Moscow-Washington hotline
The Moscow-Washington hotline
In telecommunication, a hotline is a point-to-point communications link in which a call is automatically directed to the preselected destination without any additional action by the user when the end instrument goes off-hook...

is a system that allows direct communication between the leaders of the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 and Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

. It was originally designed by Harris Corporation
Harris Corporation
Harris Corporation is a Florida-based international communications equipment company that produces wireless equipment, electronic systems, and both terrestrial and spaceborne antennas for use in the government, defense, and commercial sectors. It is also the largest private-sector employer in...

 for communication between the United States and the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

. Also known as the "red telephone", it linked the White House
White House
The White House is the official residence and principal workplace of the president of the United States. Located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C., the house was designed by Irish-born James Hoban, and built between 1792 and 1800 of white-painted Aquia sandstone in the Neoclassical...

 via the National Military Command Center
National Military Command Center
Located in the Pentagon, the National Military Command Center houses the logistical and communications center for the National Command Authority of the United States of America. The facility, which is composed of several war rooms, is the principal command and control center of the Department of...

 with the Kremlin
Moscow Kremlin
The Moscow Kremlin , sometimes referred to as simply The Kremlin, is a historic fortified complex at the heart of Moscow, overlooking the Moskva River , Saint Basil's Cathedral and Red Square and the Alexander Garden...

 during the Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...


Early implementation

The "Hot Line", as it would come to be known, was established following an agreement on June 20, 1963, by the signing of the "Memorandum of Understanding Regarding the Establishment of a Direct Communications Line" in Geneva
Geneva In the national languages of Switzerland the city is known as Genf , Ginevra and Genevra is the second-most-populous city in Switzerland and is the most populous city of Romandie, the French-speaking part of Switzerland...

, Switzerland
Switzerland name of one of the Swiss cantons. ; ; ; or ), in its full name the Swiss Confederation , is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in Western Europe,Or Central Europe depending on the definition....

, by representatives of the Soviet Union and the United States at the Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Committee, after the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis
Cuban Missile Crisis
The Cuban Missile Crisis was a confrontation among the Soviet Union, Cuba and the United States in October 1962, during the Cold War...

 made it clear that reliable, direct communications between the two nuclear power
Nuclear weapon
A nuclear weapon is an explosive device that derives its destructive force from nuclear reactions, either fission or a combination of fission and fusion. Both reactions release vast quantities of energy from relatively small amounts of matter. The first fission bomb test released the same amount...

s was a necessity. During the crisis, it took the U.S. nearly 12 hours to receive and decode Nikita Khrushchev
Nikita Khrushchev
Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev led the Soviet Union during part of the Cold War. He served as First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1953 to 1964, and as Chairman of the Council of Ministers, or Premier, from 1958 to 1964...

's 3,000 word initial settlement message—a dangerously long time in the chronology of nuclear brinkmanship
Brinkmanship is the practice of pushing dangerous events to the verge of disaster in order to achieve the most advantageous outcome...

. By the time the U.S. had drafted a reply, a tougher message from Moscow
Moscow is the capital, the most populous city, and the most populous federal subject of Russia. The city is a major political, economic, cultural, scientific, religious, financial, educational, and transportation centre of Russia and the continent...

 had been received demanding that U.S. missiles be removed from Turkey
Turkey , known officially as the Republic of Turkey , is a Eurasian country located in Western Asia and in East Thrace in Southeastern Europe...

. White House advisors at the time thought that the crisis could have been more quickly resolved and easily averted if communication had been faster. This link was encrypted using a one-time pad
One-time pad
In cryptography, the one-time pad is a type of encryption, which has been proven to be impossible to crack if used correctly. Each bit or character from the plaintext is encrypted by a modular addition with a bit or character from a secret random key of the same length as the plaintext, resulting...


