" by the media and critics). While Reagan portrayed the initiative as a safety net against nuclear war, leaders in the Soviet Union viewed it as a definitive departure from the relative weapons parity of détente and an escalation of the arms race into space. Yuri Andropov, who had become General Secretary following Brezhnev's death in November 1982, criticised Reagan for "inventing new plans on how to unleash a nuclear war in the best way, with the hope of winning it".[27]

Pershing II
The US Pershing II missile

Despite the Soviet outcry over the Strategic Defense Initiative, the weapons plan that generated the most alarm among the Soviet Union's leadership during Able Archer 83 was NATO's planned deployment of intermediate-range Pershing II missiles in Western Europe.[a] These missiles, deployed to counter Soviet SS-20 intermediate-range missiles on the USSR's western border, represented a major threat to the Soviets. The Pershing II was capable of destroying Soviet "hard targets" such as underground missile silos and command and control bunkers.[16][29][30]

The missiles could be emplaced in and launched from any surveyed site in minutes, and because the guidance system was self-correcting, the missile system possessed a genuine "first strike capability". Furthermore, it was estimated that the missiles (deployed in West Germany) could reach targets in the western Soviet Union within four to six minutes of their launch. These capabilities led Soviet leaders to believe that the only way to survive a Pershing II strike was to preempt it. This fear of an undetected Pershing II attack, according to CIA historian Benjamin B. Fischer, was explicitly linked to the mandate of Operation RYaN: to detect a decision by the United States to launch a nuclear attack and to preempt it.[16][29][30]

False alarm from the Soviet missile early warning system

On the night of September 26, 1983, the Soviet orbital missile early warning system (SPRN), code-named Oko, reported a single intercontinental ballistic missile launch from the territory of the United States.[31] Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov, who was on duty during the incident, correctly dismissed the warning as a computer error when ground early warning radars did not detect any launches. Part of his reasoning was that the system was new and known to have malfunctioned previously; also, a full-scale nuclear attack from the United States would involve thousands of simultaneous launches, not a single missile.

Later, the system reported four more ICBM launches headed to the Soviet Union, but Petrov again dismissed the reports as false. The investigation that followed revealed that the system indeed malfunctioned and false alarms were caused by a rare alignment of sunlight on high-altitude clouds underneath the satellites' orbits.

Exercise Able Archer 83

Able Archer 83 After Action Report
A US Air Force after-action report describes three days of "low spectrum" conventional play followed by two days of "high spectrum nuclear warfare." From the National Security Archive.

A scenario released by NATO details the hypothetical lead-up to the Able Archer exercise, which was used by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington D.C. and the Ministry of Defence in London.[32] Dr. Gregory Pedlow, a SHAPE historian explains the war game:

The exercise scenario began with Orange (the hypothetical opponent) opening hostilities in all regions of ACE on 4 November (three days before the start of the exercise) and Blue (NATO) declaring a general alert. Orange initiated the use of chemical weapons on 6 November and by the end of that day had used such weapons throughout ACE. All of these events had taken place prior to the start of the exercise and were simply part of the written scenario. There had thus been three days of fighting and a deteriorating situation prior to the start of the exercise. This was desired because—as previously stated—the purpose of the exercise was to test procedures for transitioning from conventional to nuclear operations. As a result of Orange advance, its persistent use of chemical weapons, and its clear intentions to rapidly commit second echelon forces, SACEUR requested political guidance on the use of nuclear weapons early on Day 1 of the exercise (7 November 1983)...[33]

Thus, on November 7, 1983, as Soviet intelligence services were attempting to detect the early signs of a nuclear attack, NATO began to simulate one. The exercise, codenamed Able Archer, involved numerous NATO allies and simulated NATO's Command, Control, and Communications (C³) procedures during a nuclear war. Some Soviet leaders, because of the preceding world events and the exercise's particularly realistic nature, feared that the exercise was a cover for an actual attack.[34][35] A KGB telegram of February 17 described one likely scenario:

In view of the fact that the measures involved in State Orange [a nuclear attack within 36 hours] have to be carried out with the utmost secrecy (under the guise of maneuvers, training etc) in the shortest possible time, without disclosing the content of operational plans, it is highly probable that the battle alarm system may be used to prepare a surprise RYaN [nuclear attack] in peacetime.[36]

Also on February 17, KGB Permanent Operational Assignment assigned its agents to monitor several possible indicators of a nuclear attack. These included actions by "A cadre of people associated with preparing and implementing decision about RYaN, and also a group of people, including service and technical personnel ... those working in the operating services of installations connected with processing and implementing the decision about RYaN, and communication staff involved in the operation and interaction of these installations."[37]

SS20 irbm
A Soviet SS-20 missile

Because Able Archer 83 simulated an actual release, it is likely that the service and technical personnel mentioned in the memo were active in the exercise. More conspicuously, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl participated (though not concurrently) in the nuclear drill. United States President Reagan, Vice President George H. W. Bush, and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger were also intended to participate. Robert McFarlane, who had assumed the position of National Security Advisor just two weeks earlier, realized the implications of such participation early in the exercise's planning and rejected it.[38]

