During The Cold War, America Wanted To Hide Nukes In Iceland

Althings considered, probably for the best we didn't

F-51D Mustang At  Keflavik Air Base, Iceland, in September 1952

F-51D Mustang At Keflavik Air Base, Iceland, in September 1952

From Wikimedia Commons: "A U.S. Air Force North American F-51D-25-NA Mustang (s/n 44-73822) of the 192nd Fighter-Bomber Squadron, Nevada Air National Guard, 131st Fighter-Bomber Group, at Keflavik Air Base, Iceland, in September 1952. This deployment of 35 planes was the last overseas deployment of USAF F-51Ds. The F-51D 44-73822 is still flying with the civil registry "N51BS". However it is painted as an F-6C (RF-51D), s/n 44-84786, "Lil Margaret", 15th Reconnaissance Squadron."United States Air Force, via Wikimedia Commons

Cold warriors were a strange bunch. Immediately after the end of the single bloodiest war so far known to humanity, politicians, generals, diplomats, and other members of the government began preparing for the next, likely world-ending war between the United States-led NATO and the Russian-led Warsaw Pact. Thanks to documents recently released and published on the National Security Archive, part of that planning meant America almost put nuclear weapons in Iceland, and then didn't tell Iceland about them.

Wait, what?

From Gizmodo:

According to the telegrams, it appears that Icelandic officials were reassured by State Department officials that nuclear weapons would never been deployed to their country. But the US State Department was still very concerned that saying so would give the Soviets comfort. All the while, the Americans were apparently still making plans to store nuclear weapons in Iceland should the need arise. When Icelandic officials got wind that something like this was on the table, they said that they’d leave NATO should they ever find nukes secretly stored in their nation.

Nuclear balancing is a weird, arcane, paranoid art. The weapons have to be close enough to an enemy so that they’re a credible threat, but concealed enough that it’s not easy to get rid of them. Keflavik Air Base in Iceland is about 1900 miles from Moscow. That’s about the reach of the B-58 Hustler nuclear bomber, and well within the range of the B-52 bomber, which could make it a decent place to possibly keep weapons.

Yet it wasn't really Air Force bombers that were likely to be in Iceland. Instead, it was the Navy. From the National Security Archive:

The fact that the U.S. government never deployed nuclear weapons in Iceland does not mean, however, that it had no nuclear plans for Iceland. Previous research by Valur Ingimundarson and William Arkin demonstrates that during the Cold War Iceland was considered a potential storage site. As Ingimundarson discovered, at the end of the 1950s the U.S. Navy ordered the construction of a facility for storing nuclear depth bombs, an Advanced Underseas Weapons (AUW) Shop at the outskirts of Keflavik airport. The AUW facility was built by local Icelandic workers who thought its purpose was to store torpedoes. Whether Ambassador Thompson knew about it remains to be learned. During the 1980s Arkin reported that a presidential directive from the Nixon period treated Iceland as one of several “Conditional Deployment” locations, where nuclear weapons could be stored in the event of war. An AUW storage facility would make sense in that context. Nevertheless, all such arrangements were kept deeply secret because of the political sensitivity of the U.S. military presence in Iceland.

Naval planes, like America's P-3 Orion or the United Kingdom's Avro Shackleton, could carry nuclear bombs used by the Navy, like the smaller MK 101 Lulu depth charge. It doesn't appear that the Navy actually stored these weapons in Iceland, but the potential was there, which was almost as important.

Explore the newly released documents at the National Security Archive, and then quietly remember that there are still roughly 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world today.