The world almost ended in 1983

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The end of the world as they knew it

1983: Reagan, Andropov and a World on the Brink. By Taylor Downing.Da Capo Press; 400 pages; $28. Little, Brown; £20.

THE Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 was terrifying, but at least both sides knew the world was on the brink of catastrophe. As Taylor Downing’s snappily told account lays bare, what arguably made the near-miss of November 9th 1983 worse was that the West had almost no idea the Soviet leadership believed war was imminent.

East-West relations had been in dire straits for years. Ronald Reagan’s soaring anti-communist rhetoric, terming the Soviet bloc an “evil empire”, inspired freedom-lovers on both sides of the Iron Curtain, but panicked the Politburo gerontocracy. So too did his idealistic belief that missile-defence (“Star Wars”) might keep the peace better than MAD (mutually assured destruction). A hi-tech arms race spelled doom for the Soviet…Continue reading

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