Ad Choices, New Documents Reveal How a 1980s Nuclear War Scare Became a Full-Blown Crisis. In 1812, Napoleon Bonaparte launched an invasion numbering over 600,000 men into Russia. Was this really just an exercise, or was it a ruse for the dreaded first strike? There are nine countries that possess nuclear weapons. In the end, it was the effort of RYAN that helped convince the Kremlin that they were reading too much into Able Archer 83. The board, which conducts oversight of the U.S. intelligence community for the White House, … Both were engaged in sabre rattling with the Soviet Union. These types of exercises were normal and regular occurrences. © 2020 Condé Nast. It was so bad that multiple informants warned the CIA in the United States about the Soviet concern. Memories and fears of a teenager growing up in the 1980's with the threat of a nuclear war a distinct reality.. Although for the 70 years after 1945 no second nuclear explosion has been used against humans, many people, especially youth, are suffering from the fear of nuclear threat… In 1950, the US National Security Council released NSC-68, a secret policy paper that called for quadrupling defense spending in order to meet the perceived Soviet threat. According to KGB instructions sent to agents in London, Soviet spies were to monitor bomb shelters, blood banks, military bases and key financial and religious leaders for signs of war preparations. According to the CIA article, RYaN was "for real" and accelerated in the early 1980s during the scare. Similar symptoms were found in the fifth-grade students of a private school. "I know many military people who look like normal people, but it was difficult to explain to them that waging nuclear war was not feasible. Fear that the world would soon end in nuclear war was real, and in Britain we felt close to the frontline. The arms race led many Americans to fear that nuclear war could happen at any time, and the US government urged citizens to prepare to survive an atomic bomb. It was so bad that the Kremlin Central Committee slept in shifts. Entire sections of the KGB were assigned to Operation RYAN, which was a mission to see if the US and NATO were indeed about to attack. The author gives an in-depth look at the nuclear arsenals of the major powers - the U.S., U.S.S.R, United Kingdom, France, and China - and their composition - bombers, ICBMs, submarines, etc. Superpower mutual suspicion was rife in the early 1980s. We don't know what Hartman said in response, but John McMahon, the CIA director at the time, believed the Soviets were simply "rattling their pots and pans" to stop further Pershing II deployments. Despite the avoidance of nuclear war, that time was filled with a threat of mutual annihilation from paranoia and massive militia and arsenals glowering at each other. That was the conclusion of a highly classified report issued in 1990 by the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, or PFIAB.. Considering the consequences of a war, and how close it came, those comments certainly ring true. In less than 150 years, Russia had suffered the two largest military invasions in the history of mankind. This statement was a sign that the Soviets had no desire for detente to deteriorate to that point. They went so far as to spy on religious leaders to see if their sermons were developing into a more war-oriented message. Documents obtained by Jones detail a massive KGB intelligence-gathering mission called Operation RYaN. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our User Agreement (updated 1/1/20) and Privacy Policy and Cookie Statement (updated 1/1/20) and Your California Privacy Rights. Newly declassified documents from the CIA, NSA, KGB, and senior officials in both countries reveal just how close we came to mutually assured destruction -- over a military exercise. When informed of just how badly the Russians were afraid of such an invasion and strike, President Reagan was amazed; not even sure the reports could be accurate. The Kremlin's Central Committee slept in shifts. However, it did "review, approve for release, stamp, and send a printout of a Wikipedia article," he noted. Ambassador Averell Harriman as early as May 1983 that the two sides were getting perilously close to becoming embroiled in such a misunderstanding. The Atomic Cafe (1983) is a clever, satirical documentary made up of archive footage from a variety of sources from the late 1940s to the early 1960 addressing every aspect of cold war era nuclear anxiety. It seems incredible to consider this now…even … The period 1982-1984 marked the most dangerous Soviet-American confrontation since the Cuban Missile Crisis. In fact, the whole simulation was based upon how NATO would transition from conventional war to the releasing nuclear warheads against the Soviet Union. The percentage of students who said they worried often about nuclear war rose from 7 percent in 1975 to 30 percent in 1980 and has remained at … According to a diplomatic memo obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by National Security Archives researcher Nate Jones, Soviet General Secretary Yuri Adroprov warned U.S. ambassador Averell Harriman six months before the crisis that both countries "may be moving toward a red line" in which a miscalculation could spark a nuclear war. We had a lot of arguments in this respect. "Many of the assigned observations would have been very poor indicators of a nuclear attack," Jones warns. Diverse in its topics and disciplinary approaches, Nuclear Threats, Nuclear Fear and the Cold War of the 1980s makes a fundamental contribution to the emerging historiography of the 1980s as a whole. That exercise, Able Archer 83, simulated the transition by NATO from a conventional war to a nuclear war, culminating in the simulated release of warheads against the Soviet Union. (The complete list of unclassified documents are collected at the Archives' website, with two more sets of documents to follow.) This attack cost the Russians millions of casualties alone, besides the massive German losses. The Soviets interpreted the simulation as a ruse to conceal a first strike and readied their nukes. War was fortunately avoided, yet there were few times in the Cold War era when WWIII came so close to being a reality. Russians, however, have a well-founded fear of attack. Russians - Sting ― It didn’t help Soviet paranoia that the United States had positioned large numbers of Pershing II ballistic missiles, making a first-strike by Russia an untenable option. He believed this feeling was almost visceral, not intellectual, and deeply affected Soviet thinking.". Jones did not get all the information he asked for. Even Mr. Rogers released a five episodes in 1983 as part of a “Conflict” series. Deterrence (1999) Not a whole lot of people saw this low-budget indie film … Harriman later wrote that he believed Andropov was concerned "over the state of U.S.-Soviet relations and his desire to see them at least 'normalized,' if not improved.". 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However, this time NATO changed its readiness level to the highest condition, DEFCON 1, which gave the Soviets a more anxious concern. "The president referred to the Soviet Union as the Evil Empire, and was determined to spend it into the ground. Glad It's All Over - Captain Sensible 3. New Documents Reveal How a 1980s Nuclear War Scare Became a Full-Blown Crisis Over 10 days in November 1983, the U.S. and the Soviet Union nearly started a nuclear war. Both sides packed a formidable punch - hundreds of rockets and thousands of nuclear warheads capable of reducing the other to rubble. General Varfolomei Korobushin would describe the early 80’s as a pre-conflict era of Russian history. To revist this article, visit My Profile, then View saved stories. Still, we do have more evidence of serious Soviet preparations. The NSA told him it had 81 more documents, but did not release them. If a conventional war erupted, Soviet planners worried their troops would come close to capturing the nuclear-tipped missiles, prompting the United States to fire them. Unfortunately, as far as I know, there are a lot of stupid people both in NATO and our country.". Five of these (the The Soviet Union, according to an unclassified article written for the CIA's classified Studies in Intelligence journal and provided to Jones, notes that Soviet fears of a preemptive American nuclear attack "while exaggerated, were scarcely insane." Nuclear War and Nuclear Fear in the 1970s and 1980s In September 1949, brooding over the recent discovery that the Soviet Union had tested an atomic weapon, George Kennan wrote a telling note in his diary. Not just any exercise could have caused a near-war. 'Brilliantly framed with deeply researched and consistently insightful essays ranging from popular culture and media, and activist efforts to create nuclear free zones to how nuclear anxiety changes domestic and foreign policy in the United States and Europe, Nuclear Threats, Nuclear Fear and the Cold War of the 1980s is indispensable reading for anyone seeking to understand the 1980s. It was the largest invasion in military history up to that point and resulted in over a million casualties from both sides. A military exercise. The paranoia reached an insanity level. Oleg Gordievsky, a CIA and MI6 source during the Cold War, was previously known to have warned the West about these fears, but the CIA article identifies a second source of this information: a Czech intelligence officer with ties to the KGB who "noted that his counterparts were obsessed with the historical parallel between 1941 and 1983. All rights reserved. Few moments in history have been scarier than the ten days in November 1983 when the world held its breath as the United States and the Soviet Union almost came to a full-blown nuclear conflict that would have left millions dead. The early 1980s was a "crisis period, a pre-wartime period," said Gen. Varfolomei Korobushin, the former deputy chief of staff of the Soviet nuclear Strategic Rocket Forces, according to an interview conducted by the Pentagon in the early 1990s and obtained by Jones. A survey of college students in 1980 found most believing they were going to die in a thermo-nuclear holocaust. In 1941 Hitler launched millions of troops into Russia in Operation Barbarossa, the largest invasion in military history. A very genuine invasion fear persevered among the populace, spurred