So, I did an interview on radio today about Able Archer, the 1983 NATO exercise that apparently scared the poo out of the Kremlin. There are still analysts who think this wasn't much of a fuss, but more declassified documents suggest it was plenty scary. A few notes. /1
The declassified stuff now confirms that US intelligence saw a sudden and unusual alert of Soviet forces, esp in East Germany, as if they were preparing for a nuclear strike. Analysts looking at this later have been trying to untangle why it wasn't a much bigger alert. /2
So, reading through the declassified stuff in the new volume of Foreign Relations of the U.S., there are some clues, and they add to what we know already. First, it's clear there was dissent within the Kremlin about the level of the U.S. threat. We knew this part. /3
The Soviets, since Carter's turn to the right after 78, were having conflicts among themselves about U.S. intentions and nuclear war. Some in Moscow were certain war was coming, others were less sure. But 1983 was a key year: KAL 007, SDI, Grenada. /4
But here's the revelation in the new stuff: Soviet units went on alert *just enough* to be able to hit back from a *theater-level* strike. They were hedging their bets against the insane notion that NATO, vastly outnumbered, was going to take them out with nukes. /5
This was complete nuttery, as Reagan noted in his diaries: ("What the hell have they got that anyone wants?") But the Kremlin had been drinking its own kool-aid too long, and had convinced itself that NATO would attack with nukes under the guise of a military exercise. /6
They *had* to believe this because there was no way to square the ideological commitment to "NATO is an aggressor" with "NATO is hopelessly outgunned by, um, us." So when we ran a war game that was more provocative than usual - testing nuclear release - they panicked. /7
Well, not all of "them," and the full answer is still in a Russian archive somewhere. But someone in a super-senior position said: "Yes, let's prep for a nuclear shootout from a standing-still position during a surprise attack." Again, sheer lunacy, but that was the USSR. /8
The CIA has tried to be kind of "whatever" about this, because there's obvs still disagreement in the Agency about how bad this was, and if it was bad, should CIA have caught it faster. But there's a tell in the declassified stuff... /9
Here's the passage from FRUS:

>Contrary to the impression conveyed by Soviet propaganda, Moscow
does not appear to anticipate a near-term military confrontation with
the United States; another analysis presented evidence that [text not declassified].<
I will bet non-worthless-rubles that the [not declassified] part says something like "evidence that the Soviets were losing their shit over this and getting ready to go to war" and like so much stuff involving the word "nu-ku-lar," it flunked the declassification test. /11
There's a lot of evidence from Soviet archives that this was *exactly* what some of the top Soviet leadership was worried about. Now, some analysts note that it couldn't have been this serious because it was limited to USSR units and not that big. This misses an important pt. /12
The key was:
1. How do you get ready to take a nuclear hit, but not start WWIII if you're wrong?
2. How do you get ready and not stampede the enemy into going first (or at all?)
3. Why rile up your allies - who hate you, mostly - with a war scare until you're certain?

4. If you're part of the leadership and you *don't* think this is war, but you've got the Defense Ministry in your face, you've got to allow them to do *something*.

5. Who allowed it? Dunno. The answer is in a file in Moscow.

And I would be *very* wary of any sudden archival "finds" while Putin's around, because Putin has no interest in a conclusion that the Kremlin was run by geriatric loons. Because it was. And that system created him.
Anyway, there's more to say about this, but the bottom line is that we came pretty close to war in 1983 and we didn't even know it. Good thing that USAF general (Perroots) didn't approve an in-kind escalation of alertness levels or we might not be sitting here. /16
There's an answer to this in Moscow somewhere. We'll know eventually. But the evidence that this was a near-miss is stronger today than yesterday.

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