Nuclear-proof communications? Telecommunications emergency planning and NATO’s Cold War signal exercises
Throughout the Cold War, concern about how to secure the alliance’s communications infrastructure was an important topic on the NATO agenda. As a new war was expected to be fought on home territory, an operative and secure communications system was needed. This was due to military concerns as well as to a growing focus on civil emergency planning. As the need for communication facilities was expected to increase in the event of an emergency, the use of public communications infrastructure and cooperation with national telecommunication authorities were key issues for NATO. In 1951, the European Long Lines Agency was established in order to coordinate the wartime operation of telecommunications and soon after NATO began to hold ‘signal exercises’ simulating enemy attacks on the communications infrastructure.
This paper will explore the attempts to secure the area of telecommunications in NATO during the Cold War. First, it will examine the organisational setup with a particular focus on civil-military interactions. Second, it will take a closer look at some of the signal exercises held from the 1950s to the 1980s and examine the many disputes that arose from the coordination of emergency communications, including the discussion of how to prioritise the military and civilian communication needs.