Another illusory indicator likely noticed by Soviet analysts was a high rate of ciphered communications between the United Kingdom and the United States. Soviet intelligence was informed that "so-called nuclear consultations in NATO are probably one of the stages of immediate preparation by the adversary for RYaN".[39] To the Soviet analysts, this burst of secret communications between the United States and the UK one month before the beginning of Able Archer may have appeared to be this "consultation". In reality, the burst of communication was about the US invasion of Grenada on October 25, 1983, which caused a great deal of diplomatic traffic as the sovereign of the island was Elizabeth II.[40]

A further startling aspect reported by KGB agents concerned the NATO communications used during the exercise. According to Moscow Centre's February 17 memo,

It [is] of the highest importance to keep a watch on the functioning of communications networks and systems since through them information is passed about the adversary's intentions and, above all, about his plans to use nuclear weapons and practical implementation of these. In addition, changes in the method of operating communications systems and the level of manning may in themselves indicate the state of preparation for RYaN.[41]

Soviet intelligence appeared to substantiate these suspicions by reporting that NATO was indeed using unique, never-before-seen procedures as well as message formats more sophisticated than previous exercises, which possibly indicated the proximity of nuclear attack.[42]

Finally, during Able Archer 83, NATO forces simulated a move through all alert phases, from DEFCON 5 to DEFCON 1. While these phases were simulated, alarmist KGB agents mistakenly reported them as actual. According to Soviet intelligence, NATO doctrine stated, "Operational readiness No. 1 is declared when there are obvious indications of preparation to begin military operations. It is considered that war is inevitable and may start at any moment."[43]

Able Archer Summary
The unclassified NATO summary of Able Archer 83, kindly provided by SHAPE chief historian Gregory Pedlow, provides a narrative of how the Cold War could have turned nuclear. Image provided by the National Security Archive.

According to a 2013 analysis by the National Security Archive:[44]

The Able Archer controversy has featured numerous descriptions of the exercise as so "routine" that it could not have alarmed the Soviet military and political leadership. Today's posting reveals multiple non-routine elements, including: a 170-flight, radio-silent air lift of 19,000 US soldiers to Europe, the shifting of commands from "Permanent War Headquarters to the Alternate War Headquarters," the practice of "new nuclear weapons release procedures," including consultations with cells in Washington and London, and the "sensitive, political issue" of numerous "slips of the tongue" in which B-52 sorties were referred to as nuclear "strikes." These variations, seen through "the fog of nuclear exercises," did in fact match official Soviet intelligence-defined indicators for "possible operations by the USA and its allies on British territory in preparation for RYaN"—the KGB code name for a feared Western nuclear missile attack.

Upon learning that U.S. nuclear activity mirrored its hypothesized first strike activity, the Moscow Centre sent its residencies a flash telegram on November 8 or 9 (Oleg Gordievsky cannot recall which), incorrectly reporting an alert on American bases and frantically asking for further information regarding an American first strike. The alert precisely coincided with the seven- to ten-day period estimated between NATO's preliminary decision and an actual strike.[45] This was the peak of the war scare.

The Soviet Union, believing its only chance of surviving a NATO strike was to preempt it, readied its nuclear arsenal. The CIA reported activity in the Baltic Military District and in Czechoslovakia, and it determined that nuclear-capable aircraft in Poland and East Germany were placed "on high alert status with readying of nuclear strike forces".[10][46] Former CIA analyst Peter Vincent Pry goes further, saying he suspects that the aircraft were merely the tip of the iceberg. He hypothesizes that—in accordance with Soviet military procedure and history—ICBM silos, easily readied and difficult for the United States to detect, were also prepared for a launch.[47] Lt. Gen. Leonard H. Perroots is credited with the decision not to place NATO forces on increased alert despite increased Soviet readiness, thereby reducing the possibility of a nuclear exchange.[48]

Soviet fears of the attack ended as the Able Archer exercise finished on November 11. Upon learning of the Soviet reaction to Able Archer 83 by way of the double agent Oleg Gordievsky, a British SIS asset, President Reagan commented, "I don't see how they could believe that—but it's something to think about."[49]

Soviet reaction

Reagan and Gordievsky
President Ronald Reagan and Soviet double agent Oleg Gordievsky.

The double agent Oleg Gordievsky, whose highest rank was KGB resident in London, is the only Soviet source ever to have published an account of Able Archer 83. Oleg Kalugin and Yuri Shvets, who were KGB officers in 1983, have published accounts that acknowledge Operation RYaN, but they do not mention Able Archer 83.[50] Gordievsky and other Warsaw Pact intelligence agents were extremely skeptical about a NATO first strike, perhaps because of their proximity to, and understanding of, the West. Nevertheless, agents were ordered to report their observations, not their analysis, and this critical flaw in the Soviet intelligence system—coined by Gordievsky as the "intelligence cycle"—fed the fear of US nuclear aggression.[51][52]

