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U.S. Once Deployed 12,000 Nuclear Weapons in 2 Dozen Nations

Related Web Site The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

New York Times
October 19, 1999
U.S. Once Deployed 12,000 Nuclear Weapons in 2 Dozen Nations


The United States stored 12,000 nuclear weapons and components in Morocco, Japan, Iceland, Puerto Rico, Cuba -- a total of at least 23 countries and five American territories -- during the cold war, according to a new article based on a recently declassified document.

The document, a secret study written by the Defense Department and entitled "History of the Custody and Deployment of Nuclear Weapons," is described in the cover story of the November/December issue of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Altogether, the article says, between 1945 and 1977 the United States stored 38 types of nuclear weapons systems abroad. Among countries with the most, Germany had 21 types of systems, Guam had 20, and the Japanese island of Okinawa, which was then under American occupation, had 19, the article says.

While it has long been known from other declassified documents that the United States has deployed nuclear weapons and materials overseas, the article offers confirmation that the deployments were widespread and sheds new light on how widespread the practice was.

The magazine article emphasizes the extent to which the Pentagon manufactured special nuclear weapons in which the plutonium or uranium could be removed and stored elsewhere in order to evade the issue of whether nuclear weapons or materials were being stored in countries with intense antinuclear fervor.

"The Pentagon document fundamentally revises some aspects of postwar nuclear history," said William M. Arkin, a nuclear weapons analyst and one of the article's three co-authors. It reveals, for example, that the first American nuclear weapons placed overseas were sent not to Britain, as many historians believed, but to Morocco, though the article does not explain why they were sent there.

The article asserts American nuclear weapons or materials were sent to such sensitive countries as Japan, Greenland, which is a possession of Denmark, Iceland and Taiwan -- which have all forsworn nuclear weapons and publicly vowed not to store them on their territory.

They were to be kept under tight control of American forces, but the article notes that the initial controls were lax.

Most diplomats from the countries on the list that are considered sensitive on the subject declined to comment on the article and the document, or on whether their governments were aware of any nuclear deployments.

However, Fridrik Jonsson, first secretary of Iceland's Embassy in Washington, said that his Government "has not been aware of the presence of any nuclear weapons on our soil."

How the Pentagon document was declassified is a saga in itself. "It has been a 16-year ordeal," said Arkin, who was working on a book he co-wrote, "Nuclear Battlefield," (1985). He requested the document under the Freedom of Information Act in 1983. The study was partially declassified two years later.

Mr. Arkin, assisted by the Natural Resources Defense Council, a Washington-based nonprofit group of scientists, lawyers, and environmentalists, appealed the deletions to the Pentagon. In 1992, the Pentagon released a little more information.

Then earlier this year, it declassified much of the censored material, including the names of nine places were bombs had been stored. But it has continued to suppress the names of 18 countries on the list, many of them sensitive to the presence of nuclear materials on their territory.

Because the list of countries was alphabetical, however, and they could see where the names fell in an alphabetical listing, Arkin and his coauthors -- Robert S. Norris, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, and William Burr, a senior analyst at the National Security Archives, a Washington-based non-profit group that serves as an archive for declassified information -- say that they were able to deduce which ones they are.

The deployment of nuclear weapons domestically and overseas remains among the most sensitive of military secrets. Arkin said that his research indicates that the United States, still keeps these weapons in at least seven nations -- Belgium, Greenland, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany Turkey, and the United Kingdom.

Kenneth H. Bacon, the Defense Department spokesman, said that the Clinton Administration, following a policy long embraced by its Republican and Democratic predecessors, would neither confirm nor deny the existence of nuclear weapons on foreign soil. . But he said that at least one of the authors' deductions about the countries in which nuclear weapons were stored was not correct.

Leslie H. Gelb, the president of the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, who was the State Department's director of political military affairs between 1977 and 1979, defended the policy of what he called "don't ask, don't tell" with respect to nuclear weapons deployments.

"You make a country a target by admitting that you've put nuclear weapons there," said Gelb, who wrote about strategic and foreign affairs for The New York Times after he left the Carter Administration.

Arkin said that the United States Government did not always inform governments that it was sending nuclear weapons to their territory or at their naval bases or storing them there. This "no-comment policy allowed foreign Government officials to say that they did not know," Arkin asserted.

But Gelb said he doubted that senior foreign officials had not been informed about such nuclear movements. "I suspect that most of them knew," he said. Historians, nuclear weapons analysts, and former Government officials are divided about the likely impact of the document's declassification. Arkin predicted that the disclosures could ignite intense political controversy in countries that are "allergic" to the presence of nuclear weapons on their soil and whose governments have forsworn their storage.

