Huge Nato war games exercise took world to edge of nuclear war in 1983

Incident 'far more serious' than 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis

Tomas Jivanda
Sunday 03 November 2013 16:34 GMT
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'One button-push from an irreversible nuclear war': Previously classified documents reveal 1983 incident saw world on brink of disaster
'One button-push from an irreversible nuclear war': Previously classified documents reveal 1983 incident saw world on brink of disaster (Getty Images)

A massive Nato war games exercise took the world to the brink of nuclear disaster when the Soviet Union mistakenly believed the drill was a real attack, freshly released classified documents have revealed.

The threat came in 1983 when the British- and American-led exercise, Operation Able Archer, moved 40,000 troops across Western Europe.

The operation was so realistic that in response the Soviet Union deployed nuclear submarines under the Arctic and prepared a dozen aircraft carrying nuclear weapons.

Just how close Nato came to provoking the Soviet Union was only realised by the West when Oleg Gordievsky, a KGB double agent, briefed British officials in London.

The incident was detailed in British Cabinet papers obtained by the Nuclear Information Service through a Freedom of Information request.

The non-profit group, which campaigns against nuclear weapons, has claimed that the newly-disclosed brush with annihilation was a greater threat to the world than the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.

Nuclear Information Service director Peter Burt said: ‘We were one button-push from an irreversible nuclear war. This, in my view, was far more serious than the Cuban missile crisis.’

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