By Marc Thiessen | Fox News
Editor’s note: The following column first appeared in the Washington Post.
When the president suggested that he could envision a limited nuclear war with our communist adversary, critics were “horrified” and “appalled” while the regime called his remarks “dangerous madness.”
The president in question was not Donald Trump. It was Ronald Reagan, who in his first year in office raised the possibility that the United States and the Soviet Union could survive an exchange of tactical nuclear weapons. That same year Richard Pipes, Reagan’s director of East European and Soviet affairs on the National Security Council, told The Post he thought the probability of nuclear war was about 40 percent. These remarks sent a signal to Moscow that Reagan was not like those who came before him. He did not want war, but he would not shy from one if provoked.
That message was received. In 1981, then-KGB chief and future Soviet leader Yuri Andropov declared at a major KGB conference that Reagan “was actively preparing for war and that a nuclear first strike was possible.” Two years later, Margaret Thatcher shared intelligence from KGB Colonel Oleg Gordievsky (who was working for the British) that Russian officials were increasingly convinced Reagan was getting ready for a nuclear first strike and was running drills to prepare for it. Indeed, NATO did carry out an exercise for a nuclear exchange — “Able Archer 83” — which included planes taxiing onto runways with realistic dummy nuclear warheads. Again, Reagan did not disabuse the Soviets of the notion. Quite the opposite: The next year he joked when testing his microphone before his weekly radio address “We begin bombing in five minutes.” The belief of Soviet leaders that Reagan might just be crazy enough to push the nuclear button constrained Soviet behavior and helped make possible a peaceful end to the Cold War.