"Now we can also fill in many gaps in the history of the arms race and the cold war," said Norris, one of the article's co-authors. "Until now, there has never been official information on where, when, and what kinds of nuclear weapons were deployed overseas."

The document and its annex, coupled with other declassified information obtained by the article's authors, show, for example, they wrote, that during the height of the cold war in the 1970's, the United States had more than 7,000 nuclear weapons in NATO countries, and more than 2,000 on land in the Pacific. Aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, frigates, and attack submarines carried another 3,000 nuclear weapons.

Graham T. Allison, a professor at Harvard University's Kennedy School and a co-author of "Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis," said he had not known until he read the version of the declassified document's annex that the Natural resources Defense Council posted today on its web site that the United States had stored depth charges with the nuclear materials removed at its base in Guantanamo, Cuba.

Donald P. Gregg, the president and chairman of the Asia Society, who was the American ambassador to South Korea between 1989 and 1993, confirmed the article's assertion that America had once sent nuclear weapons there. He had raised the issue of their removal with South Korean leaders more than a year before President Bush announced in 1991 that he was withdrawing all tactical nuclear weapons sent overseas.

Gregg said he had concluded, and the American military had agreed, that the weapons did not enhance American national security and could have become a provocation to North Korea.

"My residence had just been broken into by six students angry about beef quotas. They tried to burn my house down," he recalled. "And I thought God Almighty, if they get this mad about beef, what will they do when they learn we have nuclear weapons here?"

Date: Wed, 20 Oct 1999
From: Bill Robinson
To:, Abolition Canada
Subject: Canada housed U.S. nuclear weapons

Please note: There is a major error in the following article. Nuclear-armed Genie air-to-air missiles remained in Canada until the summer of 1984; it was in 1984, not 1972, that the last US nuclear bomb (not counting ship- and sub-based bombs) was removed from Canada.

October 20, 1999

Canada housed U.S. nuclear weapons: Report

Arms stored in 27 countries during Cold War, analysts say

By Kathleen Kenna
Toronto Star Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - Canada was among 27 countries and territories where nuclear weapons from the United States were stored during the Cold War, according to an analysis to be released today.

Thousands of U.S. nuclear weapons were kept overseas in countries whose citizens weren't aware of their presence, three nuclear analysts charge in the cover story of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

That included Japan, which was to have been used as a staging platform for U.S. nuclear bombing of China or the Soviet Union if war broke out, the analysts contend.

Non-nuclear bomb components - to be coupled swiftly with nuclear parts if the need arose - were stored in Japan from 1954 until June, 1965.

``The U.S. government has never acknowledged their presence given the sensitivity of the issue in U.S.-Japan relations,'' the article states.

Another revelation from the analysts is that Iceland also stored complete nuclear bombs for the U.S. from 1956 until 1959 and non-nuclear bomb parts from 1956 to 1996 - despite its enduring image as an anti-nuclear nation.

The analysis is based on newly declassified Pentagon documents - heavily blacked-out - released under a Freedom of Information Act request originally filed in 1985.

The U.S. removed the last of its nuclear bomb components from Canada in June, 1972, but had originally deployed bombs on Canadian soil as far back as 1950.

The report doesn't list sites or numbers. But it does cite a 40-year-old accident in Canada as proof of the danger unwittingly faced by citizens unaware that their countries were hosting U.S. weapons.

``Very few members of the Canadian government knew of this arrangement (in the 1950s),'' the authors state. After prime minister Louis St. Laurent approved a six-week deployment in July and August, 1950, a U.S. bomber had engine trouble while ferrying bomb assemblies from an Arizona air force base to Goose Bay, Labrador.

The U.S. ``lost'' a bomb assembly in the St. Lawrence River in 1950 and didn't acknowledge the accident until Pentagon documents were declassified in 1990, the scientists write.

The Star reported in January, 1997 - based on a study of nuclear weapons in Canada by military historian John Clearwater - that the bomb, without its nuclear components aboard, was detonated at 760 metres over the St. Lawrence near Rivièère-du-Loup on Nov. 10, 1950.

Canadian officials last night declined comment on the report, saying they had only seen a brief synopsis. Canada officially does not allow U.S. nuclear weapons on its territory, although anti-nuclear activists have long contended it permits U.S. ships carrying nuclear bombs into its waters.

``It's been on the public record since 1984 that the Canadian government allows no nuclears on Canadian soil,'' foreign affairs spokesperson Michael O'Shaughnessy said last night.

