Friday, November 06, 2015

The Able Archer 1983 Source Book - Finally!

Soviet TOPOL SS-25 ICBM
The Cold War was (and actually still is) often far from cold in many Asian, African, Middle Eastern and South American countries. At times, we were much closer to a nuclear war than many ever realised. Two events, however, really stand out if it comes to getting truly at the brink of Armageddon.

The first one was the Cuban missile crisis, caused by the Soviet preparations for installing nuclear missiles at a stone's throw from the United States. The second, lesser known crisis was the Soviet reaction to, or rather perception of, NATO exercise Able Archer. The purpose of Able Archer was to test NATO command level communications and the readiness of nuclear armament in Western Europe, with the exercise scenario ending in a fictitious DEFCON 1 alert. The Soviets believed this exercises to be a cover for an actual nuclear attack by NATO against the Soviet Block.

Today, the National Security Archive released over a thousand declassified pages with details on how the Soviets perceived Able Archer and how the exercise lead them to the idea that the Western Allies were about to launch an all-out war against them. The sources include KGB papers, reports from East Germany's STASI, various Warsaw Pact countries and Western intelligence services. They are a real treasure trove that gives you a front seat in the decision making process and the reactions of the various countries involved. More importantly, these documents finally end the speculations about how scary the 1983 War Scare actually was.

All documents are available at the Able Archer Source Book web page. Before submerging in this fascinating Cold War event, you might first want to read the short recap 1983 - The Brink Of Apocalypse that I wrote some years ago, just to get you in the picture, because exercise Able Archer was only the grand final of various events that culminated into tense nerves at the Kremlin.

The documentation of this 1983 War Scare for the National Security Archive was in large part Nate Jones' project. As FOIA coordinator, he succeeded in getting all these wonderful documents declassified and released. In the video below, Nate explains how the Able Archer Source Book was compiled.

I can highly recommend a visit to the Able Archer Source Book pages, the newest addition at the National Security Archive's Nuclear Vault!

1 comment:

James Starbird said...

Some time previous to the Cuban missle installation, wasn't
there a United States missle system put into place in Turkey?
Perhaps that could have prompted the Soviets to a bit of tit-for-tat.