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1983 Remembered: The Most Dangerous Year of the Cold War?

Hosted by the Department of International History

Various LSE venues - see below schedule, United Kingdom


Prof Matthew Jones, Dr Victoria Phillips, and Prof Vladislav Zubok

The International History Department at LSE marks the fortieth anniversary of the events of 1983 when the world was brought again to the ‘Nuclear Brink’. This conference has been sponsored by the The Cold War Studies Project at the Department of International History

This conference brings together Cold War historians of both the ‘hard power’ of nuclear weapons and geopolitics and the ‘soft power’ of popular activism and culture. This dialogue aims to consider the events of 1983 in the round, develop cross-discipline innovations, and reflect on the wider significance of 1983 in the history of the Cold War.

Forty years have now passed since what many historians describe as some of the most dangerous moments of the Cold War.

On 14 November 1983, it was announced by the British Government that the first US ground-launched cruise missiles had arrived at the UK airbase of Greenham Common, and soon after the Soviet Union walked out of arms talks with the US at Geneva. As NATO’s twin-track decisions of 1979 to field a new generation of intermediate-range nuclear forces reached this major milestone, the deployment marked the culmination of a period of high international tensions.

On 1 September a South Korean airliner, flight KAL 007, had been shot down by Soviet fighter aircraft over the Kamchatka peninsula, killing all 269 passengers and crew, and leading to widespread denunciations of Moscow’s actions. Anatoly Chernyaev, the Deputy Director of the International Department of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union’s Central Committee noted in his celebrated diary that ‘this vast world, full of fantastic achievements of the human mind and labour, can in a few short minutes fall victim to a nervous breakdown of one of the two “superpower” leaders …when you walk down the street, you see hundreds and thousands of people … tomorrow they and everything around them could be gone’.

A NATO ‘command post’ exercise, Able Archer, staged in November, was later seen by Western officials as triggering a heightened state of nuclear alert across the Warsaw Pact. Meanwhile, across the countries of Western Europe, NATO’s deployment of US cruise and Pershing II missiles had sparked an upsurge of popular anti-nuclear protest and activism that had few parallels in the Cold War. Western European governments’ efforts to maintain a united front in the face of such public pressure were strained to breaking point. In the United States, the Reagan administration’s anti-Communist rhetoric was reaching a crescendo, while in the Soviet Union, an ailing Soviet leadership feared that their system had lost all vitality and appeal.

Conference Schedule:

  • Tuesday 12 December: Keynote Lecture 1 (6pm – 8pm), Yangtze Theatre, Centre Building, LSE

  • Wednesday 13 December: Conference Day 1 (9.30am – 6pm), LSE Life Workspace 4, Lionel Robbins Building, LSE

  • Wednesday 13 December: Keynote Lecture 2 (6.30pm – 8pm), MAR.1.04, Marshall Building, LSE

  • Thursday 14 December: Conference Day 2 (9.30am – 6pm), LSE Life Workspace 4, Lionel Robbins Building, LSE

  • Thursday 14 December: Keynote Lecture 3 (6.30pm – 8pm), MAR.1.04, Marshall Building, LSE

Conference Participants:

  • Gordan Barrass (LSE IDEAS)
  • Oliver Barton (DSTL)
  • Aaron Bateman (George Washington University)
  • Luc-Andre Brunet (Open University)
  • Frank Costigliola (University of Connecticut)
  • Susan Coulbourn (Duke University)
  • Matthew Evangelista (Cornell)
  • Dina Fainberg (City University)
  • Carol Gluck (Columbia University)
  • Ben Griffin (Department of History, West Point)
  • David Holloway (Stanford University)
  • Matthew Jones (LSE) - Organiser
  • Elisabeth Leake (Tufts University)
  • Chloe Mayoux (LSE) - Organiser
  • Simon Miles (Duke University)
  • Leopoldo Nuti (Universita Roma Tre)
  • Sue Onslow (SAS, University of London)
  • Christian Ostermann (Woodrow Wilson Center)
  • Margaret Peacock (University of Alabama and Woodrow Wilson Center)
  • Victoria Phillips (LSE and Woodrow Wilson Center) - Organiser
  • Giodana Pulcini (Universita Roma Tre)
  • Sergey Radchenko (SAIS, Johns Hopkins)
  • Tony Shaw (University of Hertfordshire)
  • Eline van Ommen (Leeds University)
  • Vladislav Zubok (LSE) - Organiser

How to attend the conference: 

This is a public conference open to all. Though, registration is required for each event via Eventbrite

Email ih.events@lse.ac.uk if you have any questions about the event.

Download the conference programme here.

From time to time there are changes to event details so we strongly recommend that if you plan to attend this event you check back on this listing on the day of the event.