Did the Cold War of the 1980s nearly turn hot? Much has been made of NATO’s November 1983 Able Archer 83 command post exercise, which the literature typically casts as having nearly precipitated a nuclear war. Warsaw Pact policy-makers, according to the conventional wisdom, suspected that the exercise was more than just a rehearsal of nuclear escalation and concluded that a surprise nuclear attack was imminent, nearly launching a preemptive strike of their own. This paper overturns this narrative using new, international evidence from the political, military, and intelligence archives of the Eastern bloc.
Simon Miles is an Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Russian and Eurasian Studies at Duke University’s Sanford School. A diplomatic historian, Simon’s work focuses on US-Russian relations in particular and Cold War international history in general. His first book, Engaging the ‘Evil Empire’: US-Soviet Relations, 1980–1985 (forthcoming from Cornell University Press), uses archival materials from both sides of the Iron Curtain to understand the origins of the end of the Cold War. He is beginning his second, On Guard for Peace and Socialism, an international history of the Warsaw Pact.