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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Hot Line

The New York Times reports:

On Aug. 30, 1963, a direct line of communication between Washington and Moscow, dubbed the “Hot Line,” became operational. The Hot Line was established after previous methods of communication were found to be dangerously cumbersome.

The New York Times article about the communication link reported that it was “a direct outgrowth of the serious delays that developed in diplomatic communications between the two capitals during the Cuban crisis last fall,” and would reduce the time required for direct communication between the heads of the two governments from hours to minutes.

The equipment included four American-made teletype machines installed at the Kremlin, and four East German-made teletype machines installed in the Pentagon.

The Hot Line was first used in 1967 during the Six Day War between Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Syria, to clarify the intentions of fleet movements in the Mediterranean that could have been interpreted as hostile. Richard Nixon used it during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 and again during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. It was used several more times during the 1970s and again during the Reagan Administration.

Although the Hot Line had limited application in real politics, the concept was eagerly adopted by fiction writers. Instead of mundane Teletype machines being manned by trained operators in the Pentagon and the Kremlin, Hollywood often depicted the “Red Phone” as a direct phone line between the Oval Office and the office of the Premier.


Despite the infrequency with which it is used, and the improved relationship between Russia and the United States since the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the Hot Line still exists. Over the years, it has been upgraded several times to keep up with advancing communications technologies.

An inaccurate (if satirical) depiction of the Hotline in Dr. Strangelove (1964):