A Project of the Hamburg Institute for Social Research in Cooperation with the Einstein Forum, Potsdam

Berliner Colloquien zur Zeitgeschichte

Berliner Colloquienzur Zeitgeschichte

1983—The Most Dangerous Year of the Cold War?Hosted by Bernd Greiner and Klaas Voß

23 and 24 May 2014

Most contemporaries remained oblivious to a series of dramatic events that are now a controversial field of discussion for historians. In early 1983, Yuri Andropov, chairman of the CPSU and leader of the Soviet Union, and his inner circle believed that an American nuclear surprise attack against the USSR was possible, if not imminent. Throughout the year, those fears continued to escalate and eventually climaxed in suspicions about the true nature of NATO command post exercise »Able Archer« in November. How dangerous was this crisis that passed virtually unnoticed by the general public? Was the world at the brink of an unintended nuclear war, inadvertently triggered by a combination of misunderstandings, erroneous interpretations, and sheer panic?

Three decades later, recent studies and novel findings encourage historians to revisit what some scholars have called »the most dangerous year of the Cold War« from a fresh perspective. In our workshop, we will discuss whether (and, if so, how) recently declassified primary sources in Eastern and Western countries alter, rectify or verify the conventional wisdom about the events of 1983.

Using Able Archer as a complex and multi-layered example, we are especially interested in identifying themes and leitmotifs which prove essential for the entire history of the Cold War and maintain their significance even today. This extends to the impact of intelligence services on mindsets and political decision making, to the influence of nuclear armament on mutual perceptions and misperceptions, to the existence and political utilization of fear, and to the volatile interplay between trust and distrust in international politics. At the same time, the events of 1983 provide us with an excellent framework for examining the self-perception of Soviet elites and their viable courses of action in a time which Moscow identified with a profound decline in Soviet global influence and which even precipitated fears about an impending collapse of the Soviet Empire.

The conference language is English. 



Interview with Klaas Voß

Klaas Voß live at the Einstein Forum

Klaas Voß in Mittelweg 36 (in German)