Declassified study sheds new light on Soviet nuclear war thinking



US defense analysts exaggerated Soviet aggressiveness and understated Moscow’s fears of a US first nuclear strike, according to a recently released study on Soviet Intentions: 1965-1985, prepared in 1995 by the Pentagon contractor BDM Corporation. The two-volume report, published earlier this week for the first time by the National Security Archive, is based on an extraordinarily revealing series of interviews with former senior Soviet defense officials, conducted during the final days of the Soviet Union. Among other things, the study reveals that during a 1972 command post exercise, leaders of the Kremlin were horrified by a briefing on the results of a hypothetical war with the United States, which argued that a US attack would kill 80 million Soviet citizens and destroy 85 percent of the country’s industrial capacity. Furthermore, a Soviet general who participated in a nuclear training exercise in the 1970s recollected that Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev “trembled” when he was asked to push the “red button”, asking Soviet defense minister Andrei Grechko “this is definitely an exercise?”. The report is available in full here.

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