the closest the world has come to nuclear war since 1962

Es­ti­mated reading time is 5 min­utes.

PRESIDENT OBAMA ad­dressed the na­tion and the world ON Sep­tember 10, 2014, con­cerning his con­cerns with the in­sur­rec­tions and ter­rorist ac­tiv­i­ties of Muslim groups in the Middle East. His an­nounce­ment opened with “My fellow Amer­i­cans, tonight I want to speak to you about what the United States will do with our friends and al­lies to de­grade and ul­ti­mately de­stroy the ter­rorist group known as ISIL. 

The saber-rattling and threats of un­de­clared war on ISIL and re­lated ter­ror­ists continued:

“Our ob­jec­tive is clear: we will de­grade, and ul­ti­mately de­stroy, ISIL through a com­pre­hen­sive and sus­tained counter-terrorism strategy. First, we will con­duct a sys­tem­atic cam­paign of airstrikes against these terrorists.

Working with the Iraqi gov­ern­ment, we will ex­pand our ef­forts be­yond pro­tecting our own people and hu­man­i­tarian mis­sions so that we’re hit­ting ISIL tar­gets as Iraqi forces go on offense.

More­over, I have made it clear that we will hunt down ter­ror­ists who threaten our country, wher­ever they are. That means I will not hes­i­tate to take ac­tion against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core prin­ciple of my pres­i­dency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”


AbleArcher Cartoon

Handing off wars

I posted a no­tice from about the President’s an­nounce­ment on my Face­book page that in­cluded, “The White House has in­di­cated that this strategy could take up­ward of three years to execute.”

I fol­lowed that with a flip re­mark: “Gee, one pres­i­dent handing off a new war to the next. Then that pres­i­dent will have to carry that war on while taking no re­spon­si­bility be­cause the former pres­i­dent caused it. How novel . . .”

This led to sev­eral com­ments from others and a brief dis­cus­sion of the meaning of the word “war” as an op­er­a­tive, mean­ingful term (mil­i­tarily, po­lit­i­cally, cul­tur­ally, etc.).

A high school mate sug­gested that we “Listen to the pod­cast today to learn of the global march to war from the west against Russia.”

Which caused me to in­quire, “Do you re­member the brouhaha that the Reagan people put on having a new first-strike plan against the USSR to match the one they had on us?”

The an­swer that I sought con­cerned the closest the world has come to nu­clear war since the Cuban Mis­sile Crisis . . .



“The Amer­ican in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity did not ini­tially per­ceive the risk of nu­clear mis­cal­cu­la­tion that Able Archer 83 in­volved. Only in re­sponse to British con­cerns were in­tel­li­gence re­ports drafted on the War Scare, the most omi­nous of which—from CIA Di­rector William Casey to Pres­i­dent Ronald Reagan and other cab­inet officials—warned of a di­men­sion of gen­uine­ness and high mil­i­tary costs to the So­viet ac­tions.” (Able Archer 83 Source­book)

Planning for an imminent attack

Op­er­a­tion Ryan (or RYaN) was a So­viet mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence pro­gram de­vised to coun­teract the pos­si­bility of a first-strike nu­clear at­tack by the Reagan Ad­min­is­tra­tion. “During the early 1980s, they be­lieved the US was plan­ning for an im­mi­nent 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.

RYaN took on a new sig­nif­i­cance after the an­nounce­ment of US plans to de­ploy Per­shing II nuclear-capable 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 Moscow was 6-8 min­utes, giving the So­viets little or no warning.

On March 23, 1983, Reagan pub­licly an­nounced the de­vel­op­ment of the Strategic De­fense Ini­tia­tive (SDI). The So­viet gov­ern­ment felt that the use 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.

The level of con­cern reached its peak after the So­viets shot down KAL 007 on Sep­tember 1, 1983, and during the NATO ex­er­cise Able Archer 83. The So­viet Union be­lieved that a United States’ first strike on the So­viet Union was im­mi­nent.”  (adapted from Wikipedia)

“Able Archer 83 was a ten-day NATO com­mand post ex­er­cise starting on No­vember 2, 1983,that spanned Western Eu­rope. Able Archer sim­u­lated a pe­riod of con­flict es­ca­la­tion, cul­mi­nating in a sim­u­lated DEFCON 1 co­or­di­nated nu­clear attack.

The re­al­istic na­ture of the 1983 ex­er­cise led some mem­bers of the So­viet Polit­buro and mil­i­tary to be­lieve that it was a ruse of war, ob­scuring prepa­ra­tions for a gen­uine nu­clear first strike. In re­sponse, the So­viets readied their nu­clear forces and placed air units in East Ger­many and Poland on alert.

The “1983 war scare” is con­sid­ered by many his­to­rians to be the closest the world has come to nu­clear war since the Cuban Mis­sile Crisis of 1962. The threat of nu­clear war ended with the con­clu­sion of the ex­er­cise on No­vember 11, 1983.” (adapted from Wikipedia)



A map for the Able Archer war game ex­er­cise. The op­er­a­tion was “a NATO ex­er­cise that uti­lized new nu­clear weapons re­lease pro­ce­dures to sim­u­late the tran­si­tion from con­ven­tional to nu­clear war with the So­viet Union. Al­though US of­fi­cials saw Able Archer 83 as a rou­tine ex­er­cise, it re­sulted in an un­prece­dented So­viet re­ac­tion which US in­tel­li­gence even­tu­ally in­ferred was an ex­pres­sion of a gen­uine be­lief on the part of So­viet leaders that US was plan­ning a nu­clear first strike.” (Able Archer 83 Source­book)

 This was not hush-hush

If I am re­mem­bering cor­rectly, front-page ar­ti­cles de­tailed the op­er­a­tion and how the “ex­er­cise” would pro­voke an in­evitable So­viet re­sponse and WWIII would com­mence and we would win. Amer­ican ca­su­al­ties were pro­jected at 75,000,000, an ac­cept­able number to as­sure de­feat and the end of the threat of a Russian first strike and the over­riding Com­mu­nist Threat.

Of course, now that the USSR is his­tory and we have mil­lions of pages of their doc­u­ments and have de­briefed Grom­mett only knows how many mil­i­tary, po­lit­ical, KGB, etc. mem­bers we know that there never was a So­viet first-strike plan. As usual, they were afraid of Amer­ican belligerence.

So, those of us forced to ques­tion just about every­thing may be won­dering: Did Amer­ican “in­tel­li­gence” know all along that there NEVER was a first-strike threat posed by the So­viet Union; that we were just end­lessly f*cking with them while lying to the Amer­ican people (and raising sev­eral gen­er­a­tions where non-focused “back­ground” para­noia was a normal, if not down­right healthy, re­sponse to the world)?

Or were mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence and the CIA and the FBI (etc.) com­pletely ig­no­rant of the fact that our nation’s greatest fear was self-created?

The latter is truly fright­ening: it poses the basis for an ar­gu­ment against the ne­ces­sity of any “in­tel­li­gence” agen­cies if they can’t un­cover or di­vine this sort of ul­ti­mate information 

Of course, the former is even more horrifying . . .


DrStrangelove SterlingHayden 1500

FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page is of Gen­eral Jack Ripper in the 1964 movie Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Wor­rying and Love the Bomb, played with suit­able paranoid-delusional aplomb by Ster­ling Hayden. It was his de­ci­sion to kick off World War III to pro­tect Amer­i­ca’s pre­cious bodily fluids from Com­mu­nist imperfection.


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