Cold War History: Pentagon Draws Up First Strategy For Fighting A Long Nuclear War

From 1982:

WASHINGTON, May 29— Defense Department policy-makers, in a new five-year defense plan, have accepted the premise that nuclear conflict with the Soviet Union could be protracted and have drawn up their first strategy for fighting such a war.

In what Pentagon officials term the ”first complete defense guidance of this Administration,” drafted for Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger’s signature, the armed forces are ordered to prepare for nuclear counterattacks against the Soviet Union ”over a protracted period.”

The guidance document, drawn up in the Pentagon and reflecting its views, will form the basis for the Defense Department’s budget requests for the next five fiscal years. The document was also a basic source for a recent strategic study done by the National Security Council, according to Defense Department officials. That study is the foundation of the Administration’s overall strategic position.

Debate on Nuclear War

The nature of nuclear war has been a subject of intense debate among political leaders, defense specialists and military officers. Some assert that there would be only one all-out mutually destructive exchange. Others argue that a nuclear war with many exchanges could be fought over days and weeks.

The outcome of the debate will shape the weapons, communications and strategy for nuclear forces. The civilian and military planners, having decided that protracted war is possible, say that American nuclear forces ”must prevail and be able to force the Soviet Union to seek earliest termination of hostilities on terms favorable to the United States.” The Pentagon considers a ”protracted” war anything beyond a single exchange of nuclear weapons.

Read More at the New York Times.

On this Date, 29 May 1988: Reagan Goes to Moscow

reagan-gorb-1988President Ronald Reagan travels to Moscow to begin the fourth summit meeting held in the past three years with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Though the summit produced no major announcements or breakthroughs, it served to illuminate both the successes and the failures achieved by the two men in terms of U.S.-Soviet relations.

In May 1988, President Reagan made his first trip to Moscow to meet with Gorbachev and begin their fourth summit meeting. Just six months earlier, during a summit in Washington, D.C., in December 1987, the two men had signed the historic Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which eliminated an entire class of nuclear weapons from Europe.

In many ways, Reagan’s trip to Moscow in May was a journey of celebration. Demonstrating the famous Reagan charm, the president and his wife waded into crowds of Russian well wishers and curiosity-seekers to shake hands and exchange pleasantries. Very quickly, however, the talks between Reagan and Gorbachev revealed that serious differences still existed between the Soviet Union and the United States.

From the beginning, Reagan–who had in the past referred to the Soviet Union as the “evil empire”–pressed Gorbachev on the issue of human rights. He urged Gorbachev to ease Soviet restrictions on freedom of religion and also asked that the Soviet Union relax the laws that kept many Russian Jews from emigrating. The Soviets were obviously displeased at Reagan’s insistence on lecturing them about what they considered purely internal matters.

A spokesman from the Soviet Foreign Ministry showed his irritation when he declared to a group of reporters, “We don’t like it when someone from outside is teaching us how to live, and this is only natural.”

Despite the tension introduced by the human rights issue, the summit was largely an opportunity for Reagan and Gorbachev to trade compliments and congratulations about their accomplishments, most notably the INF Treaty.

As Reagan stated after their first day of meetings, “I think the message is clear–despite clear and fundamental differences, and despite the inevitable frustrations that we have encountered, our work has begun to produce results.”

The (ex) Top Secret Military Base Hidden in Chernobyl’s Irradiated Forest

duga-3This April 26 marks the 30th anniversary of one of mankind’s most catastrophic events: the explosion at Chernobyl’s reactor number four.

Recent years have seen Ukrainian authorities allowing intrepid visitors into the Exclusion Zone to see the haunting side effects of the disaster. But while the abandoned town of Pripyat, with its iconic ferris wheel, receives the most attention, there is an even more mysterious site hidden in the irradiated forest.

The site was shrouded in such secrecy during the height of the Cold War that on official maps, it was marked as a children’s summer camp. Like the rest of what would become the Exclusion Zone, it had to be abandoned suddenly in 1986. While it once was at the forefront of Soviet military and scientific technology, classified as top secret, today it rests, mostly forgotten and silent in the woods surrounding Chernobyl.

Venturing deep into the forests of the Exclusion Zone for Atlas Obscura, I went to explore the derelict and awe-inspiring military base known as Duga-3.
Read More at Atlas Obscura.

Cold War History: The nuclear attack on the UK that never happened

threads-traffic warden

From the 1984 Film, “Threads”, By the BBC.

In 1982, a secret Home Office exercise tested the UK’s capacity to rebuild after a massive nuclear attack. Files recently released at the National Archives detail one short-lived proposal to recruit psychopaths to help keep order.

More than 300 megatons of nuclear bombs are detonated over Britain, in the space of a 16-hour exchange. Many cities are flattened – millions are dead from the blast, millions more have survived and suffer radiation sickness. In bunkers are 12 regional commissioners with their staff, ready to come out and take charge. How do they do this? How do they restore order and begin to rebuild?

This was what a top-secret Home Office exercise intended to test in 1982, according to documents recently released at the National Archives. Optimistically termed Regenerate, this was a war game covering the first six months after the nuclear exchange of World War Three. It focused on one central region, the five counties of Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and South Yorkshire.

Officials imagined what would happen after the bombs had dropped. They knew the most likely targets in the area, and predicted how “rings” of damage would affect the country. At the epicentres of the bombs, there would be “unimaginable” damage, on the outer ring “broken panes” and “debris in the streets”. The scientific advisers estimated 50% of the country would be untouched – though survivors could be affected by radiation fallout.

Read more of the stunning article at the BBC.

Newly released documents reveal U.S. Cold War nuclear target list (From 1956)

SACU.S. plans for nuclear war in 1959 included the “systematic destruction” of major urban centers like East Berlin, Moscow and Beijing — with the populations of those cities among the primary military targets.

The National Archives and Records Administration has released a detailed study produced in 1956 that includes a list of the United States’ targets were nuclear war to break out between the superpowers in three years.

The Strategic Air Command’s study offers new insight into the Cold War planning — and worries that United States warplanes would have to unleash overwhelming destruction in an all-out war with the Soviet Union.

The list was made public as a result of a 2006 records request by William Burr, a senior analyst at George Washington University’s National Security Archive who directs the group’s nuclear history documentation project. It is titled the “SAC (Strategic Air Command) Atomic Weapons Requirements Study for 1959.”

“Their target priorities and nuclear bombing tactics would expose nearby civilians and ‘friendly forces and people’ to high levels of deadly radioactive fallout,” Burr wrote this week in an analysis of the government’s plans.

“Moreover,” Burr wrote, “the authors developed a plan for the ‘systematic destruction’ of Soviet bloc urban-industrial targets that specifically and explicitly targeted ‘population’ in all cities, including Beijing, Moscow, Leningrad, East Berlin, and Warsaw.”

The primary aim of the U.S. plan was eliminating Soviet Union air power — which was regarded as key in the event of the Soviets attempting to deploy their own nuclear weapons, since today’s long-range missiles and submarine launchers didn’t yet exist.


Read the Report at the National Security Archive at The George Washington University.

1 2