Has U.S. slipped nuclear bombs out of Britain?
It was once one of the most contentious issues in Europe, inspiring mass demonstrations, “peace camps” and a movement that shaped the politics of a generation. After more than half a century, there are no more U.S. nukes in Britain.
On Thursday, the Federation of American Scientists, a group set up by former Manhattan Project scientists alarmed by the legacy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, reported that the United States had removed the last of its nuclear bombs from the Royal Air Force base at Lakenheath in eastern England.
The move had more to do with changing U.S. strategic imperatives and military technology than with a sudden outbreak of global harmony. Dropping nuclear bombs out of airplanes is an old-fashioned way to deliver them in an era of accurate ballistic missiles. Washington now considers its main threat to come from the area south of the former Soviet Union, and is still keeping nuclear bombs in bases in Italy and Turkey and other parts of Europe. Britain has its own nuclear weapons and has decided to replace the submarines that carry them with a more modern fleet.
If the removal of American nukes from Britain really happened, it happened on the sly. A spokewoman for the U.S. forces in Lakenheath said Washington never talks about the
location of its nuclear bombs. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s spokesman had not read reports on the subject and had nothing to say about it, and the Ministry of Defence had no comment.
But the event, if confirmed, marks the end of an era for thousands of British protesters who defined themselves by their opposition to U.S. nukes, camping outside bases like Lakenheath throughout the 1980s.
The head of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the biggest single-issue campaign group in Europe, welcomed the news that the bombs were gone and said it would be good if the government would announce it publicly. She also said the fight would continue against U.S. plans to set up an anti-missile defence, perhaps with base stations at the same location in Lakenheath.
Those who pine for the days of “peace camps” may still get their chance to break out their muddy tents.
Have your say. Twenty years after the Cold War, should the United States still have nuclear weapons in Europe?