U.S. - Soviet Hotline

On June 20, 1963, at the height of the Cold War, the Soviets, Americans and British created a safety valve in the form of a "hotline." The hotline was intended to help reduce the risk of nuclear war occurring by accident, miscalculation or failure of communications.

At the brink of war

With a failed 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba, and a 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis having taken place, the Soviets and Americans had entered into unpredictable times — both had itchy trigger fingers. Pride had to be set aside, and an understanding of one another had to take place, or the unthinkable would happen.

The 20th of June portended a more positive outlook for the Cold War as the U.S., Soviet Union, and Great Britain signed an agreement for the hotline, which would establish a direct two-way communications link between Moscow and Washington for use in an international crisis.


While attending the April 5, 1963, disarmament conference in Geneva, Switzerland, the chief Soviet negotiator, Semyon Tsarapkin, announced that the U.S.S.R. would agree to an immediate establishment of a direct communications link with the United States for use in an emergency, "without waiting for the implementation of general and complete disarmament."

Charles C. Stelle, head of the U.S. delegation at Geneva, quickly and warmly welcomed the Soviets acceptance of the U.S. proposal. American and Soviet technical experts soon began to plan hotline details while in Geneva on May 16.

Nineteen meetings passed, and the "hot line" agreement was signed at the Palais des Nations on June 20 by U.S. delegate Stelle and Soviet negotiator Tsarapkin, consisting of a memorandum of understanding between the U.S. and Soviet governments.


An annex setting out the technical details of the agreement was prepared, which allowed for a two-way telegraphic link that spanned through Washington, London, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki, and Moscow. A stand-by radio communication was also implemented between Washington and Moscow. Both communication systems were made effective and open 24 hours a day.

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