Cold War tensions between the increasingly hawkish United States and increasingly paranoid Soviet Union had escalated to a level not seen since the Cuban Missile Crisis because of several factors like the United States' Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI), its planned deployment of Pershing II missiles in Western Europe in the March and April of 1983, and Exercise FleetEx '83, the largest fleet exercise held to date in the North Pacific and the 1983 U.S. Intervention in Grenada. The The Korean Air Flight 007 incident in 1983 had also increased paranoia on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Of all the The Able Archer exercises, Able Archer exercises '83 would almost cause WW3. Most NATO and Eastern Bloc Nations feared for the worst.
The Able Archer exercises were devised as a simulated period of conflict escalation, culminating in a simulated DEFCON 1 coordinated nuclear attack. The Exercise Able Archer '83 exercise also introduced a new, unique format of coded communication, radio silences, and the participation of heads of government.
It was a major event that spanned Western Europe's NATO members and was centred on the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE)’s headquarters in Belgian village of Casteau, north of the city of Mons.
Because it simulated an actual nuclear weapons release, so British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and several NATO technical support units in the nuclear launch drill. United States President Reagan, Vice President George H. W. Bush, and Secretary of Defence Caspar Weinberger were also intended to participate, but did not get round to it. It is to be noted that Robert McFarlane, who had assumed the position of National Security Advisor just two weeks earlier, had uniquely realised the implications of such participation early in the exercise's planning and rejected it. A planned training move through all DEFCON alert phases, from DEFCON 5 to DEFCON 1 would occur. While these phases were simulated, alarmist KGB agents mistakenly reported them as actual.
Soviet Politburo and military chiefs feared the U.S. was conducting a sly and cowardly ruse of war hide a genuine nuclear surprise attack by means of a first strike nuclear assault on them, so the Soviets readied their nuclear forces and placed Warsaw Pact air units in East Germany and Poland on alert in what became known as- the 1983 war scare. The USSR was convinced that the newly arrived Pershing II missile were part of a strike plan that was to take place from the European part of NATO on American orders. The KGB and GRU run Operation RYAN was created a few years earlier to work out just were the Americans were planning to nuke, why and how best to protect them. Their guidance system was self-correcting and the estimated flight time reach targets in the western Soviet Union from West Germany was 4 to 6 after launching. They knew there early launch radar was unreliable as they found out in the 1983 Soviet nuclear false alarm incident and so was of little if any use to them.
The Soviet intelligence establishment thought the burst of coded UK-USA communication tragic regarding the 1983 U.S. Intervention in Grenada was a very cunning and subtle cover for planning a nuclear war in Europe, while military strategists thought it was part of a plan to eventually invade Cuba.
Whilst Soviet forces were awesome on paper a sharp economic decline, shortages in key industries, endemic political corruption and bureaucratic inefficacy had devastated their battle readiness. Many had also started to doubt the value of Life under communism.
The both ailing and geriatric Soviet Politburo aparchics and military chiefs, were de facto led from the death-bed of the terminally ill Yuri Vladimirovich Andropov, a man with no first-hand knowledge of the United States. It was a non-functional dinosaur at the best of times!
During World War II, Andropov took part in partisan guerrilla activities in Finland and the First Secretary of the Central Committee of Komsomol in the Soviet Karelo-Finnish Republic from 1940 to 1944. After the assassination attempt against Brezhnev in January 1969, Andropov led the interrogation of the captured gunman, Viktor Ivanovich Ilyin. Ilyin was pronounced insane and sent to Kazan Psychiatric Hospital.
Andropov was appointed Soviet Ambassador in Hungary and held this position during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and was so terrified by the Hungarians violence, Andropov suffered from a "Hungarian complex", after these events. He believed that the use of violence was the only thing that was safe to use in the in Prague in 1968, in Kabul in 1979, in Warsaw in 1981.
Konstantin Chernenko was also a dying man and was as good as useless as Andropov's deputy. He had negotiated a trade pact with the People's Republic of China and helped Sino-Soviet relations, but he also just let the Cold War escalate with the United States. Later U.S. and the Soviet Union did agree to resume arms control talks in early 1985.
He stopped a visit to West Germany by East German leader Erich Honecker 1984, Chernenko met Britain's Labour Party leader, Neil Kinnock In late autumn of 1984.
The Soviet's politically paranoid and bigoted military and political hierarchy (in particularly the 'old guard' led by the Soviet General Secretary, Yuri Andropov, and the Soviet Defence Minister, Dmitry Ustinov,) feared that the US was both war-waky, militarily provocative, political bigoted and trying to undermine the post Cuba Crisis understanding on how they should act during peace time; thus they were deeply suspicious of US President Ronald Reagan's intentions and openly fearful he was planning a first strike nuclear attack against the Soviet Union. The GDR was also concerned a war was imminent as the USSR and USA squared up for war.
The American Congress established the Baltic Freedom Day in 1982, to be remembered every June 14 in the United States. It was a way of American and Baltic ex-pat remembrance for the Soviet conquest of the Baltic States.
American military psychological operations (PSYOP) ran from 1981 to 1983. It was naked bulling and intimidation on a nation vs nation level. American bombers directly towards Soviet airspace, occasionally several times per week, only turning away last moment, both to test Soviet radar vulnerability as well as a threatening demonstration US capabilities in a nuclear war. President Ronald Reagan was starting to lose his grip over the American military cheifs who were as eager as their Soviet counterparts to unleash the proverbial dogs of war.
NATO naval forces also regularly sailed up the GIUK gap in to the Barents, Norwegian, Black, and Baltic Seas mocking the Soviet's de facto crappy naval power (fuel was in very low supply, pay was crap, spares were running out and food was also getting low) and it's unwillingness to fight. The U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence to snoop on and later study the Soviet’s radar characteristics, aircraft capabilities, and tactical manoeuvres.