With files from Star wire services

Study Says U.S. Secretly Placed Bombs

Cold War Deployments Affected Mostly Allies

By Walter Pincus Washington Post Staff Writer Wednesday, October 20, 1999; Page A03

At the height of the Cold War, the United States secretly deployed thousands of nuclear weapons in 15 foreign countries, introducing bombs into some nations--such as Iceland and Morocco--without the knowledge of their leaders, according to a study published today in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Although many of the deployments have previously been revealed, the study contains the most comprehensive list of U.S. nuclear weapons and the dates that they were placed in locations outside the 48 contiguous United States, including Hawaii, Alaska and some Pacific islands under U.S. control as well as foreign countries.

The list is based largely on the Defense Department's own history of such deployments from 1945 to 1977. Written in 1978, the Pentagon history was partially declassified this year in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the Natural Resources Defense Council, a private research group in Washington.

The Pentagon blacked out the names of all but three countries: Cuba, West Germany and the United Kingdom. But because the locations were listed in alphabetical order and the authors of the study had a wealth of corroborating data from other sources, they believe they were able to identify 12 other countries, naming some for the first time.

The study reveals, for example, that nuclear bombs were stored from 1956 to 1959 at a U.S. base in Iceland, which has a strong non-nuclear tradition and publicly opposed many of NATO's nuclear policies.

From December 1961 until mid-1963, a period that included the Cuban missile crisis, the United States kept "nuclear-capable" depth charges at its base on Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. These anti-submarine weapons technically were not nuclear bombs, because they were stored without their vital plutonium "pits." But the pits, which were stored in Florida, could be inserted quickly in the event of war.

Without telling the French government, President Harry S. Truman in January 1952 also authorized the storage of nuclear-capable bombs, lacking only the fissile component, on Strategic Air Command bases in French Morocco. Complete nuclear bombs, intended for delivery by U.S. warplanes against the Soviet Union, were deployed in Morocco from 1954 to 1963.

One of the study's authors, Robert S. Norris, a senior research analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said yesterday he has a U.S. government document that says France "should not be informed" about the weapons in Morocco, which was a French and Spanish protectorate at the time. The Moroccan government apparently was informed after it gained independence in 1956.

Contrary to most scholars' assumptions, complete U.S. nuclear weapons were deployed in Morocco even before they were placed in Britain, according to Norris and his co-authors, William M. Arkin and William Burr.

Nuclear-capable bombs, minus their essential uranium or plutonium, also were sent to Japan, the country with the strongest anti-nuclear feelings. They were deployed by the Eisenhower administration during the U.S.-China crisis over the Taiwan straits in 1954-55 and were intended for nuclear operations against China or Russia in the event of war, the authors say.

Beginning at about the same time, complete nuclear bombs, artillery shells and missile warheads were placed in Alaska, Hawaii and Okinawa. Later in the 1950s, such weapons were deployed in South Korea, the Philippines and Taiwan, according to the study. Norris said yesterday it was not clear whether those countries were informed of the initial deployments.

Because of domestic sensitivities, foreign leaders often have not wanted to acknowledge the presence of U.S. nuclear weapons on their soil, and it is difficult for historians to determine if, or when, they received formal notification.

In the past, such revelations have sometimes caused a furor. Five years ago, the United States acknowledged that it had kept nuclear weapons from 1958 to 1965 at Thule Air Base in Greenland, part of the realm of Denmark, a stridently non-nuclear country. The disclosure set off a Danish political scandal, dubbed "Thulegate."

Fridrick Jonsson, first secretary at the Embassy of Iceland in Washington, said yesterday that his government has previously been asked about U.S. nuclear weapons and has always said it "had not been aware of the presence of nuclear weapons in Iceland."

A Pentagon spokesman said the Defense Department would adhere to its traditional policy of neither confirming nor denying U.S. nuclear deployments overseas.

The authors of the study believe they have been unable to identify only one location where nuclear weapons were deployed outside the continental United States. The mystery site, which falls alphabetically between Canada and Cuba, hosted nuclear weapons from 1956 to 1965, according to the study.

Although most of the U.S. nuclear bombs deployed overseas were intended for use by the U.S. military, the study says that as many as 40 percent of the weapons in Europe were for use by NATO allies. These included not only West German and British aircraft, but also planes flown by Greek and Turkish pilots. The actual bombs, however, remained under American custody and could not be armed without the participation of a U.S. serviceman.

At the peak in the late 1960s, more than half of the 7,000 U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe were stored in West Germany. In Asia, the Japanese island of Okinawa was the major storage point, holding as many as 1,000 U.S. nuclear weapons at a time between 1954 and 1972. The numbers began to drop after the Vietnam War, and by the end of the 1970s, the only U.S. nuclear weapons left in the Far East were in South Korea. They were withdrawn in 1991.

Today, the study says, the United States has fewer than 150 nuclear bombs at 10 air bases in seven NATO countries. But it "is still the only country with nuclear weapons outside its borders," according to Norris.

Al Rycroft & Kealey Pringle

*** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. ***

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