Technology and procedure

The first generation of the hot line had no voice element at all; the memorandum called for a full-time duplex
Duplex (telecommunications)
A duplex communication system is a system composed of two connected parties or devices that can communicate with one another in both directions. The term multiplexing is used when describing communication between more than two parties or devices....

 wire telegraph circuit, based on the idea that spontaneous verbal communications could lead to miscommunications and misperceptions. This circuit was routed Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

 - London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 - Copenhagen
Copenhagen is the capital and largest city of Denmark, with an urban population of 1,199,224 and a metropolitan population of 1,930,260 . With the completion of the transnational Øresund Bridge in 2000, Copenhagen has become the centre of the increasingly integrating Øresund Region...

 - Stockholm
Stockholm is the capital and the largest city of Sweden and constitutes the most populated urban area in Scandinavia. Stockholm is the most populous city in Sweden, with a population of 851,155 in the municipality , 1.37 million in the urban area , and around 2.1 million in the metropolitan area...

 - Helsinki
Helsinki is the capital and largest city in Finland. It is in the region of Uusimaa, located in southern Finland, on the shore of the Gulf of Finland, an arm of the Baltic Sea. The population of the city of Helsinki is , making it by far the most populous municipality in Finland. Helsinki is...

 - Moscow. The Washington - London link was originally carried over the TAT-1
TAT-1 was the first submarine transatlantic telephone cable system. It was laid between Gallanach Bay, near Oban, Scotland and Clarenville, Newfoundland between 1955 and 1956. It was inaugurated on September 25, 1956, initially carrying 36 telephone channels.-History:The first transatlantic...

, the first submarine transatlantic telephone cable
Transatlantic telephone cable
A transatlantic telecommunications cable is a submarine communications cable running under the Atlantic Ocean. All modern cables use fibre optic technology....

. A secondary radio line was routed Washington, D.C. - Tangier
Tangier, also Tangiers is a city in northern Morocco with a population of about 700,000 . It lies on the North African coast at the western entrance to the Strait of Gibraltar where the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic Ocean off Cape Spartel...

 - Moscow.

Leaders would state their message in their native language, which would be translated at the receiving end.


The first use of the hotline was in 1967, during the six-day Egypt-Israel War
Six-Day War
The Six-Day War , also known as the June War, 1967 Arab-Israeli War, or Third Arab-Israeli War, was fought between June 5 and 10, 1967, by Israel and the neighboring states of Egypt , Jordan, and Syria...

, when both superpowers informed each other of military moves which might have been provocative or ambiguous. The main concern at hand was the close proximity of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet
Black Sea Fleet
The Black Sea Fleet is a large operational-strategic sub-unit of the Russian Navy, operating in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea since the late 18th century. It is based in various harbors of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov....

 and the US 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean and how to prevent possible misunderstanding between the two groups. It was also used in 1971 during the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War; during the Yom Kippur War
Yom Kippur War
The Yom Kippur War, Ramadan War or October War , also known as the 1973 Arab-Israeli War and the Fourth Arab-Israeli War, was fought from October 6 to 25, 1973, between Israel and a coalition of Arab states led by Egypt and Syria...

, when there was a United States nuclear alert; in 1974, when Turkey invaded Cyprus
Turkish invasion of Cyprus
The Turkish invasion of Cyprus, launched on 20 July 1974, was a Turkish military invasion in response to a Greek military junta backed coup in Cyprus...

; in 1979, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan
Soviet war in Afghanistan
The Soviet war in Afghanistan was a nine-year conflict involving the Soviet Union, supporting the Marxist-Leninist government of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan against the Afghan Mujahideen and foreign "Arab–Afghan" volunteers...

, and several times during the Reagan Administration
Reagan Administration
The United States presidency of Ronald Reagan, also known as the Reagan administration, was a Republican administration headed by Ronald Reagan from January 20, 1981, to January 20, 1989....

, with the Soviets querying about events in Lebanon
1982 Lebanon War
The 1982 Lebanon War , , called Operation Peace for Galilee by Israel, and later known in Israel as the Lebanon War and First Lebanon War, began on 6 June 1982, when the Israel Defense Forces invaded southern Lebanon...

 and the United States commenting on the situation in Poland
Martial law in Poland
Martial law in Poland refers to the period of time from December 13, 1981 to July 22, 1983, when the authoritarian government of the People's Republic of Poland drastically restricted normal life by introducing martial law in an attempt to crush political opposition to it. Thousands of opposition...


