The 1980’s – 1990’s
In early November of 1983 the world may have come closer to nuclear war than at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis. NATO was conducting what it considered a routine exercise named Able Archer, a simulation designed to train and test the procedures for shifting from conventional to nuclear war.
However, the Soviet Union interpreted the exercise as a prelude to a first strike by the United States. Much remains classified about what came to be known as the War Scare of 1983. But the National Security Archive has amassed and published a large collection of documents that are available online. Included in this library is a 100-page report by the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board from February of 1990 entitled The Soviet “War Scare.” Declassified in 2012, the moderately redacted report concludes that the intelligence community did not “attach sufficient weight to the possibility that the war scare was real”, and as a result “the President was given assessments of Soviet attitudes and actions that understated the risks to the United States.” The Board further concluded that the US had “inadvertently placed our relations with the Soviet Union on a hair trigger.”
On May 5, 1987, the last active Titan II ICBM came off alert at Launch Complex 373-8, Little Rock AFB, Arkansas. While missile crews would continue to pull custodial alerts at the complex as deactivation progressed, this day marked the end of the operational life of the largest land based missile in the US arsenal.
Designed to function for just 10 years, 54 Titan II ICBMs stood alert in their underground silos for almost 24 years, ever vigilant, ever ready, maintaining peace through deterrence.
In June of 1987, US President Ronald Reagan stood at the infamous Brandenburg Gate, part of the Berlin Wall, and challenged the Soviet General Secretary: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
A little less than 18 months later, millions of Germans celebrated as thousands of their compatriots tore down the Berlin Wall—one of the most iconic symbols and enduring images of the Cold War.
Riding the wave of unrest symbolized by the opening of the Berlin Wall, leaders of every Eastern European nation except Bulgaria were overthrown by popular uprisings by the end of 1989. The Soviet Union was in turmoil and there were several attempts to overthrow General Secretary Gorbachev.
Finally, on December 8, 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed. The president of the Russian Republic, Boris Yeltsin, formed the Commonwealth of Independent states. After 45 years, the Cold War, the longest war in US history, was over.