Nuclear Friday: Spies Save Lives

1983 was a high point in Cold War tensions. The Soviet Union was turning the tide in Afghanistan with new weapons and tactics after having been fought to a stalemate in 1980. I remember 1983. I was a teen with an interest in nuclear weapons and strategy and by that time had made a good study of the subject. As I explained earlier in my very first Nuclear Friday post, my studies were a way to cope with my anxieties. This research calmed me, and I tried to calm others. But the events of late 1983 scared me. They scared all of us.

I came across a 2008 BBC4 documentary, 1983: The Brink of Apocalypse, a few months ago. I think it pretty well captures how things felt in 1983. But it also tells the story of how close the world came to nuclear war in 1983. This information leaked slowly out of Russia from 2005-2007. I think this documentary sums it up fairly well:

This video is well worth watching. Youtube may block it the UK. If you are in the UK you can watch it on the BBC4 website in higher definition. At least that’s what I think is the case. The BBC won’t let Americans stream it. There’s also a bootleg version of the US edit with an  American narrator and slightly different content. I would have posted the US edit as the main video, but whoever posted it edited out the commercials badly, and like all US cable, it has “as you know” summaries after the breaks. It gets tedious toward the end.

One advantage of the US edit is that it has a longer intro that covers Samantha Smith’s visit to the Soviet Union. Samantha was a ten year old girl who wrote a letter to newly appointed Premier Yuri Andropov. She visited the USSR to a hero’s welcome, but never saw Andropov. She spoke to him on a telephone in a television studio. Andropov was talking to her from his death bed.

This matters. In 1983 the Soviet Union was essentially leaderless and falling apart. That’s dangerous, and in 1983 it was more dangerous than we ever knew.

I won’t make as many comments as I usually do on videos I post, but I have to say the eighties Reagan arms buildup was pretty much a continuation of the Jimmy Carter/ Harold Brown plan. SALT II allowed for all these new deployments. The US was able to sneak in Trident I and a new class of submarines. The Soviets got their SS-20’s.

Back in the early eighties I saw lots of graphics to scare the public away from SALT II. They had diagrams of how much missile throw weight the Soviets compared to the US. Well, we should care when US missiles have very good counterforce.

Likewise all those old graphics lumped all tactical weapons together. As I mentioned last week, some of those weapons were B-43’s with a one megaton maximum yield and by the early 80’s, the much lighter B-61 was available. Short range delivery meant something very different for the US and USSR.

Overall, I think this is a pretty good video. It makes the case that spies save lives. There are many former spies interviewed in this video, but I think Reiner Rupp was the unsung hero of 1983.

Agent Topaz might have prevented all out nuclear war in 1983.

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