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The 1983 War Scare: "The Last Paroxysm" of the Cold War Part III

Part III: "Rather Stunning Array of Indicators" of the Soviet Reaction to Able Archer 83 had "A Dimension of Genuineness ... Often Not Reflected in Intelligence Issuances."

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 428

PART 3 OF 3 POSTINGS

Posted – May 22, 2013

Edited by Nate Jones
Assisted by Lauren Harper

For more information contact:
Nate Jones 202/994-7000 or foiadesk@gwu.edu

Related Links

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By Robert Beckhusen, Wired, May 16, 2013

The USSR and US Came Closer to Nuclear War Than We Thought
By Douglas Birch, The Atlantic, May 28, 2013

War Scare
By Nate Jones, ForeignPolicy.com, May 21, 2013

Nate Jones and Robert Farley Discuss Able Archer 83
Blogging Heads "Foreign Entanglements," May 31, 2013

The 1983 War Scare, Part II
By Nate Jones, May 21, 2013

The 1983 War Scare, Part I
By Nate Jones, May 16, 2013

 


Launch on Warning: The Development of U.S. Capabilities, 1959-1979
By William Burr, April 2001

Thirtieth Anniversary of NATO's Dual-Track Decision
By William Burr, December 10, 2009

The 3 A.M. Phone Call
By William Burr, March 1, 2012

"One Misstep Could Trigger a Great War": Operation RYAN, Able Archer 83, and the 1983 War Scare
By Nate Jones, May 17, 2009

 


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Nate Jones describes the third War Scare posting.

Washington, D.C., May 22, 2013 – President Ronald Reagan weighed the "rather stunning array of indicators" reported by the U.S. intelligence community during the 1983 War Scare and concluded — although the intelligence community remained divided — that "maybe they [the Soviets] are scared of us & think we are a threat. I'd like to go face to face & explore this with them," according to documents posted today by the National Security Archive (www.nsarchive.org).

To mark the 30th anniversary of the War Scare, the National Security Archive has posted, over three installments, the most complete online collection of declassified U.S. documents, material from the now-closed Russian archives, and contemporary interviews on the 1983 War Scare. Earlier postings examined Soviet claims that they were genuinely fearful of a Western nuclear attack in 1983, and published, for the first time, official NATO and Air Force summaries of Able Archer 83, a NATO nuclear release exercise conducted at the crux of the War Scare that included new elements that raised the possibility of nuclear war "through miscalculation."

Today's final posting examines the U.S. intelligence community's analysis and reaction to data showing that Able Archer 83 spurred "a high level of Soviet military activity, with new deployments of weapons and strike forces." This unprecedented Soviet reaction in turn created a series of introspective U.S. intelligence analyses and counter-analyses, spanning from November 15, 1983 to February 15, 1990, debating whether the U.S. intelligence had actually understood Soviet actions, perceptions, and fears — and acknowledging the danger of nuclear "miscalculation" if it had not.

Today's posting includes:


From the National Security Agency's American Cryptology During the Cold War, 1945 - 1989, Book IV: Cryptologic Rebirth, 1981-1989.
  • A Department of State document recounting that the United States "sanitized" the Special National Intelligence Estimate (SNIE) on the War Scare, removing all mentions of Able Archer 83 and the Soviet reaction to it, before providing it to NATO. Thus, the U.S. hid the danger of Able Archer 83 from the very allies who participated in the exercise.
  • A memorandum from Director of the Central Intelligence Agency William Casey to President Reagan and other Cabinet-level officials warning that "The [Soviet] military behaviors we have observed involve high military costs … adding thereby a dimension of genuineness to the Soviet expressions of concern that is often not reflected in intelligence issuances."
  • A contemporary (December 1983) CIA analysis entitled, "Soviet Thinking on the Possibility of Armed Confrontation with the United States," that asserted Moscow was "playing up the 'war danger'" and that the Soviets did not "anticipate a near-term military confrontation with the United States."
  • A formerly unpublished summary of the most extensive (and still classified) analysis of Able Archer 83, a 110-page President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board report to George H.W. Bush in 1990. According to the report's summary, provided by one of its authors, the "war scare was an expression of a genuine belief on the part of Soviet leaders that US was planning a nuclear first strike, causing Sov[iet] military to prepare for this eventuality, for example by readying forces for a Sov[iet] preemptive strike."