Marshal Sergei Akhromeyev, who at the time was chief of the main operations directorate of the Soviet General Staff, told Cold War historian Don Orbendorfer that he had never heard of Able Archer. The lack of public Soviet response over Able Archer 83 has led some historians, including Fritz W. Ermarth in his piece, "Observations on the 'War Scare' of 1983 From an Intelligence Perch", to conclude that the Soviet Union did not see Able Archer 83 as posing an immediate threat to the Soviet Union.[53]

American reaction

In May 1984, CIA Russian specialist Ethan J. Done drafted "Implications of Recent Soviet Military-Political Activities", which concluded: "we believe strongly that Soviet actions are not inspired by, and Soviet leaders do not perceive, a genuine danger of imminent conflict with the United States."[8] Robert Gates, Deputy Director for Intelligence during Able Archer 83, has published thoughts on the exercise that dispute this conclusion:

Information about the peculiar and remarkably skewed frame of mind of the Soviet leaders during those times that has emerged since the collapse of the Soviet Union makes me think there is a good chance—with all of the other events in 1983—that they really felt a NATO attack was at least possible and that they took a number of measures to enhance their military readiness short of mobilization. After going through the experience at the time, then through the postmortems, and now through the documents, I don't think the Soviets were crying wolf. They may not have believed a NATO attack was imminent in November 1983, but they did seem to believe that the situation was very dangerous. And US intelligence [SNIE 11–9-84 and SNIE 11–10–84] had failed to grasp the true extent of their anxiety.[54]

1983 Memo on US Soviet Tension
A memorandum from Director of the Central Intelligence Agency William Casey to President Reagan and other Cabinet-level officials after Able Archer 83 warning of a "rather stunning array of indicators" showing that "The [Soviet] military behaviors we have observed involve high military costs ... adding thereby a dimension of genuineness to the Soviet expressions of concern that is often not reflected in intelligence issuances." From the National Security Archive.

A report written by Nina Stewart for the President's Foreign Advisory Board concurs with Gates and refutes the previous CIA reports, concluding that further analysis shows that the Soviets were, in fact, genuinely fearful of US aggression. The decision of Gen. Perroots was described as "fortuitous," noting "[he] acted correctly out of instinct, not informed guidance," suggesting that had the depth of Soviet fear been fully realized, NATO may have responded differently.[48]

Some historians, including Beth A. Fischer in her book The Reagan Reversal, pin Able Archer 83 as profoundly affecting President Reagan and his turn from a policy of confrontation towards the Soviet Union to a policy of rapprochement. The thoughts of Reagan and those around him provide important insight upon the nuclear scare and its subsequent ripples. On October 10, 1983, just over a month before Able Archer 83, President Reagan viewed a television film about Lawrence, Kansas, being destroyed by a nuclear attack titled The Day After. In his diary, the president wrote that the film "left me greatly depressed".[55]

Later in October, Reagan attended a Pentagon briefing on nuclear war. During his first two years in office, he had refused to take part in such briefings, feeling it irrelevant to rehearse a nuclear apocalypse; finally, he consented to the Pentagon official requests. According to officials present, the briefing "chastened" Reagan. Weinberg said, "[Reagan] had a very deep revulsion to the whole idea of nuclear weapons ... These war games brought home to anybody the fantastically horrible events that would surround such a scenario." Reagan described the briefing in his own words: "A most sobering experience with [Caspar Weinberger] and Gen. Vessey in the Situation Room, a briefing on our complete plan in the event of a nuclear attack."[55][56]

These two glimpses of nuclear war primed Reagan for Able Archer 83, giving him a very specific picture of what would occur had the situation further developed. After receiving intelligence reports from sources including Gordievsky, it was clear that the Soviets were unnerved. While officials were concerned with the Soviet panic, they were hesitant about believing the proximity of a Soviet attack. Secretary of State George P. Shultz thought it "incredible, at least to us" that the Soviets would believe the US would launch a genuine attack.[57] In general, Reagan did not share the secretary's belief that cooler heads would prevail, writing:

We had many contingency plans for responding to a nuclear attack. But everything would happen so fast that I wondered how much planning or reason could be applied in such a crisis... Six minutes to decide how to respond to a blip on a radar scope and decide whether to unleash Armageddon! How could anyone apply reason at a time like that?[58]

According to McFarlane, the president responded with "genuine anxiety" in disbelief that a regular NATO exercise could have led to an armed attack. To the ailing Politburo—led from the deathbed of the terminally ill Andropov, a man with no firsthand knowledge of the United States, and the creator of Operation RYaN—it seemed "that the United States was preparing to launch ... a sudden nuclear attack on the Soviet Union".[19][59][60] In his memoirs, Reagan, without specifically mentioning Able Archer 83, wrote of a 1983 realization:

Three years had taught me something surprising about the Russians: Many people at the top of the Soviet hierarchy were genuinely afraid of America and Americans. Perhaps this shouldn't have surprised me, but it did...During my first years in Washington, I think many of us in the administration took it for granted that the Russians, like ourselves, considered it unthinkable that the United States would launch a first strike against them. But the more experience I had with Soviet leaders and other heads of state who knew them, the more I began to realize that many Soviet officials feared us not only as adversaries but as potential aggressors who might hurl nuclear weapons at them in a first strike...Well, if that was the case, I was even more anxious to get a top Soviet leader in a room alone and try to convince him we had no designs on the Soviet Union and Russians had nothing to fear from us."[61]

Reagan eventually met Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev in Geneva in 1985 and at subsequent summits, leading to the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and later treaties.