on by President Reagan’s personal belief that the Soviets were the Evil Empire, on par if not worse than their one-time Nazi allies, the Wired.com reports. deployment of Pershing II ballistic missiles. Perhaps the strongest cultural reflection of this fear was the television film The Day After, … This stemmed from the Soviet experience during World War II, when the Third Reich launched Operation Barbarossa, the largest invasion in human history. NATO changed its readiness condition during Able Archer to DEFCON 1, the highest level. The material on this site may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used, except with the prior written permission of Condé Nast. President Reagan wasn't sure, and in March, 1984, asked Arthur Hartman, his ambassador to the Soviet Union, "Do you think Soviet leaders really fear us, or is all the huffing and puffing just part of their propaganda?" Soviet officials worried history might be repeated by NATO. There were fears the deployment of Pershing II ballistic missiles to Europe (also in November 1983) could tip the balance. I Won't Let The Sun Go Down On Me - Nik Kershaw 2. An eleven-year-old girl complained to her psychiatrist that she was afraid of not having enough time to commit suicide if war started.5 A ten-year-old boy was taken to a doctor to be cured of insomnia and nightmares caused by fear of nuclear war. This thread is dedicated to listing as many of those 80s cold war/nuclear fear lyrics as possible, and let's see if we can get to 100 and maybe beyond: 1. The spies of Operation RYAN monitored everything — the status of bomb-shelters, official publications to the public, the manufacturing status of war-materials. Over 10 days in November 1983, the U.S. and the Soviet Union nearly started a nuclear war. This was the height of the Cold War between the USSR and the U.S. Since the first, and only, military use of nuclear weapons in World War II, killing 200 thousand Japanese, nuclear bombs have ranked the 1st killer that may destroy the earth. ", Worse, there were "a lot of crazy people" in the Kremlin and Soviet military command, according to Vitalii Tsygichko, an analyst for the Soviet General Staff who was interviewed by the Pentagon. Diverse in its topics and disciplinary approaches, Nuclear Threats, Nuclear Fear and the Cold War of the 1980s makes a fundamental contribution to the emerging historiography of the 1980s as a whole. All of this stoked real fear among young people that we could see a nuclear war in our lifetime. ... evidence to suggest the Kremlin’s fear was indeed genuine. Mutually assured destruction (MAD) is a doctrine of military strategy and national security policy in which a full-scale use of nuclear weapons by two or more opposing sides would cause the complete annihilation of both the attacker and the defender (see pre-emptive nuclear strike and second strike). It is based on the theory of … Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the general public became increasingly concerned with the continuous and growing threat of war and nuclear war in particular, and the - by then - international peace and anti-nuclear movements grew dramatically with many protests, happenings and activist events to spread awareness and push for … There are sections on nuclear proliferation, likely scenarios that might spark a nuclear conflaguration (even then, Kashmir was seen as a likely … Two 1980s Nuclear Nightmares If you haven’t had your fill of nuclear doomsday narratives, here are two more. In 1983, the United States and the Soviet Union came dangerously close to nuclear war. The war scare affected Soviet responses to the Reagan administration's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), the administration's condemnation of the Soviet Union following the 1983 shootdown of a South Korean airliner, and a NATO nuclear-release exercise late that same year. Even its name, Able Archer 83, is benign enough. (The name is a Russian acronym for "nuclear missile attack.") The Politburo reciprocated, and the rhetoric on both sides, especially during the first Reagan administration, drove the hysteria. Today, the forgotten fear of nuclear war is being reborn — and we have no popular movement against it The movement for a nuclear free world during the late 1980s was made possible by many. Few moments in history have been scarier than the ten days in November 1983 when the world held its breath as the United States and the Soviet Union almost came to a full-blown nuclear conflict that would have left millions dead. A false alarm could have started nuclear destruction; this sense of urgency prompted Soviet General Secretary Yuri Adroprov to warn U.S. The goal was to find out if and when the United States and NATO would attack. Now newly declassified documents reveal just how close we reached a mutual destruction -- because of an exercise. [7] This led … The breakthroughs and innovations that we uncover lead to new ways of thinking, new connections, and new industries. But in another sense, the scrambling for any scrap of intelligence -- whether good or bad -- reflected a feverish belief among some quarters that war was just around the corner. 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