There He Goes Again
Schweizer is at his scholarly worst, however, when he attempts to deny that Reagan's military buildup and reckless talk nearly provoked the Soviet leaders into launching a pre-emptive nuclear attack--to pre-empt the pre-emptive nuclear attack that they believed Reagan was about to unleash on them. Events during the course of 1983--such as President Reagan's "Evil Empire" and "Star Wars" speeches, America's reaction to the shoot-down of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 by a Soviet fighter pilot, the US invasion of Grenada--intensified the KGB's ongoing search (since Reagan's inauguration) for evidence that the United States intended to inflict a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the USSR.
In November of that year, the KGB mistakenly believed it had found such evidence. A pre-emptive nuclear strike by the United States might occur under the cover of the Able Archer military exercises that US/NATO forces were conducting, to test, as Frances FitzGerald relates in Way Out There in the Blue: Reagan and Star Wars and the End of the Cold War, "the command-and-control procedures for the use of nuclear weapons." Moscow's KGB "Center" issued a flash alert for all information indicating that the United States was preparing an imminent nuclear strike.
Consequently, according to Professor Beth Fischer in The Reagan Reversal, Moscow upgraded "the alert status of twelve of its nuclear-capable fighter aircraft," and "in East Germany and Poland, Soviet forces began to prepare for a retaliatory nuclear strike."
Although the crisis subsided, why the Soviet Union did not launch a pre-emptive strike of its own remains an open question. After all, as Fischer notes, "prevailing nuclear doctrine at the time held that in the face of an impending nuclear attack, the Soviets should have sought to avoid disaster by launching a pre-emptive nuclear attack of their own."
Schweizer acknowledges that Soviet leader Yuri Andropov "believed that a first strike was being planned," but cites Gen. Nikolai Detinov (without an endnote) denying that the military brass "took the threat of an American attack seriously." Schweizer then adds, "Neither did the aged Defense Minister [Dmitri] Ustinov." To prove that point, Schweizer adds an endnote that refers the reader to page 130 of Andrei Kokoshin's book, Soviet Strategic Thought, 1917-1991 (MIT, 1998). Yet, when the reader turns to page 130, he finds no mention of Ustinov.
Schweizer also claims that "Likewise, Foreign Minister Gromyko dismissed such paranoia, explaining that the Americans would never strike first, but only 'in response to aggression.'" As proof of Gromyko's quote, Schweizer refers to pages 522-23 of Anatoly Dobrynin's memoir, In Confidence. But there we find neither Gromyko nor his quote. What we do find, however, is Dobrynin's assertion that Ustinov believed "that the Reagan administration was actively preparing for war."
Time and the inaccessibility of sources prevented this reviewer from checking all but a few endnotes for their accuracy. Nevertheless, Schweizer's careless treatment of the readily available evidence raises doubts about his handling of the archival evidence from Eastern Europe that was to distinguish Reagan's War from his earlier (terrible) book, Victory. Suffice it to say that the research in the instances mentioned above allows Schweizer to claim: "The [Soviets'] real concern was not over a surprise attack but Reagan's stubborn efforts to regain superiority and undermine Soviet power." We do know, however, that numerous scholars believe that Soviet preparations to pre-empt an American pre-emptive attack had a sobering effect upon Reagan. Professor Fischer, for example, notes that "Reagan was visibly shaken by the Soviet's misinterpretation of the NATO drill," which came on the heels of his personal screening of the television movie The Day After and a subsequent, extremely sobering briefing about US nuclear-war plans.
Consequently, Reagan too began to fear the bomb, a fear that Gorbachev cultivated in his quest to achieve serious arms-reduction agreements. Although Fischer asserts that "the Reagan administration began pursuing 'cooperation and understanding' with the Soviet Union in 1984 because it sought to avoid inadvertent nuclear exchanges in the future," Schweizer dismisses this fundamental reorientation as a mere change in "diplomatic tone," which didn't prevent the "underlying strategy against Moscow [from] intensifying."
Schweizer also claims that Reagan's hard-line policies brought Gorbachev (the "radical" reformer) to power, ignoring Robert D. English's acclaimed scholarship on the subject. According to English, the "heightened foreign threat served hard-line interests in a struggle that was primarily domestic, the main goal of its exponents was to squelch reforms."