 


THE DOCUMENTS


Soldiers prepare to board an aircraft to participate in the war game. From Air Man.

Document 1: Department of Defense and Central Intelligence Agency, "US and Soviet Strategic Forces," Joint Net Assessment, November 14, 1983, Top Secret.

Source: Central Intelligence Agency Freedom of Information Act release.

The first Joint Net Assessment of the Soviet Union, in production for months if not years, was completed just after the conclusion of Able Archer 83. The purpose of the Joint Net Assessment was to present policy makers a comprehensive and accurate report of current and projected strategic strengths and weaknesses of the Soviet Union and United States.

The Joint Net Assessment found that as of November 1983, "the strategic nuclear balance is probably adequate to deter a direct nuclear attack on the United States or a major attack on Europe." The assessment warned that the most likely threat to U.S. interests would be Soviet exploitation of possible "crises" when they would challenge U.S. interests in "friendly or client state[s] in the Third World," possibly analogous to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. This could develop as "a period of crisis, the conventional phase of a theater war, a limited theater nuclear war, [and] large-scale nuclear strikes." This is precisely the nuclear scenario that Exercise Autumn Forge 83 and Able Archer 83 wargamed.

The assessment did not, however, warn of the possibility of nuclear war through Soviet "miscalculation" or errant preemptive strikes, despite "a clear [Soviet] preference for preemption." This may have been because, as the report noted, "there has been limited attention given in our analyses to the factors that the Soviets would regard as most important. An implicit assumption has been that Soviet assessments are similar to our own."

The assessment reported an additional U.S. vulnerability: "We do not know what would convince them [the Soviets] that a US strike was imminent."

 

Document 2: National Intelligence Council memo for Deputy Under Secretary for Policy General Richard G. Stilwell from Major General Edward B. Atkeson, "Subject: Soviet Use of Historical Data for Operational Analyses," November 23, 1983, Confidential.

Source: CIA Records Search Tool (CREST) database.

On November 15, 1983, four days after the conclusion of Able Archer 83 (and Autumn Forge 83, the 19,000 troop airlift to Europe), Under Secretary of Defense for Policy General Richard Stilwell had a conversation with National Intelligence Officer Major General Edward B. Atkeson about the Soviet use of historical data for operational analyses. While debriefing an earlier nuclear release drill in March 1983, General Stilwell pushed for the participation of "higher level players" in Washington because "bringing a coalition from crisis to war is demanding. We must continue to practice these exercises."

The memo included three documents (a CIA report on "planning norms for Soviet ground forces," a book Soviet Troop Control, and an article, "In pursuit of the Essence of War") that analyzed Soviet troop behavior and posturing, which suggests that the U.S. intelligence community was beginning to focus on unusual Soviet behavior in response to Able Archer 83.

"In pursuit of the Essence of War" also included a reference to a Soviet method which "cataloged and computerized" the world's "correlation of forces." The results, it claimed, were "highly objective, empirically provable and readily adaptable to modern data processing." This may have been describing a computer that Gordievsky claimed was housed in the Soviet Ministry of Defense (which the film, 1983 Brink of Apocalypse recreated — with some artistic liberties).

 


A tank and an armored personnel carrier, just two of the 3,500 used in Autumn Forge, rumble through a small village. From Air Man.

Document 3: November 16, 1983 and November 18 Diary Entries by Ronald Reagan. Some information excised by request of the National Security Council.

Source: Ronald Reagan, ed. Douglas Brinkley, The Reagan Diaries: Volume 1: January 1981-October 1985, Unabridged, (New York: Harper Collins, 2009).

