Revisiting the Nuclear War Scare of 1983: Lessons Retro- and Prospectively

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Between 1979 and 1983, relations between the United States and NATO and the Soviet Union deteriorated gradually due to disagreements and controversies growing out of Cold War rivalry. Some Soviet leaders apparently convinced themselves that there was a nontrivial likelihood of a US or NATO nuclear first use or first strike in the near future, and Soviet intelligence agencies were tasked to anticipate it. A NATO exercise in the autumn of 1983 taking place in this hothouse atmosphere possibly lent itself to misperceptions of American and NATO intentions on account of its realism and some Soviet mind sets. The following discussion revisits the 1983 war scare episode by: (1) reviewing high water marks in the political context leading up to the 1983 war scare situation; (2) considering quantitative evidence on US and Soviet strategic nuclear force structures and possible operational performances; and (3) deriving from this analysis certain conclusions about the war scare of 1983 and its wider significance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)234-253
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Slavic Military Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • Political Science and International Relations


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