On April 4,at least 6 American aircraft flew over Zeleny Island in southern Kurile Islands, which were close to the border with Japan, as part of the Exercise FleetEx '83. In retaliation the Soviets ordered an overflight of America's Aleutian Islands and complained to the UN over the American's airspace violations. A US Navy submarines of the type "LOS ANGELES" class also briefly spying on the Soviets in the in the Okhotsk Sea Exercise FleetEx '83.
America chose to deploy in Europe from 1983 up to 464 USAF Gryphon Ground Launched Cruise Missile (GLCMs) that were based on the US Navy BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missile, as well as 108 US Army Pershing II ballistic missiles. Some SLCM and ALCM were also deployed. RAF Molesworth and Greenham Air Base were the recipients of the non submarine launched missiles.
Many NATO nations proposed arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union to reduce the Soviet and American INF arsenals.
The Soviet Union, believing its only chance of surviving a NATO strike was to pre-empt it, readied its nuclear arsenal. The CIA reported activity in the Baltic Military District, in Czechoslovakia, and it determined that nuclear-capable aircraft in Poland and East Germany were placed "on high alert status with readying of nuclear strike forces" on day 9. The Soviet leaders and spy chiefs saw NATO go rapidly up it's DEFCON security levels whilst using it's unique, never-before-seen procedures and more sophisticated message formats than previous exercises, which they assumed possibly indicated the imminent treat of a surprise nuclear attack, so. SS-20 Saber missile were readied for action in the GDR and western Poland! The Soviet deployment of the technically superior SS-20 missile from 1975 had caused major concern in the NATO alliance.
The eastern branch of the Naval Air Force, tasked with sending its bombers against US carrier fleets, did not trust the information they got from there rundown targeting satellites or other available intelligence methods. They preferred the direct-tracking ship' or 'd-tracker” method in which a destroyer or other ship that shadows the US fleet constantly in peacetime, sending back coordinates just in case a war dose break out.
Many American and some British military and political chiefs were confused by the Soviet's activity in Eastern Europe, thought that things were taking a turn for the worse and feared an unprovoked war was about to happen in Europe.
Secretary of State George P. Shultz generally thought that the USSR would not launch a suicidal and unprovoked atomic war, but generally Speaking, Reagan did not share the secretary's belief that cooler heads would prevail, writing:
"We had many contingency plans for responding to a nuclear attack. But everything would happen so fast that I wondered how much planning or reason could be applied in such a crisis... Six minutes to decide how to respond to a blip on a radar scope and decide whether to unleash Armageddon! How could anyone apply reason at a time like that?"
President Reagan was traumatised by the event and started a new policy of rapprochement Soviet Union to prevent it's recurrence, starting in the early 1984.
According to minister McFarlane, the president responded with "genuine anxiety" in disbelief that a regular NATO exercise could have led to an armed attack.
"Three years had taught me something surprising about the Russians [Soviets]: Many people at the top of the Soviet hierarchy were genuinely afraid of America and Americans. Perhaps this shouldn't have surprised me, but it did...During my first years in Washington, I think many of us in the administration took it for granted that the Russians, like ourselves, considered it unthinkable that the United States would launch a first strike against them. But the more experience I had with Soviet leaders and other heads of state who knew them, the more I began to realize that many Soviet officials feared us not only as adversaries but as potential aggressors who might hurl nuclear weapons at them in a first strike...Well, if that was the case, I was even more anxious to get a top Soviet leader in a room alone and try to convince him we had no designs on the Soviet Union and Russians had nothing to fear from us."
The Deputy Director for Intelligence during Able Archer 83, Robert Gates, has since published his thoughts on the exercise that dispute this conclusion:
Information about the peculiar and remarkably skewed frame of mind of the Soviet leaders during those times that has emerged since the collapse of the Soviet Union makes me think there is a good chance—with all of the other events in 1983—that they really felt a NATO attack was at least possible and that they took a number of measures to enhance their military readiness short of mobilization. After going through the experience at the time, then through the postmortems, and now through the documents, I don't think the Soviets were crying wolf. They may not have believed a NATO attack was imminent in November 1983, but they did seem to believe that the situation was very dangerous. And US intelligence [SNIE 11–9-84 and SNIE 11–10–84] had failed to grasp the true extent of their anxiety.
It has been long rumored that Exercise Able Archer '83 was a secret plot by American politicians, military, secret service and/or 'big business' to force a USSR vs UK\FRG war. President Reagan would have known nothing until the bombs had started to fall and would have thought the USSR had gone crazy. A USSR\USA atomic war would have resulted with a USA victory very likely, but at heavy loss.
As I remember, the British PM Margaret Thatcher, W. German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Polish President Henryk Jabłoński and E. German Present Erich Honecker were very concerned by the escalating super power rhetoric at the time.
7 small anti-East/West conflict protest rallies occurred during the run-up to Able Archer '83 in: West Berlin, East Berlin (it was a set up job by the Stasi, I think), Budapest (several arrests were made), Greenham Common, Rome, Dayton Ohio and Cleveland Ohio
It lasted 9 days.
The USA, UK, FRG, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium and France.
- Exercise Reforger
- Exercise FleetEx '83
- Operation Chrome Dome
- Operation Northern Norway
- Exercise Zapad-81
- Exercise Northern Viking
- Operation Square Leg (1980) and Exercise Hard Rock (1982)
- The Korean Air Flight 007 incident in 1983
- French nuclear plans and the Force de Dissuasion
- Operation Gladio
- Korean Demilitarized Zone
- Inner German Border
- A nuclear\atomic holocaust or nuclear apocalypse
- Exercise Teamwork '88