Second implementation

In September 1971, it was decided to upgrade the system with better technology. The countries also agreed for the first time when the line should be used. Specifically, they agreed to notify each other immediately in the event of an accidental, unauthorized or unexplained incident involving a nuclear weapon that could increase the risk of nuclear war.

A phone was installed, and the main telegraph line was complemented by two new satellite communication lines, one formed by two US Intelsat
Intelsat, Ltd. is a communications satellite services provider.Originally formed as International Telecommunications Satellite Organization , it was—from 1964 to 2001—an intergovernmental consortium owning and managing a constellation of communications satellites providing international broadcast...

 satellites and the other composed of two Soviet Molniya II
Molniya (satellite)
Molniya was a military communications satellite system used by the Soviet Union. The satellites were placed into highly eccentric elliptical orbits known as Molniya orbits, characterised by an inclination of +63.4 degrees and a period of around 12 hours...

 satellites. This phase of upgrade lasted from 1971–1978, and in the process the Washington-Tangier-Moscow radio line was eliminated.

Latest implementation

The most recent round of upgrades occurred in 1986. The Soviet Union used geostationary Gorizont
Gorizont, , GRAU index 11F662, is a series of 35 Russian, previously Soviet, geosynchronous communication satellites launched between 1978 and 2000. The programme was started in order to develop a satellite system to relay coverage of the 1980 Olympic Games from Moscow. The first four satellites...

-class satellites in the Statsionar system to replace the Molniya II
Molniya (satellite)
Molniya was a military communications satellite system used by the Soviet Union. The satellites were placed into highly eccentric elliptical orbits known as Molniya orbits, characterised by an inclination of +63.4 degrees and a period of around 12 hours...

 satellites, and a high-speed facsimile
Fax , sometimes called telecopying, is the telephonic transmission of scanned printed material , normally to a telephone number connected to a printer or other output device...

 capability. This allowed the leaders of the two countries to quickly share documents and other information alongside the teletype and voice forms of communication.

Museum display

An original East German
German Democratic Republic
The German Democratic Republic , informally called East Germany by West Germany and other countries, was a socialist state established in 1949 in the Soviet zone of occupied Germany, including East Berlin of the Allied-occupied capital city...

A teleprinter is a electromechanical typewriter that can be used to communicate typed messages from point to point and point to multipoint over a variety of communication channels that range from a simple electrical connection, such as a pair of wires, to the use of radio and microwave as the...

 used in the initial 1963 "hotline" setup is currently on display at the National Cryptologic Museum
National Cryptologic Museum
The National Cryptologic Museum is an American museum of cryptologic history that is affiliated with the National Security Agency . The first public museum in the U.S. Intelligence Community, NCM is located in the former Colony Seven Motel, just two blocks from the NSA headquarters at Fort...

 located on the National Security Agency
National Security Agency
The National Security Agency/Central Security Service is a cryptologic intelligence agency of the United States Department of Defense responsible for the collection and analysis of foreign communications and foreign signals intelligence, as well as protecting U.S...

 (NSA) campus at Fort Meade, Maryland
Maryland is a U.S. state located in the Mid Atlantic region of the United States, bordering Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia to its south and west; Pennsylvania to its north; and Delaware to its east...


New Delhi-Islamabad hotline

India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

 and Pakistan
Pakistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a sovereign state in South Asia. It has a coastline along the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman in the south and is bordered by Afghanistan and Iran in the west, India in the east and China in the far northeast. In the north, Tajikistan...

 set up their own nuclear hotline on Sunday, June 20, 2004. The hotline was set up with the assistance of United States military officers.

In popular culture

Perhaps the most well-known reference is from the 1966 Batman TV series
Batman (TV series)
Batman is an American television series, based on the DC comic book character of the same name. It stars Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin — two crime-fighting heroes who defend Gotham City. It aired on the American Broadcasting Company network for three seasons from January 12, 1966 to...

