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By José Carlos Palma*


The Cold War era was marked by intense geopolitical tensions, with the Soviet Union and the United States engaged in a precarious nuclear standoff. Strategic command and control played a crucial role in shaping the course of events, and the Soviet General Staff developed intricate methods for launching nuclear weapons. This article delves into the multifaceted aspects of Soviet nuclear command and control, exploring the intricacies of communication, political influences, and technological advancements that defined this critical period in history.

I. Dual Launch Methods

The Soviet General Staff, drawing inspiration from American practices, implemented two primary methods for launching nuclear weapons. The first involved transmitting unlock and launch authorization codes directly to individual weapons commanders, allowing them to execute launch procedures. This decentralized approach demonstrated the ability of submarine crews to launch within minutes of receiving the order. Alternatively, the General Staff could initiate missile launches directly from command centers, bypassing the subordinate chain of command and missile launch crews.

II. Political Intricacies

The Soviet Union grappled with unique challenges in the political control of nuclear weapons, particularly due to the influence of the KGB, the Soviet secret police. The KGB maintained a pervasive presence within the military, monitoring for signs of disloyalty and political leanings. The intricate web of political control extended to the role of “Zampolits,” political officers tasked with disseminating communist doctrine and monitoring military commanders’ loyalty.

III. Evolution of Surveillance Systems

By the late 1960s, the Soviets introduced the Signal system, designed to detect unauthorized attempts to launch ballistic missiles. This system served as a countermeasure against potential rogue actions within the military ranks, ensuring a level of control over the use of nuclear weapons.

IV. Nuclear Suitcases and Portable Warning Consoles

In 1976, portable warning consoles, colloquially referred to as “nuclear suitcases,” were distributed to high-ranking officials, including the General Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee, Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev. These portable consoles highlighted the emphasis on ensuring that key decision-makers had immediate access to critical information in the event of a nuclear threat.

V. Brezhnev’s Involvement and Special Meeting

Leonid Brezhnev, the Supreme Commander-in-Chief during a critical period, demonstrated a keen interest in the missile warning system. A special meeting in 1980, chaired by Brezhnev, underscored his active involvement and genuine concern for the intricacies of nuclear command and control. His engagement contrasted sharply with the attitudes of other members of the Defense Council, emphasizing the importance of informed decision-making in matters of national security.

VI. Kazbek and Perimeter: Main Command Systems

The main command and control center for strategic missiles, known as Kazbek, played a pivotal role in coordinating nuclear forces. The nuclear briefcase, codenamed Cheget, symbolized the gravity of its responsibilities. Additionally, the Perimeter system, designed to automatically control a massive nuclear attack, showcased the level of sophistication in Soviet strategic command and control infrastructure.


The complexities of Soviet strategic command and control during the Cold War reveal a nuanced interplay of political, technological, and human factors. The dual launch methods, political influences, evolving surveillance systems, and high-level involvement of key figures such as Leonid Brezhnev all contribute to a rich tapestry of Cold War history. Understanding these intricacies provides valuable insights into the challenges and innovations that defined an era dominated by the looming threat of nuclear conflict.

* Expert in international relations, such as foreign policy, international trade, domestic security, international security, developing nations, domestic security, intelligence, IT Consultant, world history, political consultant, and military analysis.

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