Further reading

  • 1983: The Brink of ApocalypseChannel 4, January 5, 2008
  • Peter Scoblic, The U.S. versus Them, 2008
  • Taylor Downing, 1983: The World at the Brink, 2018

See also


  1. ^ Although Able Archer 83 simulated the release of Pershing II missiles for the first time, the missiles themselves were not deployed until November 23, twelve days after the exercise completed.[28]


  1. ^ Stephen J. Cimbala (2002). The Dead Volcano: The Background and Effects of Nuclear War Complacency. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 92.
  2. ^ Nate Jones. "The Able Archer 83 Sourcebook". National Security Archive.
  3. ^ a b Benjamin B. Fischer (March 17, 2007). "A Cold War Conundrum: The 1983 Soviet War Scare". Central Intelligence Agency. Archived from the original on January 14, 2009. Retrieved January 13, 2009.
  4. ^ Andrew and Gordievsky, Comrade Kryuchkov's Instructions, 85–7.
  5. ^ Beth Fischer, Reagan Reversal, 123, 131.
  6. ^ Pry, War Scare, 37–9.
  7. ^ Oberdorfer, A New Era, p. 66.
  8. ^ a b SNIE 11–10–84 "Implications of Recent Soviet Military-Political Activities" Central Intelligence Agency, May 18, 1984.
  9. ^ Andrew and Gordievsky, Comrade Kryuchkov’s Instructions, 87–8.
  10. ^ a b Pry, War Scare, 43–4.
  11. ^ "Andøyrakett satte Russland i krigsberedskap" [Andøyrakett put Russia in war preparedness] (in Norwegian). Archived from the original on October 25, 2014.
  12. ^ Roberts, Sam (November 9, 2015). "NATO War Games Unwittingly Put Soviets and U.S. on 'Hair Trigger' in '83, Analysis Suggests". New York Times.
  13. ^ Nichols, Tom (August 9, 2014). "Five Ways Nuclear Armageddon Was Almost Unleashed". The National Interest.
  14. ^ John Lewis Gaddis; John Hashimoto. "Cold War Chat: Professor John Lewis Gaddis, Historian". CNN. Archived from the original on September 1, 2005. Retrieved December 29, 2005.
  15. ^ From the National Security Archive.
  16. ^ a b c d Fischer, Benjamin B (1997). A Cold War Conundrum: The 1983 Soviet War Scare – Phase II: A New Sense of Urgency. CIA.
  17. ^ a b Andrew and Gordievsky, Comrade Kryuchkov's Instructions, 74–6, 86.
  18. ^ Fischer, "A Cold War Conundrum": Appendix A: RYAN and the Decline of the KGB Archived August 2, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
  19. ^ a b Testimony of Oleg Gordievsky to Congress.
  20. ^ Reagan, Ronald (June 8, 1982). "Address to Members of the British Parliament". University of Texas archives.
  21. ^ Fischer, Ben B. "The 1983 War Scare in US-Soviet Relations" (PDF). National Security Archive. Archived (PDF) from the original on March 28, 2015. Retrieved November 21, 2015.
  22. ^ a b Peter Schweizer, Victory: The Reagan Administration's Secret Strategy That Hastened the Collapse of the Soviet Union (New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1994), p. 8, as quoted at Fischer, "A Cold War Conundrum" (CIA Centre for the Study of Intelligence, 2007)[1]. Retrieved on May 18, 2013.
  23. ^ Johnson, p. 55
  24. ^ Richelson, p. 385
  25. ^ 1983: The most dangerous year by Andrew R. Garland, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
  26. ^ "Ash Heap of History: President Reagan's Westminster Address 20 Years Later - Remarks by Dr. Richard Pipes". June 3, 2002. Archived from the original on January 11, 2012.
  27. ^ Fischer, A Cold War Conundrum: "Star Wars"
  28. ^ Pry, p. 34
  29. ^ a b Andrew and Gordievsky, Comrade Kryuchkov’s Instructions, 74–6.
  30. ^ a b White, Andrew (1983). Symbols of War: Pershing II and Cruise Missiles in Europe. London: Merlin Press. pp. 25–9.
  31. ^ Schmalz, pp. 28–29
  32. ^ "Exercise ABLE ARCHER 83: Information from SHAPE Historical Files" (PDF). National Security Archive. March 28, 2013. Archived (PDF) from the original on June 16, 2013.
  33. ^ "Exercise Scenario" (PDF). National Security Archive. Archived (PDF) from the original on June 16, 2013.
  34. ^ Fischer, Reagan Reversal, 123.
  35. ^ Fischer, "A Cold War Conundrum": Able Archer 83 Archived August 2, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
  36. ^ Andrew and Gordievsky, Comrade Kryuchkov's Instructions, 78.
  37. ^ Andrew and Gordievsky, Comrade Kryuchkov’s Instructions, 72.
  38. ^ Oberdorfer, A New Era, 65.
  39. ^ Andrew and Gordievsky, Comrade Kryuchkov's Instructions, 76.
  40. ^ Walker, Martin (1993). The Cold War: A History. New York: Henry Holt and Company. p. 276.
  41. ^ Andrew and Gordievsky, Comrade Kryuchkov's Instructions, 80–81.
  42. ^ Andrew and Gordievsky, KGB, 599–600.
  43. ^ Andrew and Gordievsky, Comrade Kryuchkov’s Instructions, 79.
  44. ^ "The 1983 War Scare: "The Last Paroxysm" of the Cold War Part II".
  45. ^ Andrew and Gordievsky, KGB, 600.
  46. ^ Gates, From the Shadows, 271, 272.
  47. ^ Pry, War Scare, 44.
  48. ^ a b "The 1983 War Scare Declassified and For Real". National Security Archive. Retrieved December 6, 2015.
  49. ^ Oberdorfer, A New Era, 67.
  50. ^ Fischer, "A Cold War Conundrum": Appendix B: The Gordievsky File Archived August 2, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  51. ^ Andrew and Gordievsky, Comrade Kryuchkov’s Instructions, 69.
  52. ^ DiCico, Jonathan M. (August 2017). "DiCicco on Jones, 'Able Archer 83: The Secret History of the NATO Exercise That Almost Triggered Nuclear War'". H-Net. Trapped in an intelligence cycle that reinforced fears of susceptibility to surprise nuclear attack, Soviet leaders took steps toward an anticipatory counterattack.
  53. ^ Ermarth, Fritz W. (November 11, 2003). "Observations on the 'War Scare' of 1983 From an Intelligence Perch" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on July 24, 2006. Retrieved May 21, 2006.
  54. ^ Gates, From the Shadows, 273.
  55. ^ a b Reagan, An American Life, 585.
  56. ^ Fischer, Reagan Reversal, 120–2.
  57. ^ Shultz, George P (1993). Turmoil and Triumph: My Years as Secretary of State. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. p. 464.
  58. ^ Reagan, An American Life, 257.
  59. ^ Nina Stewart, in a report to the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, 1990, as cited in Oberdorfer, A New Era, 67.
  60. ^ Fischer, Reagan Reversal, 134.
  61. ^ Reagan, An American Life, 585, 588–9.


