#12 - RW 263
HOTLINE: 40 YEARS OF BUILDING UP TRUST
Andrei KISLYAKOV, RIA Novosti political analyst
On June 20, 1963 in Geneva the spokesmen for the Soviet and American foreign
ministries signed the Memorandum of Understanding Regarding the Establishment of
a Direct Communications Line.
Later dubbed "Hot Line," the Washington-Moscow link was designed to
continue to build up trust between the two countries, prevent the use of nuclear
weapons as a result of misunderstanding or contradictory information in crisis
situations. Moreover, the technical perils inherent in nuclear weapons systems
increased the risk of unwarranted launches of ballistic missiles both sides of
the ocean especially during crisis situations.
The threat of a global nuclear war has seemingly receded into the past and
the risk of unwarranted launches is approaching zero. But local military
conflicts with the use of modern military technologies, which have become
available not only to industrialised countries but also to large international
terrorist groups, can quickly grow into a global military catastrophe. In this
situation, the fate of humankind may hinge on a quick and, most importantly,
correct reaction of the leaders of the two largest world countries. But taking a
substantiated decision is impossible without mutual consultations in real time.
Frightened by the growing military conflict in Korea and becoming fully aware
of the fatal possibilities of nuclear weapons, the probability of whose use was
looming ever higher in the Korean war, the Soviet Union proposed, in 1954,
specific safeguards against surprise attacks. But the Soviet Union and the USA
stopped after elaborating technical conditions.
Moscow-Washington relations dramatically deteriorated in October 1962, when
the striving of Nikita Khrushchev to deploy Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba
provoked the Cuban missile crisis. On October 21 and 22 the world stood at the
edge of a third world war, which would have been nuclear.
At that time state leaders could contact each other directly only during a
personal meeting. All other official and unofficial negotiations were held
through intermediaries. Alexander Feklisov, Soviet station chief in Washington,
was one of those unofficial intermediaries. Replying to a question about what
could spark off a war, he said in a private talk with an ABC observer:
"Mutual fear, misinformation and mistrust can do it."
The leaders of Soviet intelligence suggested that Nikita Khrushchev should
discuss the possibility of a direct communications link with President John
The June 20, 1963 memorandum stipulated the establishment of "one
full-time duplex wire telegraph circuit, routed
Washington-London-Copenhagen-Stockholm-Helsinki-Moscow" for the
transmission of messages. Another duplex radiotelegraph circuit, routed
Washington-Tangier-Moscow, was to be used as a reserve link.
Identical terminal points were established in the two capitals and services
by top-notch communications men and interpreters. The Moscow terminal point,
dubbed the Red Phone, was located in a cell under the Kremlin.
Special transatlantic cable made of the latest insulators was laid in a
record short time. The first transatlantic cable linked Ireland and Newfoundland
in 1858 but it hardly worked because seawater quickly ate through the cable's
insulation. The first workable telephone cable, TAT-1, linked Scotland and
Canada in 1956.
The Kremlin leader first used his Red Phone in 1967 during the six-day
Arab-Israeli war to prevent possible misunderstanding between the naval groups
of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet and the US 6th Fleet, which approached each other
dangerously closely in the Mediterranean.
According to Viktor Sukhodrev, the Kremlin interpreter who had worked with
Khrushchev and Brezhnev, at first "there was no telephone; there were only
simple teletypes, like at any common telegraph. The Soviet leaders had to wait
while their words were translated into English and sent by operators to
Washington. The teletypes were replaced with a telephone only in the early
1970s, under Leonid Brezhnev."
The rapid technological progress and especially the quickly developing
satellite communications and growing amount of information called for
modernising the Hot Line. The first stage of modernisation was launched in 1971
and lasted until 1978, when the telephone line was complemented with two
satellite communication lines that used US Intelsat communications satellites,
poised at a geosynchronous orbit at an altitude of 36,000 km, and the Soviet
Molniya II satellites on a highly elliptical orbit. The
Washington-Tangier-Moscow radio circuit was terminated.
In 1986, the modernised Hot Line consisting of a voice-transmitter and two
improved satellite telephone channels became effective at the joint initiative
of the Soviet and American administrations. The Soviet Union used the stationary
Gorizont-class satellites, created in the late 1970s and registered with the
International Electric Communication Union as the Statsionar system. The Russian
satellite group working for the Hot Line is controlled from the Vladimir space
communications centre set up in 1971.
But the main innovation of the Hot Line reactivated in 1986 was a high-speed
facsimile transmission capacity. Today this capacity allows the two leaders to
quickly exchange large amounts of information, including the graphic images of
operations maps, diagrams and tables.
A recent example is the war and post-war settlement in Iraq, when the Red
Phone became a genuine instrument of trust. It allowed the two presidents to
elaborate well-considered and substantiated positions regarding the restoration
of peace after this most recent Middle East war.
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