In an 2009 interview, President Reagan's national security advisor, Robert McFarlane, recalled that the Soviet reaction to Able Archer 83 was on the president's mind as he travelled through Asia from November 8-14, 1983, and that the two spoke about the situation several times, "on Air Force One and elsewhere."[1]

On November 16, 1983, two days after his return from Asia, Reagan wrote in his journal that he "met with Geo S. [Secretary of State George Shultz] about establishing a pipe line outside the bureaucracy for direct contact with the Soviets."

Then, on November 18, 1983 President Reagan recorded, "George Shultz & I had a talk mainly about setting up a little in house group of experts on the Soviet U. to help us in setting up some channels. I feel the Soviets are so defense minded, so paranoid about being attacked that without being in any way soft on them we ought to tell them that no one here has any intention of doing anything like that. What the h- -l have they got that anyone would want."

 

Document 4: Central Intelligence Agency memo for the Director and Deputy Director from Vice Chairman of the National Intelligence Council Herbert E. Meyer, "Subject: Why is the World So Dangerous?" November 30, 1983.

Source: CIA Records Search Tool (CREST) database.

In this colorful missive to CIA leadership, Meyer sets forth an argument that the sharp rise in the global level of violence in late 1983 (including KAL 007, the bombings in Lebanon, and invasion of Grenada) was tied to the Soviet Union's "shattering descent into history."

Among the challenges facing the ailing Soviet Union was the NATO deployment of Pershing II missiles in Europe, which could hit Moscow in about 10 minutes; "roughly how long it takes some of the Kremlin's leaders to get out of their chairs, let alone to their shelters," Meyer wrote.

He predicted that to slow its demise the USSR would "raise the level of violence, thus making the world a more dangerous place,""attribute the increased violence and danger to the inevitable result of reckless US policies," and "hope that voters will force a change of course."

Though Meyer was writing primarily about the dangers of "conventional" not nuclear war and does not include the risk of war through Soviet miscalculation, he concedes the low possibility, "worrisome enough," that the Soviets "could decide to go for it," possibly even launching "a conventional or nuclear bolt-from-the-blue first strike on Western Europe or perhaps on the US."

 


Side-by-side images from the CIA’s Secret 1983 report on "Soviet Thinking on the Possibility of Armed Confrontation with the United States." Note that in 2010, (image on right) the CIA redacted information which was released in 2003, and that information released in 2010 (including the name of the CIA office that produced the report) should never have been withheld on national security grounds in the first place.

Document 5a, 5b: Central Intelligence Agency Directorate of Intelligence, "Soviet Thinking on the Possibility of Armed Confrontation with the United States," December 30, 1983, Secret, NOFORN.

Source: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Release and CREST. Two versions with different information redacted.

This CIA analysis states that "contrary to the impression conveyed by Soviet propaganda, Moscow does not appear to anticipate a near-term military confrontation with the United States." Moscow, the CIA's directorate of intelligence believed, was "playing up the 'war danger'" to stop the deployment of intermediate-range nuclear missiles to western Europe, deepen cleavages within the Atlantic alliance, and increase pressure for a more conciliatory U.S. policy posture toward the USSR.

Despite its conclusion, the report does contain additional indicators of the fear — genuine or ginned up — gripping the Soviet Union in 1983. One western visitor reported "that Andropov had sent a letter to all party organizations in October forcefully declaring that the fatherland was truly in danger." Another reported "an obsessive fear of war, an emotionalism, and a paranoia [redacted] that had not been present earlier."

In addition to providing insight into the War Scare, this document also serves as a continuing example of the inefficiency of the U.S. classification and declassification system. Information redacted in 2010 — including Soviet relations with Syria — had already been declassified and released to the public by the Reagan Library in 2003. Conversely, information withheld in 2003 but released in 2010 — including the name of the CIA office that produced the report — should never have been withheld on "national security grounds" in the first place.

