1. The Week the World Almost Ended
BSSB.BE slate.com 01.03.2018
USA Ex-USSR World
*In 1983, the U.S. simulated a nuclear war with Russia—and narrowly avoided starting a real one. We might not be so lucky next time.
One of the Cold War’s great mysteries is how the world survived the second week of November 1983.
That it did is in large part thanks to the actions—or, more accurately, the inaction—of an Air Force officer named Leonard Perroots, who died this January. That it almost did not was a function of Ronald Reagan’s rhetorical and military bellicosity, the Soviets’ fear of that aggressiveness, and a tragicomic degree of misperception. At no other point in history had two nations devoted the level of human, financial, and technical resources that the United States and the Soviet Union did to sussing each other’s intentions. And yet their confusion remained so total that the Soviets mistook a NATO war game for the prelude to an actual attack, even as Reagan thought he was doing his utmost to pursue peace.
For decades, the U.S. government kept whole chapters of this near-catastrophe secret, but the lessons of that fraught autumn are finally coming into focus. And not a moment too soon.
Few would mistake Donald Trump for Ronald Reagan, yet the parallels to the early 1980s are striking. With contradictory statements about both expanding and reducing U.S. nuclear forces, Trump has sown strategic uncertainty among friends and foes alike at a moment when the United States and Russia are modernizing their nuclear arsenals. On the heels of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the Baltic nations have stepped up preparations for war and NATO has moved military forces to vulnerable areas in the East. The Kremlin has called U.S. missile defenses “a certain threat to the Russian Federation,” and Europe is once again in range of intermediate-range nuclear missiles after Moscow deployed a new weapons system that violates a pivotal 30-year-old treaty. Meanwhile, Russia has repeatedly sent warplanes to probe European airspace and harass U.S. Navy ships, and operations in Syria have put the U.S. and Russian militaries in dangerous proximity to one another. The recent U.S. missile strike against Syria’s Russian-backed air force has only heightened the risk of a miscalculation. As Mikhail Gorbachev recently wrote, “It all looks as if the world is preparing for war … the nuclear threat once again seems real.”
Still, neither side wants war, so why are so many experts concerned that the United States and Russia could stumble into one? To understand how combustible the current moment is, it helps to revisit what happened in 1983.
- The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at: slate.com