How the World Faced Nuclear War in 1983 - and No-One Knew It; Welsh Professor Reveals Soviet Union Feared US/Nato Attack

Article excerpt

Byline: Sarah Miloudi

ALMOST 25 years ago the world was on the brink of nuclear war - but policy makers new nothing about it.

One of Wales' key thinkers, Len Scott, professor of International Politics at Aberystwyth University, has revealed that around a quarter of a century ago the USA faced one of the most terrifying periods of the Cold War.

Under the cover of a Nato nuclear exercise codenamed Able Archer 83, leaders of the Soviet Union feared America was about to launch a nuclear attack.

Able Archer was an exercise conducted annually with the aim of testing Nato's procedure for releasing nuclear weapons. It began on November 2, 1983 and lasted for nine days and at the time the Soviet Government was concerned the organisation would use the operation to mask preparations for a real nuclear attack.

However, Nato and America's policymakers had made no such plans and in recent years the country's Defence Secretary Robert Gates described the moment as a point when America was on the "brink" of nuclear war.

At the height of hostility between the USA and Soviet Union, a Soviet fighter shot down a South Korean aircraft which had inadvertently flown into Soviet airspace. All 269 passengers on board were killed, leading American politicians to declare the Soviet system had a callous disregard for human rights.

It wasn't until British intelligence discovered details of Able Archer that America became aware of what might have been.

"British intelligence became aware of how the Soviet leadership viewed the prospect of a nuclear attack, through the recruitment of a KGB colonel, Oleg Gordievsky," said Prof Scott. …