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The Week the World Almost Ended

J. Peter Scoblicwrote for Slate about the current combustibility of U.S.-Russia relations and the parallels it has to the early 1980s:

Few would mistake Donald Trump for Ronald Reagan, yet the parallels to the early 1980s are striking. With contradictory statements about both expanding and reducing U.S. nuclear forces, Trump has sown strategic uncertainty among friends and foes alike at a moment when the United States and Russia are modernizing their nuclear arsenals. On the heels of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the Baltic nations have stepped up preparations for war and NATO has moved military forces to vulnerable areas in the East. The Kremlin has called U.S. missile defenses “a certain threat to the Russian Federation,” and Europe is once again in range of intermediate-range nuclear missiles after Moscow deployed a new weapons system that violates a pivotal 30-year-old treaty. Meanwhile, Russia has repeatedly sent warplanes to probe European airspace and harass U.S. Navy ships, and operations in Syria have put the U.S. and Russian militaries in dangerous proximity to one another. The recent U.S. missile strike against Syria’s Russian-backed air force has only heightened the risk of a miscalculation. As Mikhail Gorbachev recently wrote, “It all looks as if the world is preparing for war … the nuclear threat once again seems real.”
Still, neither side wants war, so why are so many experts concerned that the United States and Russia could stumble into one? To understand how combustible the current moment is, it helps to revisit what happened in 1983.