Able Archer 83

The Secret History of the NATO Exercise That Almost Triggered Nuclear War
Edited by:

From the National Security Archive, the little-known story of how the United States and the Soviet Union came close to nuclear war during the Reagan years, told through newly declassified documents

“In 1983, according to recently declassified documents, the Russians apparently became convinced that a NATO nuclear training exercise code named Able Archer 83 was a cover for an actual nuclear strike against Warsaw Pact nations.” —The New York Times, November 9, 2015

In November 1983, Soviet nuclear forces went on high alert. After months nervously watching increasingly assertive NATO military posturing, Soviet intelligence agencies in Western Europe received flash telegrams reporting alarming activity on U.S. bases. In response, the Soviets began planning for a countdown to a nuclear first strike by NATO on Eastern Europe. And then Able Archer 83, a vast NATO war game exercise that modeled a Soviet attack on NATO allies, ended.

What the West didn’t know at the time was that the Soviets thought Operation Able Archer 83 was real and were actively preparing for a surprise missile attack from NATO. This close scrape with Armageddon was largely unknown until October 2015, when the U.S. government released a ninety-four-page presidential analysis of Able Archer that the National Security Archive had spent over a decade trying to declassify. Able Archer 83 tells the story of the fateful NATO exercise through a selection of declassified documents that archive staffer Nate Jones has pried loose from several U.S. government agencies and British archives, as well as from formerly classified Soviet Politburo and KGB files, vividly recreating the atmosphere that nearly unleashed nuclear war.

Praise

Able Archer 83 brings us back to a moment when we all came close to becoming cinders or radioactive corpses. It’s an important contribution to our understanding of how the Cold War played out, and how erroneous assumptions routinely become institutionalized policy, which then becomes almost irresistible.”
—Glenn L. Carle, a former CIA officer and author of The Interrogator
Able Archer 83 is an invaluable resource on one of the most dangerous moments of the Cold War. The book contains an unmatched collection of previously secret documents about the War Scare of 1983 and the Able Archer exercise at the center of it. If you want to learn from history, this is the place to start.”
—David E. Hoffman, author of The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy
“Twenty-one years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, a NATO exercise, Able Archer 83, came terrifyingly close to precipitating an accidental nuclear war. Nate Jones’s brilliantly researched and gripping history of government miscalculations and misjudgments on both sides of the iron curtain during this war game, poses the 21st century’s most serious existential question: How many nuclear bullets can humanity dodge? Read it and reckon! I don’t think you will like the answer.”
—Martin J. Sherwin, University Professor of History at George Mason University and author of A World Destroyed: Hiroshima and Its Legacies