 

Document 6: Central Intelligence Agency, Special National Intelligence Estimate, "Implications of Recent Soviet Military-Political Activities" May 18, 1984, Top Secret.

Source: Central Intelligence Agency Freedom of Information Act release.

SNIE 11-10-84/JX, authored primarily by the CIA's national intelligence officer for the Soviet Union, Fritz Ermarth, was the first officially declassified document on Able Archer 83 and the War Scare; though some key portions remain redacted, the peeled onion layers of declassification have provided historians with a clearer and clearer view of the CIA's analysis of Able Archer 83. The SNIE concludes that, "We believe strongly that Soviet actions are not inspired by, and Soviet leaders do not perceive, a genuine danger of imminent conflict or confrontation with the United States," but it acknowledges that "since November 1983 there has been a high level of Soviet military activity, with new deployments of weapons and strike forces."

The CIA's estimate reports that these deployments were at least partially in response to Able Archer 83 (it does not mention the 19,000 troops transported to Europe during Reforger 83 and Autumn Forge 83). The estimate stated that Able Archer 83 "was larger than previous 'Able Archer' exercises and included new command, control, and communications procedures for authorizing use of nuclear weapons." The "elaborate" Soviet reaction to this exercise included "increased intelligence collection flights, and the placing of Soviet air units in East Germany and Poland on heightened readiness in what was declared to be a threat of possible aggression against the USSR and Warsaw Pact countries." Two other Soviet reactions to Able Archer 83 remain redacted in the estimate.

One of the estimate's findings is contradicted by declassified documents previously posted by the National Security Archive. This is the assertion that "in private diplomatic exchanges with Moscow over the past six months the Soviets have neither made any direct threats connected with regional or other issues nor betrayed any fear of a US attack." This claim does not square with General Secretary Andropov's plea to Averell Harriman that the Reagan Administration "may be moving toward the dangerous 'red line'"of nuclear war, or with the two sources that told Jack Matlock that, "U.S.-Soviet relations [had] deteriorated to a dangerous point" and that Soviet officials were, "literally obsessed by fear of war." (See Part 1 of this series for both of these items.)

The SNIE also hypothesizes that the Soviets may have been using the alarm to "desensitize the United States to higher levels of Soviet military activity — thus masking intended future moves and reducing US warning time." The SNIE does not allow for the possibility — as Marshal Akhromeyev and Secretary of Defense Weinberger remarked- that the Soviet Union feared that Able Archer 83 could itself have masked a "ruse of war."

The final page of the SNIE acknowledged that the CIA had "inadequate information about … the Soviet reading of our own military operations [and] current reconnaissance and exercises," but that notwithstanding these uncertainties the Soviets did not fear "an imminent military clash."

 


Side-by-side images from the CIA’s Top Secret "Implications of Recent Soviet Military-Political Activities" (left) and a Secret 1984 State Department memo (right) reveal that the United States hid all references to Soviet reactions to Able Archer 83 in the report provided to their NATO allies.

Document 7: Department of State memo from Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research Hugh Montgomery to Secretary of State George Shultz, "Subject: SNIE 11-10-1984," May 28, 1984, Secret.

Source: Department of State Freedom of Information Act release.

A Department of State version of the SNIE produces further revelations. Although the copy of the cover-memo released to the National Security Archive was obscured by a highlighter (not redacted) and difficult to read, it has been deciphered and transcribed.

In the cover memo, INR Director Hugh Montgomery confirms that it was British intelligence (from its asset, Oleg Gordievsky), not American intelligence, that first reported the Soviet response to Able Archer 83: "You will recall that in response to British concerns, the intelligence community undertook a detailed review of recent Soviet military and political moves beginning with exercise Able Archer 83."

