Overseas placement of US tac-nukes

Rohit Khare (rohit@uci.edu)
Wed, 20 Oct 1999 18:54:30 -0700

October 20, 1999
U.S. Once Deployed 12,000 Atom Arms in 2 Dozen Nations

The United States stored 12,000 nuclear weapons and components in at=20
least 23 countries and 5 American territories during the cold war,=20
according to an article based on a recently declassified document.=20
The sites included Morocco, Japan, Iceland, Puerto Rico and Cuba.

The document, a secret history by the Defense Department covering=20
nuclear deployment from 1945 to 1977, is described in the latest=20
issue of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Altogether, the=20
report says, the United States stored 38 types of nuclear weapons=20
systems at American or allied bases abroad.

While other declassified documents have made clear that the United=20
States deployed nuclear weapons and materials overseas, the document=20
confirms how widespread the deployments were, and highlights=20
America's overriding dependence at the time on a worldwide network of=20
weapons of mass destruction.

The magazine article emphasizes the extent to which the Pentagon made=20
special weapons in which plutonium or uranium could be removed and=20
stored elsewhere. This was in order to evade the issue of whether=20
nuclear weapons or materials were stored in countries where there was=20
intense antinuclear fervor.

"The Pentagon document fundamentally revises some aspects of postwar=20
nuclear history," said William M. Arkin, a nuclear weapons analyst=20
and one of the article's three co-authors. It reveals, for instance,=20
that the first American nuclear weapons placed overseas were sent not=20
to Britain, as many historians believed, but to Morocco, the site of=20
several strategic American bases.

But Arkin and his co-authors concluded that the declassified study=20
and an annex listing the countries where nuclear weapons were placed=20
contains some errors. For instance, the annex does not list=20
Portugal's Azores Islands or Libya, though Arkin says that other=20
declassified documents show that the Strategic Air Command stored=20
nuclear weapons in both places in the 1950's and 1960's.

The article says that American nuclear weapons or materials were once=20
deployed in such sensitive places as Japan, Iceland, Taiwan and=20
Greenland, a possession of Denmark. All those nations have forsworn=20
nuclear weapons and publicly vowed not to store them on their=20

They were also to be kept under tight control of American forces, but=20
the article notes that the initial controls were lax.

Most diplomats from the countries on the list that are considered=20
sensitive on the subject declined to comment on the article and the=20
document, or on whether their governments were aware of any nuclear=20

But a spokesman at the Icelandic Embassy in Washington said, "There=20
is no reason to suspect that any nuclear weapons had ever been stored=20
in Iceland." Some American officials also questioned whether the=20
United States had deployed nuclear weapons on Icelandic territory.

How the Pentagon document was declassified is a saga in itself. "It=20
has been a 16-year ordeal," said Arkin, who is co-author of a book he=20
was working on at the time, "Nuclear Battlefield" (1985). He=20
requested the document under the Freedom of Information Act in 1983.=20
The study was partly declassified two years later, but most of its=20
annotated charts and country listings were blacked out.

Arkin, assisted by the Natural Resources Defense Council, a=20
Washington-based nonprofit group of scientists, lawyers and=20
environmentalists, appealed the deletions to the Pentagon. In 1992=20
and earlier this year, the Pentagon declassified much of the censored=20
material, including the names of nine places were bombs had been=20
stored. But it has continued to suppress the names of 18 countries on=20
the list.

Because the list was alphabetical, however, and they could see where=20
the names fell in the listing, Arkin and his co-authors -- Robert S.=20
Norris, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, and William Burr, a=20
senior analyst at the National Security Archives, a Washington-based=20
nonprofit group that collects declassified information -- say they=20
were able to deduce their identities.

The deployment of nuclear weapons domestically and overseas remains=20
among the most closely held military secrets. Arkin said his research=20
indicated that the United States still keeps such weapons in at least=20
seven places -- Belgium, Greenland, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany,=20
Turkey and Britain.

Kenneth H. Bacon, the Defense Department spokesman, said the Clinton=20
Administration, following a policy long embraced by its Republican=20
and Democratic predecessors, would neither confirm nor deny the=20
existence of nuclear weapons on foreign soil. But he said at least=20
one of the authors' deductions about the countries in which nuclear=20
weapons were stored was not correct.

Leslie H. Gelb, the president of the New York-based Council on=20
=46oreign Relations, who was the State Department's director of=20
political and military affairs between 1977 and 1979, defended the=20
policy of what he called "don't ask, don't tell" with respect to=20
nuclear weapons deployments.

"You make a country a target by admitting that you've put nuclear=20
weapons there," said Gelb, who wrote about strategic and foreign=20
affairs for The New York Times after he left the Carter=20

Historians, nuclear weapons experts and former Government officials=20
are divided about the likely impact of the document's=20
declassification. Arkin predicted that the disclosures could ignite=20
intense political controversy in countries that are "allergic" to the=20
presence of nuclear weapons and whose governments have forsworn their=20

The document and its annex, coupled with other declassified=20
information obtained by the article's authors, show that during the=20
1970's, the United States had more than 7,000 nuclear weapons in NATO=20
countries, and more than 2,000 on land in the Pacific region.

Graham T. Allison, a professor at Harvard University's Kennedy School=20
and a co-author of "Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile=20
Crisis," said he had not known until he read the version of the=20
declassified document's annex on the web that the United States had=20
stored depth charges -- with the nuclear materials removed -- at its=20
base in Guant=E1namo, Cuba.

The article and the authors' version of the annex are available=20
online, at http://www.bullatomsci.org.

Donald P. Gregg, president and chairman of the Asia Society, who was=20
the American Ambassador to South Korea between 1989 and 1993,=20
confirmed the article's assertion that America had once sent nuclear=20
weapons there. He had raised the issue of their removal with Korean=20
leaders more than a year before President Bush announced in 1991 that=20
he was withdrawing all tactical nuclear weapons sent overseas.

Gregg said he had concluded, and the American military had agreed,=20
that the weapons did not enhance American national security and could=20
have become a provocation to North Korea.

"My residence had just been broken into by six students angry about=20
beef quotas," he recalled. "They tried to burn my house down. And I=20
thought, 'God Almighty, if they get this mad about beef, what will=20
they do when they learn we have nuclear weapons here?' "


excerpts from "History of the Custody and Deployment of Nuclear=20
Weapons: July 1945 through September 1977"