History Publishing Company Publisher’s Blog
History Publishing Company Publisher's Blog
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The Middle East, allies, and nucleur bombs
Are there limits to deceiving allies?
James J. Heaphey
In 1999 the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists reported that their editors had pursued the Department of Defense for years, under the Freedom of Information Act, to reveal the locations where nuclear weapons were stored overseas during the Cold War.
When the information was finally disclosed it fundamentally revised post-war nuclear history. There isn’t a nuclear scientist alive, wrote William Arkin, one of the co-authors of the article,who didn’t believe that the first U.S. nuclear weapons deployed overseas were sent to Britain. Now we know they actually went to French Morocco first [in 1953.]
That is only part of the legerdemain involved. The first location where nuclear weapons were secretly stored was Nouasseur Air Base because it had the best runway and infrastructure already in place. It was a French air base. The French government, as an ally and fellow member of NATO, allowed the U.S. to use a section of Nouasseur as a staging site for B-36 nuclear attacks on the Soviet Union.
However, we told the French that we stored at Nouasseur only the bombs bodies, called non-nuclear assemblies. Actually we stored both the bodies and the pits, the plutonium and/or uranium cores. According to the information we provided to all, but an elite few of Americans, the pits would be sent from the U.S. as needed.
Our strategic need was to deter the Soviets from invading Europe. The USSR conventional war machine far outmatched ours and the Europeans. It could count on huge reserves of its still young, combat-seasoned men under arms, pre-positioned war materiel still in good condition for combat, and relatively short lines of transport and communications.
But we had the bomb and a delivery system that far outmatched what they had. In the late 1940s, Winston Churchill told the House of Commons that Nothing stands between Europe today and complete subjugation to Communist tyranny but the atomic bomb in American possession.
The only way we could keep Russian troops out of West German coffee houses and streets of Paris was with the threat of our nuclear power. Under the terms of NATO a Soviet attack on any NATO country was an attack on the USA.
In addition to not telling the French about the nuclear weapons, we gave support to the Arab-Moroccan rebellion against the French. We saw the French as losing their control of North Africa. We did not want the new Arab-Moroccan leadership to demand we leave with the French. To maintain our Moroccan bases we sought to win the Arabs favor by surreptitious activities that helped them in their cause.
Are there limits to what we can do to an ally? Who should determine what those limits should be?
James Heaphey tells of his experience in deceiving the French in Legerdemain: the President’s Secret Plan, the Bomb and What the French Never Knew.