Montgomery then writes that sanitized versions of SNIE 11-10-1984 have been produced for release to the British and other NATO ministerial colleagues. The attached "sanitized version" -which is marked "Secret" rather than "Top Secret" — removes all references to Able Archer 83 and the Soviet response to it — despite the fact that British first reported it. These reports were likely provided to the British in advance of Reagan's June 5, 1984 meeting with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and other officials at 10 Downing Street. [2]

This deliberate omission to NATO allies that their nuclear release exercise may have spooked the Soviets (and the omission of a caveat about "inadequate information about … the Soviet reading of our own military operations"[3]) may be part of the reason why NATO Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe chief historian Gregory Pedlow reported that no senior participants in Exercise Able Archer 83 "recalled any 'war scare' or even unusual Soviet reaction to the exercise." It is also a reminder of how the U.S. classification system is used to hide information from strategic allies, as well as the American public.

 


CIA director William Casey's June 19, 1984, Secret report describes a "stunning array of indicators of an increasing aggressiveness in Soviet policy and activities."

Document 8: Central Intelligence Agency Memorandum for The President, Vice President, Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, from CIA Director William Casey, "US/Soviet Tension." June 19, 1984, Secret.

Source: Central Intelligence Agency Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR) release.

Six months after Able Archer 83, the Director of the CIA wrote to the highest levels of government, including the President, warning of "a rather stunning array of indicators [primarily drawn from SNIE 11-10-1984] of an increasing aggressiveness in Soviet policy and activities."

While the majority of the section entitled "Military Activity" has been redacted by the CIA (and is under appeal by the National Security Archive), Casey's conclusion is unredacted. "The behavior of the armed forces is perhaps the most disturbing. From the operational deployment of submarines to the termination of harvest support to the delayed troop rotation there is a central theme of not being strategically vulnerable, even if it means taking some risks. It is important to distinguish in this category those acts which are political blustering and those which may be, but also carry large costs. The point of blustering is to do something that makes the opponent pay high costs while the blusterer pays none or little. The military behaviors we have observed involve high military costs … adding thereby a dimension of genuineness to the Soviet expressions of concern that is often not reflected in intelligence issuances."

In other words, the Soviets might not be bluffing after all.

 

Document 9: Central Intelligence Agency Memorandum for Director of Central Intelligence William Casey from Fritz Ermarth and David McManis, "Contingency Talking Points on your Memo Entitled 'US-Soviet Tensions (dated 19 June 1984) for Meetings with Messieurs Shultz, Weinberger, and McFarlane," June 20, 1984, Secret.

Source: Central Intelligence Agency Freedom of Information Act release.

The day after Casey warned the President of "a rather stunning array of indicators" on Soviet behavior, the chief authors of the SNIE that contained these indicators wrote the director suggesting that he walk back the thrust of his memo and report. They suggested that he tell interlocutors, "It was not my intent in sending you the memo to suggest there was any immediate danger of hostile Soviet action" and that the CIA's "best judgment … remains that expressed in our recent SNIE … that we do not believe the Soviet leadership either fears imminent conflict or is making preparations for an imminent move toward confrontation."

Nonetheless, in response to these indicators, the CIA began to produce Strategic Warning Reports on a regular basis, which would "identify emerging strategic trends of more than normal concern to us."

 

Document 10: June 14, 1984 Diary Entry by Ronald Reagan. Some information excised by request of the National Security Council.

Source: Ronald Reagan, ed. Douglas Brinkley, The Reagan Diaries: Volume 1: January 1981-October 1985, Unabridged, (New York: Harper Collins, 2009).

This debate did reach President Reagan. He synthesized the essence of it in his journal on June 14, 1984, five days before the dueling CIA memos: "… A meeting with Geo. S & Bud [Secretary of State George Shultz and National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane]. We dug into the subject of a meeting with [new General Secretary of the Soviet Union Konstantin] Chernenko. I have a gut feeling we should do this. His reply to my letter is in hand and it lends support to my idea that while we go on believing, & with some good reason, that the Soviets are plotting against us & mean us harm, maybe they are scared of us & think we are a threat. I'd like to go face to face & explore this with them."

