US nukes ‘left Greece’

WASHINGTON – The United States quietly removed the last of its nuclear bombs from Greece early in President George W. Bush’s first term, making Greece the first US ally in NATO from which nuclear weapons have been completely withdrawn, according to a new study by private defense experts. The change, which has not been publicly confirmed by the Defense Department, was disclosed in a book, «Code Names,» by William Arkin, published last month and described in detail in a study released on Wednesday by the Natural Resources Defense Council, a private group that advocates arms control. Arkin said he believes the withdrawal from Greece could lead to an unraveling of NATO’s longstanding policy of «burden sharing» in the hosting of US nuclear weapons, which are meant to deter an attack on Europe but are highly unpopular among segments of the European population. Enormous political battles were fought in Germany and other European NATO countries over the deployment in the early 1980s of new US ground-launched missiles capable of striking the former Soviet Union. Those weapons were withdrawn in the early 1990s but air-launched bombs remained. The NATO countries that still host US nuclear weapons are Belgium, Britain, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey. Reports on the number of these weapons vary. The study released Wednesday said the total is as high as 480, but others believe the number is closer to 200. «It is a bit of a mystery,» Arkin said, whether the correct total is 480 or something lower. He said it is possible that 480 is the authorized maximum but the actual number deployed is in the 150-200 range. A Pentagon spokesman, Bryan Whitman, said on Wednesday that as a matter of policy the US government does not discuss the numbers or locations of its nuclear weapons deployed abroad. The only nuclear weapons deployed beyond US borders are in Europe and aboard ballistic missile submarines. The defense council study said 20 US nuclear bombs were airlifted out of Araxos air base in southern Greece in the spring of 2001. The move was foreshadowed in a top-secret document, Presidential Decision Directive 74, signed by President Bill Clinton and dated November 29, 2000, which authorized removal of the bombs, according to a person who has seen the document. US nuclear weapons also were removed from two air bases in Turkey in 1991 and one air base in Italy in 1993, the study said, but other nuclear bombs are still stored elsewhere in those countries. «The trend seems clear: Nuclear burden sharing in NATO, in as far as host country nuclear strike missions are concerned, is on a slow but steady decline toward ending altogether,» the study said. The United States has stationed nuclear weapons in Europe since 1954. The nuclear weapons that were at Greece’s Araxos air base were intended for use by the Greek air force, in coordination with the United States. But when Greece scrapped its older A-7E warplanes as certified to carry nuclear bombs in the late 1990s it did not replace them with a new certified nuclear-capable aircraft, thus prompting removal of the weapons, Arkin said in an interview. Arkin is the author of numerous books on nuclear weapons and other military topics and is a former army intelligence officer. In «Code Names,» he discloses the classified code name of the US-only UHF communications network that is installed at all main operating bases and munitions support squadrons in Europe where nuclear warheads are stored. It is called Flaming Arrow. The high-frequency nuclear weapons radio communication system that would be used to transmit a US presidential authority for the launch of nuclear weapons in Europe is code-named Regency, Arkin wrote.

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