"One Misstep Could Trigger a Great War": Operation RYAN, Able Archer 83, and the 1983 War Scare Open Access
Downloadable ContentDownload PDF
War between the Soviet Union and United States, wrote President Ronald Reagan, would be "two spiders in a bottle locked in a suicidal fight until both were dead." Early in his administration the USA and USSR approached this dire scenario In 1983, the Soviet Intelligence Operation RYAN -a global effort to provide strategic warning of a U.S. nuclear first strike erroneously reported to the Center that the NATO military exercise Able Archer 83 was really a cover for a planned nuclear attack upon the USSR, causing the USSR to ready nuclear strike forces in East Germany and Poland. Sergei Akhromeyev, Chief of Staff of the Soviet Armed Forces, has stated that he believed in 1983 that it was possible the United States would launch a nuclear first strike. This essay argues that that American foreign policy during the Reagan Administration contributed to the Soviet Union's fear of American attack; that the United States intelligence community either failed to detect, or ignored, signs of this genuine Soviet fear; and that, after learning of this danger, President Reagan embraced the policy of cooperation with the Soviet Union which led to the end of the Cold War.