 

Document 11: Central Intelligence Agency, Special National Intelligence Estimate 11-9-84, "Soviet Policy Toward the United States in 1984," Undated but circa August 1984, Top Secret.

Source: Central Intelligence Agency online FOIA reading room.

This August 1984 SNIE reiterates the points made in the earlier May 1984 estimate that "Soviet actions are not inspired by, and Soviet leaders do not perceive, a genuine danger of imminent conflict or confrontation with the United States. Also, we do not believe that Soviet war talk and other actions 'mask' Soviet preparations for an imminent move toward confrontation on the part of the USSR."

The SNIE did not analyze the danger of nuclear war through miscalculation, but concluded it "highly unlikely" that the USSR would "instigate an acute central confrontation … on the order of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962" to achieve political objectives. Instead, the SNIE postulated that reported "Soviet fears of impending war" could be a ploy to lure the United States into a smaller scale confrontation (perhaps in the Middle East) which the Soviets would exploit for larger geostrategic gain."

The SNIE also repeats the claim that Soviet "diplomatic communications have displayed neither the tone of alarm nor belligerence generated in their official propaganda."[4]

 


A C-130 landing during Autumn Forge 83. From Air Man.

Document 12: July 21, 1987 and August 5, 1987 Diary Entries by Ronald Reagan. Some information excised by request of the National Security Council.

Source: Ronald Reagan, ed. Douglas Brinkley, The Reagan Diaries: Volume 1: January 1981-October 1985, Unabridged, (New York: Harper Collins, 2009).

On July 21, 1987, President Reagan met with Oleg Gordievsky, the Soviet double agent who was MI6's prime source of War Scare information. Reagan recorded in his journal, "this morning had a meeting with Col. Oleg Antonvich Gordiyevskiy — the Soviet K.G.B. officer who defected to Eng. His wife & 2 little girls were left behind. We've been trying to get them out to join him."

Two weeks later, Gordievsky again appears in the president's journal. "Then [I read] a report on Col. Oleg Gordiaskiy — the K.G.B. defector to Eng. Margaret Thatcher is working on the Soviets as we are are. We're going to hold back & see if she can get his wife & 2 children out of Russia."

Gordievsky, whom the KGB correctly suspected was working as a double agent was abruptly recalled to Moscow and placed under surveillance in May of 1985. That September, he escaped across the Finnish border and defected to the United Kingdom. He was reunited with his wife and daughters in September, 1991.

 

Document 13: Don Oberforfer Interview with former [redacted] hand, at [the Hotel] Madison, May 22, 1990.

Source: Princeton University, Mudd Manuscript Library, Don Oberdorfer Papers 1983-1990, Series 3, Research Documents Files.

The most comprehensive known U.S. government evaluation of the War Scare is a 110-page report produced by the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB) and authored by Nina Stewart. It was completed on February 15, 1990, and forwarded to President George H.W. Bush. Despite the public historical debate over the 1983 War Scare, declassification of other War Scare documents, and repeated FOIA and MDR requests (dating back to 2006) for the document, this illuminating PFIAB report remains locked from public view, a victim of our nation's broken declassification system. [5]

The document's existence was revealed by Washington Post journalist Don Oberdorfer in his 1991 book The Turn: From the Cold War to a New Era [6]; and although it remains officially classified, Oberdorfer's papers contain an extremely revealing, previously unpublished summary of the PFIAB's analysis. According to Oberdorfer's source:

The SNIEs of May and August 1984 "essentially reached [the] conclusion that the war scare of 1983-4 was part of a Soviet propaganda campaign designed [to] intimidate the US, deter it from deploying improved weapons, [and] arouse opposition in US and Western Europe to US foreign policy objectives. If so, not of crucial significance."

