Intelligence and the Risk of Nuclear War: Able Archer-83 Revisited

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The study of the Cold War has undergone a significant transformation in recent years, with new critical perspectives, sources and debates. The nuclear history of the Cold War has begun to yield new insights on fundamental questions about the stability and dynamics of the confrontation. Recent evidence about the events of 1983 provides an opportunity to explore the risk of nuclear war and the role of misperception in Soviet-American relations during the ‘Second Cold War’. Central to this is the study of intelligence. This article examines episodes in the autumn of 1983, notably the Able Archer ‘crisis’ of November 1983. Attention focuses on aspects of Soviet, American and British intelligence. Political and diplomatic consequences are also considered. A principal aim is to emphasise that we are at an early stage in researching and understanding events, and that a number of assumptions about the crisis require further exploration. Broader lessons about the role of intelligence in the Cold War are nevertheless explored and provisional conclusions reached about the performances of intelligence agencies and communities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)759-777
JournalIntelligence and National Security
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2011


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