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The Atlantic: The Danger of Misreading Our Nuclear Adversaries

Author: Patrick Disney
October 4, 2011


Patrick Disney points out the need for change in U.S. policy towards Iran, as miscommunication and confusion motivate further expansion of the country's nuclear program.

In the early 1980s, the Soviet Union launched a covert operation ordering its spies to watch for signs of an imminent surprise attack from NATO. The plan, code-named RYAN, was flawed from the start; Soviet agents were told to report signs that the U.S. was preparing for an attack, so that is precisely what they did, sending back every scrap of rhetoric or hint of aggression. Leaders in Moscow were already paranoid about President Ronald Reagan's sudden ramp-up of Cold War tensions, and in 1983 things very nearly got out of control.

According to David Hoffman in his Pulitzer Prize winning book The Dead Hand, both operation RYAN and the Soviet paranoia fuelling it were in full swing when NATO began a major military exercise in November of 1983. That exercise simulated a full-on nuclear war in Europe, and in one segment even called for the President and Vice President to be whisked away to take part in the drill -- all signs that the KGB viewed as potential preparation for a real and sudden first strike. Soviet analysts had predicted that if the U.S. were to launch a surprise attack, it would do so under the guise of a routine exercise; after all, the Soviets' war plans called for exactly the same thing.

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