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Friday, June 15, 2018

1983: the Cold War almost goes nuclear

1983: the Cold War almost goes nuclear - History Extra

"Reagan accuses the Soviet Union of being a terrorist state, committing atrocities. And this sort of language the Soviet leadership are not used to hearing about themselves. They're proud men, they regard themselves as the nation that effectively destroyed Nazism in the Second World War. They're a super power with an immense nuclear capability, and they don't like these insults that are coming from the man they perceive as an ex actor in the White House, and they get increasingly riled and nervous by Reagan's aggressive tone.

As far as he's concerned he's just partly playing to his constituency in America, partly playing - he has a constant hostility to Communism which is there throughout his life from, say from the 1940s onwards, he's just saying, what to him is obvious, what's natural. Is not unusual about what he's saying, but he's really upsetting the Kremlin leadership who think there must be something else to this.

They start thinking, well, this isn't just a politician on the huskins talking out to try and win votes. They begin to wonder if this is actually Reagan preparing the American people for the fact that he's going to go to war with the Soviet Union. Seems crazy now, but nevertheless this constant belligerent aggressive tone was really misinterpreted in the Kremlin by the Soviet leadership.

And these are men who haven't traveled in the West... most of them have only been in the West if at all for a few days, a state visit. So they have no real understanding of how American political dialogue operates...

Andropov was not a well man. He was suffering from a variety of complaints. The worst of which was a kidney disease... eventually led to him being put on a kidney dialysis machine. So as this crisis unfolds into the autumn of 1983, the Soviet leader was actually spending several hours a day on a dialysis machine, which is very, very exhausting. And everybody describes how fatigued he looked, but he also wasn't even in the Kremlin. His office had moved to a clinic... just outside Moscow. So he was conducting the leadership of the nation actually from a bed or a private room in a clinic outside Moscow... come November 1983, the poor man is, the entire Politburo, the Soviet leadership have to go out to the clinic every day to see him. He never leaves his bedroom in the clinic...

When you tell an intelligence agency: go out and look for signs, go out and look for evidence of these things, invariably they come back and find those signs. We know that is the history of intelligence. When you say find the evidence of secret weapons, they usually find some evidence and come back. We saw that in the prelude to the Iraq war in 2003 and 20 years before that in 1983, the KGB come back with all sorts of stories, all sorts of reports... they were ticking boxes and able to see more and more boxes being filled. Often for completely unconnected reasons.

About a week before the Able Archer exercise towards the end of October 1983, there is a huge truck bomb in Beirut. This was launched by Hezbollah against the American Marines who were occupying Beirut in the aftermath of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon.

And this had nothing whatsoever to do with US or Western/Eastern relations. But as a consequence of this truck bomb, the Americans put all their bases around the world on maximum alert for terrorist attacks. The Soviet intelligence organization, the KGB pick up on this and say, ha ha. There we go. This is evidence that the US military and NATO are hunkering down in preparation of a nuclear attack...

Reagan launches an attack upon the tiny Caribbean island of Granada, which happens to be a Commonwealth territory. Margaret Thatcher objects strongly... There's a lot of backwards and forwards communications between London and Washington, the KGB pick up on this and say, aha, any Western attack upon the Soviet Union, there will be a lot of communication between London and Washington"
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