War Scare: Russia and America on the Nuclear Brink

By Peter Vincent Pry | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
December 12, 1979

On December 12, 1979, Joseph Luns, secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, issued an official communique from NATO headquarters in Brussels that a momentous decision had been made: the United States would deploy a new class of nuclear missiles in Western Europe to answer a rapidly growing Soviet nuclear threat, one that "constituted a major and growing challenge to the security of the [ NATO] alliance." The fate of NATO was at stake:

The ministers have decided to modernize NATO's long-range-theater nuclear force by the deployment in Europe of U.S. ground-launched systems comprising 108 Pershing II launchers . . . and 464 ground-launched cruise missiles, all with single warheads.

It was the same month as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. One thousand miles away, across the continent and in a different world altogether, Moscow heard in Luns's words the approaching thunder of nuclear apocalypse.

Yuri Vladimirovich Andropov, chief of the Committee for State Security, known by its Russian acronym KGB ( Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti), was the product of a bloody history that predisposed him to see the world in apocalyptic terms. Andropov had been born into a world on the brink of war, on June 15, 1914, in Nagutskaya, northern. Caucasus, where his father was a railroad worker. Andropov's infancy spanned World War I, the Bolshevik Revolution that brought the communists to power, and the counterrevolutionary campaigns of the White Terror. Five million Russians fell in these contests. At sixteen, Andropov joined the Komsomol, or the Young Communist League, while working variously as a telegraph operator, movie projectionist, and boatman on the Volga River. A brilliant labor activist and administrator, he rose rapidly through the party ranks, becoming leader of the Komsomol at Yaroslavl when he was twenty-four. Two years later, after the Soviet Union's successful but costly invasion of Finland in 1940, Andropov rose to leadership of the Komsomol in the USSR's newly conquered Karelo-Finnish Republic. By this time, at the age of twenty-six, Andropov had lived through, or witnessed, the long Red Terror of the Soviet police state, Stalin's deliberate starvation of the Ukraine, and the purge of imaginary traitors in the Red Army, estimated to have cost the lives, collectively, of twenty million.

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