External links

ASEAN Declaration

The ASEAN Declaration or Bangkok Declaration is the founding document of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). It was signed in Bangkok on 8 August 1967 by the five ASEAN founding members, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand as a display of solidarity against communist expansion in Vietnam and communist insurgency within their own borders. It states the basic principles of ASEAN: co-operation, amity, and non-interference. The date is now celebrated as ASEAN Day.

Asian Relations Conference

The Asian Relations Conference took place in New Delhi in March-April 1947. It was hosted by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who then headed a provisional government that was preparing for India's Independence, which came on 15 August 1947. The Asian Relations Conference brought together many leaders of the independence movements in Asia, and represented a first attempt to assert Asian unity. The objectives of the conference were "to bring together the leading men and women of Asia on a common platform to study the problems of common concern to the people of the continent, to focus attention on social, economic and cultural problems of the different countries of Asia, and to foster mutual contact and understanding."

In his writings and speeches, Nehru had laid great emphasis on the manner in which post-colonial India would rebuild its Asia connections. At this conference Nehru declared: "... Asia is again finding herself ... one of the notable consequences of the European domination of Asia has been the isolation of the countries of Asia from one another. ... Today this isolation is breaking down because of many reasons, political and otherwise ... This Conference is significant as an expression of that deeper urge of the mind and spirit of Asia which has persisted ... In this Conference and in this work there are no leaders and no followers. All countries of Asia have to meet together in a common task ..."

Cold War (1979–1985)

The Cold War (1979–1985) refers to the phase of a deterioration in relations between the Soviet Union and the West arising from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. With the election of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1979, and United States President Ronald Reagan in 1980, a corresponding change in Western foreign policy approach toward the Soviet Union was marked with the abandonment of détente in favor of the Reagan Doctrine policy of rollback, with the stated goal of dissolving Soviet influence in Soviet Bloc countries. During this time, the threat of nuclear war had reached new heights not seen since the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan following the Saur Revolution in that country, ultimately leading to the deaths of around one million civilians. Mujahideen fighters succeeded in forcing a Soviet military withdrawal in 1989. In response, U.S. President Jimmy Carter announced a U.S.-led boycott of the Moscow 1980 Summer Olympics. In 1984, the Soviet Union responded with its own boycott of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, California. Tensions increased when the U.S. announced they would deploy Pershing II missiles in West Germany, followed by Reagan's announcement of the U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative and were further exacerbated in 1983 when Reagan branded the Soviet Union an "evil empire".