Another conclusion, "not adopted at the time but closer to the retrospective view of the PFIAB, [was] that [the] war scare was an expression of a genuine belief on the part of Soviet leaders that US was planning a nuclear first strike, causing Sov[iet] military to prepare for this eventuality, for example by readying forces for a Sov[iet] preemptive strike. If so, war scare a cause for concern."

To reach these conclusions, the PFIAB report relied on evidence including U.S. knowledge that the Soviets "had mounted a huge collection effort to find out what Amer[icans] were actually doing" (Operation RYaN), and that "they were taking actions to be able to sustain a surprise attack, especially increased protection for their leadership in view of reduced warning time of [Pershing IIs]," which included improved bunkers and special communications. The PFIAB summary also confirmed the May SNIE's report that the Soviets placed nuclear strike capable "aircraft in Germany and Poland on a higher alert status." This "ominous list of indicators" continued to be pertinent until early 1984.

The summary of the PFIAB report also contains additional information about Oleg Gordievsky. It claims that he reported that the Soviets "had set up a large computer model in the Min[istry] of Defense to calculate and monitor the correlation of forces, including mili[tary], economy, [and] psychological factors, to assign numbers and relative weights."

Gordievsky's information, according to the PFIAB summary, "was very closely held at the time but there was some consciousness at [the] top of the general upshot of it." (See the description of Document 7.)

 

Document 14: Memoirs of President Reagan

Source: Ronald Reagan, An American Life: The Autobiography, (New York: Simon & Shuster, 1990), 588-589.

In his memoirs, President Reagan reflects on the 1983 War Scare without mentioning specifics (he states earlier in the book that he cannot mention classified information). He writes of his realization, informed no doubt by the arguments and counterarguments of his intelligence community:

"Three years had taught me something surprising about the Russians: Many people at the top of the Soviet hierarchy were genuinely afraid of America and Americans. Perhaps this shouldn't have surprised me, but it did ….

"During my first years in Washington, I think many of us in the administration took it for granted that the Russians, like ourselves considered it unthinkable that the United States would launch a first strike against them. But the more experience I had with Soviet leaders and other heads of state who knew them, the more I began to realize that many Soviet officials feared us not only as adversaries but as potential aggressors who might hurl nuclear weapons at them in a first strike; because of this … they had aimed a huge arsenal of nuclear weapons at us.

" Well, if that was the case, I was even more anxious to get a top Soviet leader in a room alone and try and convince him we had no designs on the Soviet Union and Russians had nothing to fear from us."

 


NOTES

[1] Robert McFarlane interview conducted by author, April 22, 2009.

[2] Ronald Reagan, The Reagan Diaries Unabridged: Volume 1: January 1981-October 1985, edited by Douglass Brinkley, (New York: HarperCollins, 2009), 354.

[3] The Department of State did not do a particularly good job sanitizing this information. The sanitized SNIE states that there are "three main sources of uncertainty" but lists only two sources, revealing to a careful reader that information had been removed.

[4] According to The Storm Birds: Soviet Post War Defectors, written in 1989 by Gordon Brook-Shepherd, "In September and October 1985, British's officials passed Gordievsk[y]'s information on the Ryan exercise to the Americans, including his detailed analysis not merely of the Kremlin's strategy but of the Kremlin's psychology as it affected that strategy. This paper, entitled 'Soviet Perceptions of Nuclear Warfare,' was fifty pages long … President Reagan was said to have read these Gordievsk[y] reports from beginning to end, which was far from being his standard practice." Although Mandatory Review requests for this document have not been fulfilled, the Department of Defense has released a document produced circa 1979 with the same title , which states that according to Soviet perceptions, "a new World War will be unleashed by the imperialists [the United States] … [and a] surprise attack is most likely. Therefore, primary task is to be constantly ready to reliably repulse a surprise attack of the imperialists."

[5] See Footnote 12 in the previous posting in this series: http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB427/#_ftn12

[6] Don Oberdorfer, The Turn: From the Cold War To a New Era, (New York: Touchstone, 1991), 67.

 

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