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How Able Was “Able Archer”?: Nuclear Trigger and Intelligence in Perspective


A sharp increase in East-West tensions in the early 1980s sparked a genuine, if unwarranted, war scare in the USSR which the Soviet leader Yurii Andropov tried to exploit for political purposes. Soviet intelligence officials, however, were sufficiently informed about the enemy’s true intentions that they did not sound the alarm in November 1983 when NATO conducted its “Able Archer” exercise, which has been retrospectively misinterpreted as having been capable of provoking nuclear escalation. The increased awareness of the risks inherent in the accumulation of nuclear weaponry, though not that particular incident, spurred President Ronald Reagan to take steps to reassure Moscow that the United States wanted peace—steps that eventually helped defuse the East-West confrontation