In April 1983, the United States Navy conducted FleetEx '83-1, the largest fleet exercise held to date in the North Pacific. The conglomeration of approximately forty ships with 23,000 crewmembers and 300 aircraft, was arguably the most powerful naval armada ever assembled. U.S. aircraft and ships attempted to provoke the Soviets into reacting, allowing U.S. Naval Intelligence to study Soviet radar characteristics, aircraft capabilities, and tactical maneuvers. On April 4, at least six U.S. Navy aircraft flew over one of the Kurile Islands, Zeleny Island, the largest of a set of islets called the Habomai Islands. The Soviets were outraged and ordered a retaliatory overflight of the Aleutian Islands. The Soviet Union also issued a formal diplomatic note of protest, which accused the United States of repeated penetrations of Soviet airspace. In the following September, the civilian airliner Korean Air Lines Flight 007 was downed by Soviet fighter jets over nearby Moneron Island.

In November 1983, NATO conducted a military exercise known as "Able Archer 83". The realistic simulation of a nuclear attack by NATO forces caused considerable alarm in the USSR and is regarded by many historians to be the closest the world came to nuclear war since the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.This period of the Cold War would continue through U.S. President Reagan's first term (1981–1985), through the death of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in 1982, the brief interim period of Soviet leadership consisting of Yuri Andropov (1982–1984) and Konstantin Chernenko (1984–1985). This phase in the Cold War concluded in 1985 with the ascension of reform-minded Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev who brought a commitment to reduce tensions between the East and the West and bring about major reforms in Soviet society.

Exercise Able Archer

Exercise Able Archer was an annual exercise by NATO military forces in Europe that practiced command and control procedures, with emphasis on transition from conventional operations to chemical, nuclear, and conventional operations during a time of war. When it was active, it was seen as the culmination of Exercise Autumn Forge. The exercise is best known for Able Archer 83, which believed to have nearly started a nuclear war with the Soviet Union.

The exercises themselves simulated a period of conflict escalation, culminating in a simulated DEFCON 1 coordinated nuclear attack.

Exercise Verity

Exercise Verity was the only major training exercise of the Western Union (WU). Undertaken in July 1949, it involved 60 warships from the British, French, Belgian and Dutch navies. A contemporary newsreel described this exercise as involving "the greatest assembly of warships since the Battle of Jutland."


In the Russian language the word Glasnost (; Russian: гла́сность, IPA: [ˈɡɫasnəsʲtʲ] (listen)) has several general and specific meanings. It has been used in Russian to mean "openness and transparency" since at least the end of the eighteenth century.In the Russian Empire of the late-19th century, the term was particularly associated with reforms of the judicial system, ensuring that the press and the public could attend court hearings and that the sentence was read out in public. In the mid-1980s, it was popularised by Mikhail Gorbachev as a political slogan for increased government transparency in the Soviet Union.

Guerrilla war in the Baltic states

The Guerrilla war in the Baltic states or the Forest Brothers resistance movement was the armed struggle against Soviet rule that spanned from 1940 to the mid-1950s. After the occupation of the Baltic territories by the Soviets in 1944, an insurgency started. According to some estimates, 10,000 partisans in Estonia, 10,000 partisans in Latvia and 30,000 partisans in Lithuania and many more supporters were involved. This war continued as an organised struggle until 1956 when the superiority of the Soviet military caused the native population to adopt other forms of resistance. While estimates related to the extent of partisan movement vary, but there seems to be a consensus among researchers that by international standards, the Baltic guerrilla movements were extensive. Proportionally, the partisan movement in the post-war Baltic states was of a similar size as the Viet Cong movement in South Vietnam.

International crisis

The term international crisis is widespread term without a single common definition. To some, it involves "a sequence of interactions between the governments of two or more sovereign states in severe conflict, short of actual war, but involving the perception of a dangerously high probability of war".

Jamaican political conflict

The Jamaican political conflict is a long standing feud between right-wing and left-wing elements in the country, often exploding into violence. The Jamaican Labor Party and the People's National Party have fought for control of the island for years and the rivalry has encouraged urban warfare in Kingston. Each side believes the other to be controlled by foreign elements, the JLP is said to be backed by the American Central Intelligence Agency and the PNP is said to been backed by the Soviet Union and Fidel Castro.

Johnson Doctrine

The Johnson Doctrine, enunciated by U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson after the United States' intervention in the Dominican Republic in 1965, declared that domestic revolution in the Western Hemisphere would no longer be a local matter when "the object is the establishment of a Communist dictatorship". It is an extension of the Eisenhower and Kennedy Doctrines.

Leonard H. Perroots

Leonard Harry Perroots, Sr., USAF (April 24, 1933 – January 29, 2017) was Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency from October 1985 to December 1988. He retired January 1, 1989. In 1989, he was hired by Donald Mayes to become president of Vector Microwave Research Corporation, an enterprise performing tasks and dealings for the CIA and the U.S. military. He is credited with helping to avert nuclear war during the Able Archer 83 war scare. Perrooots died on January 29, 2017 at the age of 83 following a short illness.

