Thirty years ago this week, war games conducted by the United States and NATO allies were so realistic, they nearly provoked the Soviet Union into launching a nuclear Armageddon, newly released declassified documents obtained by the Nuclear Information Service make clear.
It was a period of heightened tensions. In 1983, President Reagan called the USSR the Evil Empire and proposed “Star Wars,” the development of technology to intercept nuclear missiles.
Then on Sept. 1, Soviet fighter jets shot down a Korean Airlines flight in Russian airspace, killing 269 aboard.
When the allies began maneuvers in Autumn — Operation Able Archer (Nov. 7 to Nov. 11, 1983) — 40,000 troops moved across Western Europe, including 16,044 U.S. forces airlifted overseas in 170 missions conducted in radio silence. The Soviet leader, a sickly Yuri Andropov, believed alarmist KGB reports and deployed nuclear submarines under the Arctic and prepared a dozen aircraft carrying nuclear weapons.
The allies thought the USSR maneuvers were another war game. But the newly released documents reveal how Cold War hysteria reached its peak, The Observer reports.
Paul Dibb, an architect of Australia’s defense strategy and a former top intelligence official, last month suggested that the 1983 exercises posed a greater threat than the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.
You can read the once secret Able Archer after action report from December 1983 here.