War Scare: Russia and America on the Nuclear Brink

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He believed this feeling was almost visceral, not intellectual, and deeply affected Soviet thinking. American bombers also flew directly towards Soviet airspace , peeling off at the last moment, sometimes several times per week.

How a Nato war game took the world to brink of nuclear disaster

These near-penetrations were designed to test Soviet radar vulnerability as well as demonstrate US capabilities in a nuclear war. William Schneider , [former] undersecretary of state for military assistance and technology, who saw classified "after-action reports" that indicated U. 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. Office of Naval Intelligence to study Soviet radar characteristics, aircraft capabilities, and tactical maneuvers.

On April 4 at least six U. 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.

All 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. 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. Freedom and democracy will leave Marxism and Leninism on the ash heap of history. On March 23, , 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.

Exclusive - inside a Russian Nuclear bunker - Cold War - This Week - 1991

Yuri Andropov , who had become General Secretary following Brezhnev's death in November , criticised Reagan for "inventing new plans on how to unleash a nuclear war in the best way, with the hope of winning it". The Pershing II was capable of destroying Soviet "hard targets" such as underground missile silos and command and control bunkers. 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.

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. On the night of September 26, , 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. 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. 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.

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.

Russia and America on the Nuclear Brink

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 Thus, on November 7, , as Soviet intelligence services were attempting to detect the early signs of a nuclear attack, NATO began to simulate one.

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.

The Work Of A Nation. The Center of Intelligence.

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. 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 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.

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. Another illusory indicator likely noticed by Soviet analysts was a high rate of ciphered communications between the United Kingdom and the United States.


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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". In reality, the burst of communication was about the US invasion of Grenada on October 25, , which caused a great deal of diplomatic traffic as the sovereign of the island was Elizabeth II.

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. 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.

While these phases were simulated, alarmist KGB agents mistakenly reported them as actual. It is considered that war is inevitable and may start at any moment.

How a Nato war game took the world to brink of nuclear disaster

According to a 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. This is why the crisis has similarities to the west-versus-Russia tension that surrounds us today.

The year began badly with an escalation of moralistic rhetoric. This Strategic Defence Initiative, which became known as Star Wars, could eventually allow the US to launch a nuclear attack with impunity. As Soviet paranoia increased, a South Korean airliner, KAL, that had strayed illegally for more than two hours into Soviet air space was shot down in September, killing all people on board. The Russians mistook it for an American spy plane that had been in the area a short time earlier.


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Taylor Downing is a historian and film-maker who has interviewed the Soviet pilot who downed the plane and several other US and Soviet military and political figures from the time. The accident became a propaganda godsend.

'The Brink': How Ronald Reagan, Soviet Union stared at nuclear war

George Shultz, the secretary of state, said the it showed typical Soviet callousness and neglect of human life. Not for the first or last time, outrage and preconceptions about the inherent barbarity of the adversary swept everything else aside. As with the Skripal poisoning case, outrage and preconceptions about the inherent barbarity of the adversary swept everything else aside, drowning out whatever might later emerge from the specialists who were sifting the evidence without being allowed to speak publicly.

For the first time long-range US B52 planes were used and Nato changed its codes during the exercise, alarming Soviet agents.

The Soviet-American Arms Race

By making use of a wealth of declassified and unclassified material, Dr. Pry illustrates how Russia's brutal past continues to shape the consciousness and decision making of its leaders, many of whom are unreconstructed ideologues from the old Soviet regime. Gripped by a perpetual perception of imminent threat-a war scare-the Russian General Staff, which controls the technical capability of launching a nuclear strike, has shown itself to be unstable at best.

The author explores recent history and near-disasters such as the Bosnian crisis, the Norway missile incident, and U.

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