Oleg Gordievsky

Oleg Antonovich Gordievsky, CMG (Оле́г Анто́нович Гордие́вский; born 10 October 1938) is a former colonel of the KGB and KGB resident-designate (rezident) and bureau chief in London, who was a secret agent of the British Secret Intelligence Service from 1974 to 1985.

Proud Prophet

Proud Prophet was a simulated war game played by the United States that began on June 20, 1983. The war game was designed by Thomas Schelling. The Simulation was played in real time during the Cold War. Proud Prophet was essentially played to test out various proposals and strategies, in response to the Soviet Union's military buildup. There were advocates for a number of strategies, which varied from demonstration nuclear attacks, limited nuclear war, and decapitation attacks. It was not possible for the United States to pursue each of these strategies. President Ronald Reagan and his administration were faced with the dilemma of figuring out how the United States should respond to the Soviet Union's large nuclear programs, while finding which strategy would be most effective. This game demonstrated the importance of thinking about the unthinkable by running through scenarios and planning appropriate responses to opposing nuclear strikes. The game simulated conflict in a number of regions, from East Asia to Europe and in the Mediterranean and the Middle East. The simulation consisted of 200 Military Personnel and Politicians with only twelve days of actual play. Stretching the twelve days of gameplay over several week periods, Personnel involved in the simulation were forced to make critical strategic and diplomatic decisions to test the effectiveness of the United States strike plan. Due to heightened tensions with the ongoing Cold War made this simulation the most realistic in United States Military history. For the first time ever, the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff took part in the game, although their participation was concealed. One of the main purposes of the simulation was to test the response of the National Command Authority's (NCA) decision making when dealing with many different situations at once. Although Proud Prophet was intended to help senior officials test their nuclear strategies, it was apparent that many of the concepts in place were incompatible with current Military capabilities. Many important parts of this simulation saw limited use of de-escalation tactics. If a risk of a war did occur, many Military advisors saw the use of nuclear missiles as the deterring factor when dealing with the Soviet Union. The idea behind this concept was that Soviet forces would seek ceasefire if the West moved to use nuclear weapons. The final outcome of the Proud Prophet war game would show the need to resolve global issues in times of war or potential war. The outcome of an all-out nuclear war is the total destruction of both sides involved, and a death toll nearly reaching half a billion with the remaining dying from starvation or lethal doses of radiation. The government file for Proud Prophet was not declassified until December 20, 2012, and was only declassified in part. There is no known reason why it was unclassified under the Obama administration.


Operation RYAN (or RYaN, Russian: РЯН, IPA: [rʲæn]) was a Cold War military intelligence program run by the Soviet Union during the early 1980s when they believed the United States was planning for an imminent first strike attack. The name is an acronym for Raketno-Yadernoe Napadenie (Russian: Ракетно-ядерное нападение, "Nuclear Missile Attack"). The purpose of the operation was to collect intelligence on potential contingency plans of the Reagan administration to launch a nuclear first strike against the Soviet Union. The program was initiated in May 1981 by Yuri Andropov, then chairman of the KGB.

According to the historian Christopher Andrew, Andropov suffered from a "Hungarian complex" from his personal experience of the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. He had, as the Soviet ambassador to Hungary, "watched in horror from the windows of his embassy as officers of the hated Hungarian security service were strung up from lampposts". Andropov remained haunted for the rest of his life by the speed with which an apparently all-powerful Communist one-party state had begun to topple. Leonid Brezhnev and Yuri Andropov, then Chairman of the KGB, justified the creation of Operation RYaN because, they claimed, the United States was "actively preparing for nuclear war" against the Soviet Union and its allies. According to a newly released Stasi report, the primary "Chekist work" discussed in the May 1981 meeting was the "demand to allow for 'no surprise.'"The Soviet defector Oleg Gordievsky divulged a top-secret KGB telegram sent to the London KGB residency in February 1983. It stated: "The objective of the assignment is to see that the Residency works systematically to uncover any plans in preparation by the main adversary [USA] for RYAN and to organize a continual watch to be kept for indications of a decision being taken to use nuclear weapons against the USSR or immediate preparations being made for a nuclear missile attack." An attachment listed seven "immediate" and thirteen "prospective" tasks for the agents to complete and report. These included: the collection of data on potential places of evacuation and shelter, an appraisal of the level of blood held in blood banks, observation of places where nuclear decisions were made and where nuclear weapons were stored, observation of key nuclear decision makers, observation of lines of communication, reconnaissance of the heads of churches and banks, and surveillance of security services and military installations.RYAN took on a new significance after the announcement of plans to deploy Pershing II nuclear-armed missiles to West Germany. These missiles were designed to be launched from road-mobile vehicles, making the launch sites very hard to find. The flight time from West Germany to European Russia was only four to six minutes (approximate flying time from six to eight minutes from West Germany to Moscow), giving the Soviets little or no warning.

