Analysis & Opinions - The Hill

The Sobering Reasons Congress Must Step Up On Arms Control

| July 19, 2018

President Putin remarked in Helsinki this week that there is “no solid reason” for the “tense atmosphere” between the United States and Russia. Most Americans would disagree. Republicans and Democrats alike resent Russian interference in U.S. elections — by itself a very solid reason for strained relations. Russia’s invasion and annexation of parts of Ukraine and its fueling of the Syrian civil war and refugee crisis present additional challenges to U.S. and global interests.  

As Americans try to make sense of President Trump’s disturbing meeting with Mr. Putin, some history may help put our current troubled relationship with Russia in perspective.

This year marks the 35th anniversary of the “Able Archer” nuclear scare. “Able Archer 83” was the name of a large-scale military exercise, meant to simulate for NATO defense officials how to conduct wartime nuclear operations. Though perhaps less well known, “Able Archer,” like previous crises in Berlin, Cuba and the Middle East, brought the world to the brink of a nuclear catastrophe.

The early 1980s was a period of extreme Cold War tension. Soviet military intelligence, the GRU (the very same), had embarked on a massive effort to understand U.S. nuclear intentions. The United States routinely probed Soviet airspace and early-warning systems. In March 1983, President Reagan announced the Strategic Defense Initiative. Soviet leaders believed “Star Wars” would undermine the Soviet nuclear deterrent and with it strategic stability.

In September 1983, the Soviet Union shot down a Korean passenger jet that had strayed into its airspace, claiming it was a spy plane, and killing all 269 people on board. Meanwhile, the Reagan administration readied the deployment of Pershing II intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe. In October, the United States invaded Grenada.

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Malin, Martin.“The Sobering Reasons Congress Must Step Up On Arms Control.” The Hill, July 19, 2018.