, so popular that even now the term Bat phone
Bat phone
A bat phone, in business jargon, is a private telephone number that is handled at a higher priority than a public line.-Batman comic:The name derives from Commissioner Gordon's secure line to the "Batphone" in the Batman television show of 1966–68...

 is often interchangeable with the actual "Red Phone" reference. Though the fact the Bat-phone concept itself is similar enough to the Red Phone (a way of direct communication in a crisis), its similarity is solidified in that the phones were almost identical in appearance on the TV show to the actual Red Phone as the public knew it at the time.

The hotline was depicted in the 1964 film Fail-Safe
Fail-Safe (1964 film)
Fail-Safe is a 1964 film directed by Sidney Lumet, based on the 1962 novel of the same name by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler. It tells the story of a fictional Cold War nuclear crisis...

as the "Red 1 / Ultimate 1 Touch phone".

The red phone was used in at least one James Bond film.

The text-based communications system is depicted in Tom Clancy
Tom Clancy
Thomas Leo "Tom" Clancy, Jr. is an American author, best known for his technically detailed espionage, military science, and techno thriller storylines set during and in the aftermath of the Cold War, along with video games on which he did not work, but which bear his name for licensing and...

's novel The Sum of All Fears
The Sum of All Fears
The Sum of All Fears is the best-selling thriller novel by Dan Fogelman and Tom Clancy, and part of the Jack Ryan series. It was the fourth book of the series to be turned into a film. An interesting historical note is that this book was released just days before the Moscow uprising in 1991, which...

 and its film adaptation
The Sum of All Fears (film)
The Sum of All Fears is a 2002 American action film/political thriller directed by Phil Alden Robinson and based on the novel The Sum of All Fears by Tom Clancy...


The "red phone" was the centerpiece of television commercials used in the 1984 Democratic primary
Democratic Party (United States) presidential primaries, 1984
The 1984 Democratic presidential primaries were the selection process by which voters of the Democratic Party chose its nominee for President of the United States in the 1984 U.S. presidential election...

 and 1984 presidential election
United States presidential election, 1984
The United States presidential election of 1984 was a contest between the incumbent President Ronald Reagan, the Republican candidate, and former Vice President Walter Mondale, the Democratic candidate. Reagan was helped by a strong economic recovery from the deep recession of 1981–1982...

 and the 2008 Democratic primary elections
Democratic Party (United States) presidential primaries, 2008
The 2008 Democratic presidential primaries were the selection process by which voters of the Democratic Party chose its nominee for President of the United States in the 2008 U.S. presidential election...

. In 1984, an advertisement made by Bob Beckel
Bob Beckel
Robert Beckel is an American political commentator and an analyst on the Fox News Channel. He is also a columnist for USA Today where he writes "point-counterpoint" style articles with friend and political opposite Cal Thomas. He is the brother of actor Graham Beckel.-Career:Beckel holds a B.A....

 and Roy Spence
Roy Spence
Roy Spence is the chairman, CEO, and co-founder of the advertising agency GSD&M Idea City and author of the books The Amazing Faith of Texas and It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For: Why Every Extraordinary Business Is Driven By Purpose.-Early life:Roy was born in Brownwood, Texas in 1948...

 on behalf of candidate Walter Mondale
Walter Mondale
Walter Frederick "Fritz" Mondale is an American Democratic Party politician, who served as the 42nd Vice President of the United States , under President Jimmy Carter, and as a United States Senator for Minnesota...

 suggested that, "The most awesome, powerful responsibility in the world lies in the hand that picks up this phone." The advertisement was intended to raise questions about candidate Gary Hart
Gary Hart
Gary Hart is an American politician, lawyer, author, professor and commentator. He served as a Democratic Senator representing Colorado , and ran in the U.S...

's readiness for the presidency. The phone was also featured prominently in an advertisement from that year targeting President Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan
Ronald Wilson Reagan was the 40th President of the United States , the 33rd Governor of California and, prior to that, a radio, film and television actor....

's Strategic Defense Initiative
Strategic Defense Initiative
The Strategic Defense Initiative was proposed by U.S. President Ronald Reagan on March 23, 1983 to use ground and space-based systems to protect the United States from attack by strategic nuclear ballistic missiles. The initiative focused on strategic defense rather than the prior strategic...

