‘On a Hair Trigger’: Soviets Armed 108 Jets for Nuclear War During 1983 NATO Drills, Docs Show

Since 2019, the US has invested billions in developing new ground-launched missile systems like those that helped provoke a nuclear war scare in November 1983, but were subsequently banned as being too dangerous to the peace.

Newly released documents from the US State Department reveal the degree to which Soviet leadership believed a provocative, ultra-realistic NATO war-game in late 1983 was a cover for a genuine nuclear first strike against the Soviet Union.

The National Security Archive says it fought for years to get the documents, including an all-important report from 1989 by Lieutenant General Leonard H. Perroots, the intelligence chief for US Air Forces in Europe during the drills. The archive noted that the Defense Intelligence Agency had long claimed the memo was “lost,” but State Department historians later uncovered the file in the CIA’s archives.

Perroots’ memo reveals that the tit-for-tat situation that resulted during the war games, as each side upped the ante with an increasingly aggressive posture, was much closer to exploding than the public realized, or than the Pentagon admitted. Clearly, the Soviets were not simply posturing, but feared that a nuclear strike by the United States and its allies was extremely likely in the coming hours and days.

‘Calculated to Induce Paranoia’

The Soviet fears were not idle: years of psychological operations had prepared the ground by driving up Soviet anxieties. American bombers would practice attack runs,…

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