Able Archer 83: The Secret History | Wilson Center
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Able Archer 83: The Secret History


Able Archer 83

The secret history of the NATO exercise that almost triggered nuclear war

In November 1983, Soviet nuclear forces went on high alert. After months nervously watching increasingly assertive NATO military posturing, Soviet intelligence agencies in Western Europe received flash telegrams reporting alarming activity on U.S. bases. In response, the Soviets began readying their nulclear forces in preparation for a western nuclear attack. Just as nuclear tensions escalated, the threat of war abruptly ended as the buildup was revealed to be a vast NATO conflict simulation named Able Archer 83.

Believing Able Archer 83 could have been an actual attack, the Soviets had actively prepared for a surprise missile attack from NATO. This close scrape with Armageddon was largely unknown until last October when the U.S. government released a ninety-four-page presidential analysis of Able Archer that the National Security Archive had spent over a decade attempting to declassify. Able Archer 83 is based upon more than a thousand pages of declassified documents that Nate Jones, Director of the National Security Archives FOIA project, has pried loose from U.S. government agencies, British archives, as well as formerly classified Soviet Politburo and KGB files, vividly recreating the atmosphere that nearly unleashed nuclear war.

Join us on October 20th at 3:00pm in the Wilson Center’s 6th Floor Moynihan Board Room for this special presentation by Nate Jones on his new book Able Archer 83: The Secret History, with commentary by Thomas S. Blanton.

Nate Jones was also featured on CWIHP's Sport in the Cold War podcast, where he discusses the 1967 "Football War" between Honduras and El Salvador, his new book, and his work at the National Security Archive:


Nate Jones is the Director of the Freedom of Information Act Project for the National Security Archive at George Washington University. He oversees the thousands of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Mandatory Declassification Review appeals that the Archive submits each year.  A two-term member of the Federal FOIA Advisory Committee, he acts as liaison between Archive analysts and agency FOIA offices, and serves as the Archive's FOIA counselor to the public.

He earned his MA in Cold War History from The George Washington University, where he used FOIA to write his thesis on the 1983 Able Archer nuclear war scare.  He has also produced The Able Archer 83 Sourcebook, the comprehensive declassified collection of documents on the 1983 nuclear war scare. He is editor of the Archive's blog, Unredacted.


  • Nate Jones

    Director, Freedom of Information Act Project, National Security Archive
  • Thomas Blanton

    Director, National Security Archive
  • Christian F. Ostermann

    Director, History and Public Policy Program; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
    Woodrow Wilson Center