Forgotten Cold War Nightmare Returns – Able Archer 83 All Over Again?

Russia warns of potential new missile production and deployment in response to U.S. actions, raising fears of a renewed arms race and increased global tensions.

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

Russian President Vladimir Putin on June 28 warned that the United States’ medium-range missile deployment in different parts of the globe will not go unanswered. He stated that Moscow will start manufacturing intermediate and short-range missiles and then decide on their deployment.

The Russian leader pointed out that the United States currently manufactures these missile systems and conducts training with them in Europe, particularly Denmark. Furthermore, a recent announcement revealed that they are currently deployed in the Philippines, and it remains uncertain if the missiles have been withdrawn from that location or not.

The Russian leader was alluding to the recently developed Precision Strike Missile (PrSM). While the officially stated range of the PrSM missile is 499 kilometers, its true range is believed to be at least 550 kilometers and potentially even as far as 700-800 kilometers.

“In any case, we need to respond to this and make decisions about what we should do next in this direction. Apparently, we need to start producing these strike systems and then, based on the actual situation, decide where—if it is necessary to ensure our security—to deploy them,” said Vladimir Putin.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said at a briefing on July 1 that Russia’s potential deployment of intermediate and short-range missiles could not be detailed in an announcement as it is a sensitive topic.

“Obviously, it is unlikely that such information will be announced in any way. After all, this is a very, very sensitive area related to defense and security,” he said.

At the same time, the Kremlin representative added that the president is raising this topic, and accordingly, as the process progresses, some information will be made available.

Based on an analysis of Russian media and social media sources, it may be inferred that Russia has initiated the production of ground-based “Kalibr” cruise missiles and upgraded operational-tactical precision-guided missiles of the 9M729 variant, specifically developed for the Iskander-M system. The United States withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in 2019 due to the presence of Russian missiles that were purportedly capable of traveling distances exceeding 500 km.

The INF Treaty, which was in effect between the US and Russia in 1987, prohibited the production, use, and storage of ground-based ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 1000 and 5500 km (medium-range) and 500 to 1000 km (shorter-range) and applied to both conventional and nuclear warheads.

Following this, the US refused to ratify the agreement on adapting the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe and withdrew from the Open Skies Treaty.

In April, it was explicitly stated that Moscow would end the suspension of deploying intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles if Washington were to deploy such systems. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov stated that if the US intends to deploy these missiles in any part of the world, such as the Asia-Pacific and European regions, Moscow’s response would be to reassess the approach to the unilateral moratorium declared by Vladimir Putin.

Russia officially does not possess intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles. Nevertheless, Russia’s current domestic missile technology has advanced, enabling it to rapidly develop missiles of this caliber due to its existing technological foundation. Russia can rapidly develop a land-based system using the Iskander-M missile, reaching up to 2,000 km. If deployed in the Kaliningrad region, this system would effectively cover a significant portion of Europe. Before the signing of the INF Treaty, the Soviet missiles could target all of Western Europe.

Soviet IRBMs were predominantly developed during the Cold War when nuclear deterrence was the primary strategic objective. The SS-4 Sandal (R-12), SS-5 Skean (R-14), and SS-20 Saber (RSD-10 Pioneer) were the primary Soviet IRBMs. In fact, these systems were specifically engineered for nuclear delivery. For instance, the SS-20 was designed to accommodate three nuclear warheads with a total weight of 150 kilotons. The USSR’s nuclear deterrent, particularly in relation to targets in Europe and Asia, was significantly bolstered by Soviet IRBMs.

What is the international security hazard that this action presents? Certainly, it will initiate a new round of the arms race, as it did in the 1970s-1980s, potentially resulting in a series of dangerous crises associated with the deployment of intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles, similar to what occurred in 1983.

Able Archer 83 was a military exercise organized by NATO in November 1983, which came close to causing a nuclear conflict because the Soviet Union misunderstood its intentions. The 1983 edition of this annual exercise was marked by heightened realism and complexity compared to earlier versions. It included advanced encrypted communication methods and the participation of high-level Western dignitaries. It took place during a time of intense tension between the United States and the Soviet Union, which was caused by the deployment of Pershing II missiles in Europe and the shooting down of Korean Air Lines Flight 007. The heightened verisimilitude of the drill, coupled with gaps in Soviet intelligence and apprehension within the Soviet leadership, caused them to mistake it as a pretext for a real nuclear preemptive attack. As a reaction, the Soviets elevated their nuclear forces’ readiness level and mobilized the Warsaw Pact’s air units in Eastern Europe. This event is regarded as one of the most imminent threats to accidental nuclear warfare during the Cold War, emphasizing the risks associated with miscommunication and misinterpretation in periods of heightened international tension.

Nevertheless, this is unlikely to occur in the immediate future, as it may take years or even decades to finalize the production of the missiles and deploy them.


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