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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 41, November 1999

Report on Cold War Custody & Deployment of US Nuclear Weapons

In October, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists published a report, "Where They Were", detailing the previously classified locations of US nuclear weapons during the first thirty years of the Cold War. The report - written by William Arkin, William Burr and Robert Norris, and available at http://www.bullatomsci.org/issues/1999/nd99/nd99norris.html - was based on analysis of a Pentagon document, "History of the Custody and Deployment of Nuclear Weapons: July 1945 through September 1977", first requested under the US Freedom of Information Act in 1985.

The report reveals that, during the time under review, the US stored nuclear weapons in 18 states and nine former or current US territories or possessions. The identity of one of the host states remains a mystery. The others are, according to the authors: Belgium, Canada, Cuba, France, West Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Morocco, the Netherlands, the Philippines, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan, Turkey and the United Kingdom. The mystery country, blacked out in the Pentagon document, lies alphabetically between Canada and Cuba. The presence of American nuclear weapons in some of these states was never publicly acknowledged, and in some instances not even revealed to the host Government.

On October 26, the US denied it ever stored nuclear weapons in one of the countries mentioned. Robert Sorenson, Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Reykjavik, said: "While we will not fill in the names of places that were redacted from the original document, we want to make clear that the...conclusion that the document indicated US nuclear weapons were deployed to Iceland is incorrect."

The United States currently deploys tactical nuclear weapons - around 150 B-61 bombs - in seven European countries: Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. In early November, the Agence-France Presse (AFP) news agency reported that the US intended to withdraw all its nuclear forces from Europe. On November 9, John Holum, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, cast doubt on the suggestion, telling reporters: "I have heard this report in the press, and I don't know what the basis for it is. Nuclear deterrence remains a central part of US involvement in the NATO Alliance, and the strategic umbrella afforded by US nuclear weapons, including those stationed in Europe, remains fundamental to us."

A sharp difference of opinion over US nuclear weapons based in Europe became apparent on October 21 in the Italian Government. According to Defence Minister Carlo Scognamiglio, addressing the Italian Senate, given the "potential risks that NATO countries face, conventional weapons on their own are not enough to fully deter aggression." According to Environment Minister Edo Ronchi, speaking to ANSA news agency, "The warheads should absolutely be eliminated in all of Europe. There's no reason to keep them after the end of the Cold War."

Editor's note: a new book, India's Nuclear Bomb, by George Perkovich, Director of the Secure World Program at the W. Alton Jones Foundation, says that in the mid-1960s the US considered offering nuclear weapons to some Asian countries, notably India, if they found themselves in conflict with China. Reuters said: "The basic idea was to make arrangements for friendly Asian countries to receive and militarily deliver low-yield tactical nuclear weapons that the United States would provide to them in the event of Chinese aggression."

Reports: US had nuclear bombs in 15 nations - report, Reuters, October 20; Pentagon reveals weapons locations, Associated Press, October 20; Italy, Netherlands - nukes necessary, Associated Press, October 21; US denies it put nukes in Iceland, Associated Press, October 26; US weighed nuclear arms to Asian allies in 60s, Reuters, October 28; Transcript - Holum, Wulf Worldnet on Nuclear Non-Proliferation, United States Information Service, November 9.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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