Nuclear bomb history

The United States stored nuclear weapons in 27 countries and territories around the globe during the Cold War, according to “Where They Were,” the cover story in the November/December issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. The article, by three noted nuclear weapons analysts, is based upon a newly declassified Pentagon history released under a Freedom of Information Act request originally filed in 1985.
During the Cold War, 18 sovereign nations and nine former or current American territories or possessions hosted U.S. nuclear weapons. Today, the United States is the only nuclear power that deploys nuclear weapons overseas. U.S. bombs remain stationed in Belgium, Britain, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey.
“We can now fill in many gaps in the history of the arms race and the Cold War,” says Robert S. Norris, a Natural Resources Defense Council senior analyst and a co-author of the article. “Until now, there has never been official information on where, when, and what kinds of nuclear weapons were deployed overseas, and finally we have authoritative information about their presence in such surprising places as Japan, Greenland, Iceland and Taiwan.”
The authors also found that during the peak years in the early 1970s, the United States had more than 7,000 nuclear weapons in NATO countries in Europe, and more than 2,000 on land in the Pacific. A variety of naval vessels, including aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, frigates and attack submarines, routinely carried another 3,000 nuclear weapons.
Altogether, the United States deployed 38 types of nuclear weapon systems abroad. Germany was home for 21 U.S. weapon systems, which were first installed in 1955. Guam hosted 20 types and the Japanese island of Okinawa, while under U.S. occupation, hosted 19.
William M. Arkin, a co-author of the article, points out that while historians knew that nuclear weapons were stored in some countries, they were unaware about others and knew nothing of the details. The Pentagon document, he says, fundamentally revises post-war nuclear history.
“There isn’t a nuclear analyst alive who didn’t believe that the first U.S. nuclear weapons deployed overseas were sent to Britain,” he says. “Now we know they actually went to Morocco first.” Arkin also is the co-author of “Nuclear Battlefields” (1985), the first book to document the worldwide nuclear infrastructure.
“Where they Were” is based upon the formerly top secret study, “History of the Custody and Deployment of Nuclear Weapons: July 1945 through September 1977,” which was prepared by the Office of the Secretary of Defense in 1978. The Pentagon declassified and released only portions of the document, however. The authors had to apply much detective work to piece together the picture they provide in their article. For instance, the Pentagon blacked out the names of many of the countries, but given that an appendix listed them in alphabetical order, it was not difficult for the authors to figure them out. Only one nation, blacked out between Canada and Cuba on the list, remains a mystery.
The Pentagon document also includes tables depicting the number of nuclear weapons deployed in Europe, in the Pacific, and at sea. The Pentagon blacked out figures on the vertical axis, but there was enough supplementary information for the authors to calculate reasonable estimates of the numbers of deployed weapons.
“This document settles important questions about U.S. nuclear policy during much of the Cold War,” says article co-author William Burr, an analyst at the National Security Archive, “but it also raises many others.” Some of the deployments, such as in Canada, Great Britain and West Germany, are well-documented, but the story of how the United States introduced and later withdrew nuclear weapons from such countries as the Philippines, Iceland or Spain needs fuller elaboration, says Burr. “The many excisions in the document also raises troubling questions about the failings of the U.S. government’s declassification policy. Even though the U.S. withdrew nuclear weapons from many of these countries years or decades ago, the Pentagon still refuses to acknowledge some basic facts about the deployments.”

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