The 1983 Soviet War Scare Declassified and For Real

A map of Autumn Forge 83 war games, including Able Archer 83, the simulated nuclear climax. Courtesy of National Security Archive.

Grantees in this story

The newly released Soviet "War Scare" report— published in October after a 12-year fight by Carnegie Corporation grantee the National Security Archive – reveals that the 1983 War Scare was real. According to the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB), the United States "may have inadvertently placed our relations with the Soviet Union on a hair trigger" during the 1983 NATO nuclear release exercise, Able Archer 83.  This recently declassified document, the only study written with access to all US intelligence files on US/NATO actions and the Soviet response in the fall of 1983, provides the strongest evidence to date of the likelihood of a preemptive nuclear attack by the USSR.  According to a report in The Washington Post, “the review concluded that for Soviet leaders, the war scare was real, and that U.S. intelligence post­mortems did not take it seriously enough.” National Security Archive director Thomas S. Blanton is quoted in a story in The New York Times: “1983 is a classic, like the Cuban missile crisis, where neither superpower intended to go nuclear, but the risk of inadvertence, miscalculation, misperception were just really high.” Read more about Able Archer here