. In the second ad, the ringing phone goes unanswered while the narrator says, "there will be no time to wake a president – computers will take control." Roy Spence revived the "red phone" idea in 2008 in an advertisement for candidate Hillary Clinton.

The red phone appears in the movie Dr. Strangelove.

A song entitled 'The Red Telephone' appears on Love
Love (band)
Love was an American rock group of the late 1960s and early 1970s. They were led by singer/songwriter Arthur Lee and lead guitarist Johnny Echols...

's 1967 album Forever Changes
Forever Changes
Forever Changes is the third album by American rock band Love, released by Elektra Records in November 1967. In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Forever Changes 40th in its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time...

. While the phone line is not explicitly mentioned in the lyrics, the title sets the tone for the song's themes of pessimism and uncertainty.

A "red phone" has been shown in the Stargate SG-1
Stargate SG-1
Stargate SG-1 is a Canadian-American adventure and military science fiction television series and part of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's Stargate franchise. The show, created by Brad Wright and Jonathan Glassner, is based on the 1994 feature film Stargate by Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich...

television series, linking the fictional Stargate Command
Stargate Command
The Stargate Program is a fictional top-secret program that plays a key role in the Stargate franchise: it surrounds the operations of the Stargate on Earth. The core of the Stargate Program is Stargate Command , based at the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station near Colorado Springs, Colorado...

 directly with the President.

In the video game Portal, the "red phone" system is installed so that people monitoring the AI GLaDOS could send out a warning if it became hostile. The system failed as GLaDOS managed to cut the line to the phone and kill everyone in the Enrichment Center with deadly neurotoxin.

In the real-time strategy game Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2
Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2
Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2 is a 2.5D real-time strategy computer game by Westwood Studios, which was released for Microsoft Windows on October 23, 2000 as the follow-up to Command & Conquer: Red Alert. Set in the early 1970s, Red Alert 2 supposedly picks up at the conclusion of the Allied...

 by Westwood Studios
Westwood Studios
Westwood Studios was a computer and video game developer, based in Las Vegas, Nevada. It was founded by Brett Sperry and Louis Castle in as Westwood Associates, and renamed to Westwood Studios when it merged with Virgin Interactive in...

 the "red phone" is shown in the opening sequence to the game where the US President is seen calling Premier Alexander Romanov (the Russian President) to call off an apparent invasion by the Soviet Military on the United States. The sequence shows Yuri using his mind control technology over a secured phone line to NORAD, causing US military personnel to turn on each other and thus preventing a nuclear counter-attack on the Soviets.

The phone appears in South Park
South Park
South Park is an American animated television series created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone for the Comedy Central television network. Intended for mature audiences, the show has become famous for its crude language, surreal, satirical, and dark humor that lampoons a wide range of topics...

episode 'Funnybot'.

It also appears in the 2010 video game, Call of Duty: Black Ops
Call of Duty: Black Ops
Call of Duty: Black Ops is a first-person shooter video game developed by Treyarch, published by Activision and released worldwide on November 9, for Microsoft Windows, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii consoles, with a separate version for Nintendo DS developed by n-Space. Announced on April 30, 2010,...


During the episode "Take This Sabbath Day
Take this Sabbath Day
"Take This Sabbath Day" is the 14th episode of The West Wing. The episode addresses the death penalty and the United States government's custom of not scheduling executions between sundown Friday and sundown Sunday in order to avoid conducting an execution on either the Jewish Shabbat or Christian...

" of The West Wing, President Bartlet
Josiah Bartlet
Josiah Edward "Jed" Bartlet is a fictional character played by Martin Sheen on the television serial drama The West Wing. He is President of the United States for the entire series until the last episode, when his successor is inaugurated...

 comments that the red phone hotline was discontinued before he took office.

In the opening sequence for the video game Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword
Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword
Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword is the second official expansion pack of the turn-based strategy video game Civilization IV. The expansion focuses on adding content to the in-game time periods following the invention of gunpowder, and includes more general content such as 11 new scenarios, 10 new...

, one of the scenes shown is of a US President picking up a red phone in response to (or calling for) what may be a nuclear launch based on information from a satellite image.

External links

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