The War Scare That Wasn't: Able Archer 83 and the Myths of the Second Cold War

Journal Article

Did the Cold War of the 1980s nearly turn hot? Much has been made of the November 1983 Able Archer 83 command-post exercise, which is often described as having nearly precipitated a nuclear war when paranoid Warsaw Pact policymakers suspected that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was using the exercise to launch a preemptive nuclear strike. This article challenges that narrative, using new evidence from the archives of the former Warsaw Pact countries. It shows that the much-touted intelligence effort to assess Western intentions and capabilities, Project RYaN, which supposedly triggered fears of a surprise attack, was nowhere near operational at the time of Able Archer 83. It also presents an account of the Pact's sanguine observations of Able Archer 83. In doing so, it advances key debates in the historiography of the late Cold War pertaining to the stability and durability of the nuclear peace.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Miles, S

Published Date

  • August 2020

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 22 / 3

Start / End Page

  • 86 - 118

Published By

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1531-3298

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1520-3972

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1162/jcws_a_00952

Language

  • en