On 23 March 1983 Ronald Reagan publicly announced development of the Strategic Defense Initiative. The Soviet government felt that the purpose of SDI technology was to render the US invulnerable to Soviet attack, thereby allowing the US to launch missiles against the USSR without fear of retaliation. This concern about a surprise attack prompted the sudden expansion of the RYAN program. The level of concern reached its peak after the Soviets shot down KAL 007 near Moneron Island on 1 September 1983, and during the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation exercise Able Archer 83. The Soviet Union believed that a United States first strike on the Soviet Union was imminent.Although Andropov died in February 1984, RYAN continued to be maintained and developed under the direction of Victor Chebrikov. Consultations held in August 1984 between the STASI's head of the Main Directorate of Reconnaissance, Markus Wolf and KGB experts discussed the early detection of potential war preparations in adversaries and indicated that the First Chief Directorate of the KGB was proposing to create a new division to deal exclusively with RYAN. 300 positions within the KGB were earmarked for RYAN of which 50 were reserved for the new division.Operation RYAN continued to be maintained until at least April 1989.

The Day After

The Day After is an American television film that first aired on November 20, 1983 (coincidentally just a few days after NATO's command post exercise Able Archer 83), on the ABC television network. More than 100 million people, in nearly 39 million households, watched the program during its initial broadcast. With a 46 rating and a 62% share of the viewing audience during its initial broadcast, it was the seventh-highest-rated non-sports show up to that time and set a record as the highest-rated television film in history—a record it still held as recently as a 2009 report.The film postulates a fictional war between NATO forces and the Warsaw Pact countries that rapidly escalates into a full-scale nuclear exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union. The action itself focuses on the residents of Lawrence, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri, as well as several family farms situated near nuclear missile silos.The cast includes JoBeth Williams, Steve Guttenberg, John Cullum, Jason Robards, and John Lithgow. The film was written by Edward Hume, produced by Robert Papazian, and directed by Nicholas Meyer. It was released on DVD on May 18, 2004, by MGM.

Ulbricht Doctrine

The Ulbricht Doctrine, named after East German leader Walter Ulbricht, was the assertion that normal diplomatic relations between East Germany and West Germany could occur only if both states fully recognised each other's sovereignty. That contrasted with the Hallstein Doctrine, a West German policy which insisted that West Germany was the only legitimate German state.

East Germany gained acceptance of its view from fellow Communist states, such as Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, and Bulgaria, which all agreed not to normalise relations with West Germany until it recognised East German sovereignty.

West Germany eventually abandoned its Hallstein Doctrine, instead adopting the policies of Ostpolitik. In December 1972, a Basic Treaty between East and West Germany was signed that reaffirmed two German states as separate entities. The treaty also allowed the exchange of diplomatic missions and the entry of both German states to the United Nations as full members.

Warsaw Pact Early Warning Indicator Project

The Warsaw Pact Early Warning Indicator Project was a highly classified US and Allied program designed to gather intelligence that would provide indicators of impending Soviet nuclear attacks before they occurred. It was the American analogue to Operation RYAN.

Western Bloc

The Western Bloc during the Cold War refers to capitalist countries under the hegemony of the United States and NATO against the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. The latter were referred to as the Eastern Bloc. The governments and press of the Western Bloc were more inclined to refer to themselves as the "Free World" or the "Western world", whereas the Eastern Bloc was often called the "Communist world or Second world".

World War III

World War III (WWIII or WW3) and the Third World War are names given to a hypothetical third worldwide large-scale military conflict subsequent to World War I and World War II. The term has been in use since at least as early as 1941. Some have applied it loosely to refer to limited or smaller conflicts such as the Cold War or the War on Terror, while others assumed that such a conflict would surpass prior world wars both in its scope and its destructive impact.Because of the development and use of nuclear weapons near the end of World War II and their subsequent acquisition and deployment by many countries, the potential risk of a nuclear devastation of Earth's civilization and life is a common theme in speculations about a Third World War. Another major concern is that biological warfare could cause a very large number of casualties, either intentionally or inadvertently by an accidental release of a biological agent, the unexpected mutation of an agent, or its adaptation to other species after use. High-scale apocalyptic events like these, caused by advanced technology used for destruction, could potentially make the Earth's surface uninhabitable.

Prior to the beginning of the Second World War, the First World War (1914–1918) was believed to have been "the war to end all wars," as it was popularly believed that never again could there possibly be a global conflict of such magnitude. During the Interwar period between the two world wars, WWI was typically referred to simply as "The Great War." The outbreak of World War II in 1939 disproved the hope that mankind might have already "outgrown" the need for such widespread global wars.

With the advent of the Cold War in 1945 and with the spread of nuclear weapons technology to the Soviet Union, the possibility of a third global conflict became more plausible. During the Cold War years, the possibility of a Third World War was anticipated and planned for by military and civil authorities in many countries. Scenarios ranged from conventional warfare to limited or total nuclear warfare. At the height of the Cold War, a scenario referred to as Mutually Assured Destruction ("MAD") had been calculated which determined that an all-out nuclear confrontation would most certainly destroy all or nearly all human life on the planet. The potential absolute destruction of the human race may have contributed to the ability of both American and Soviet leaders to avoid such a scenario.

Events (1964–1982)
Events (1982–1985)
Politburo members
National economy
Brezhnev's family
Frozen conflicts
Foreign policy
See also

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