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US Debated Deploying Nuclear Weapons in Iceland

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US Debated Deploying Nuclear Weapons in Iceland

Ásbrú, the former U.S. Naval Air Station in Keflavík.

From the former US naval air station in Keflavík. Photo: Páll Stefánsson.

Newly declassified US documents reveal that during the Cold War, US authorities contemplated deploying nuclear weapons in Iceland without alerting Icelandic authorities. The documents, dating back to 1960, show that US Ambassador to Iceland Tyler Thompson opposed all such plans. He expressed his belief that if Icelanders found out about such a deployment, they might leave NATO.

The documents are discussed on the website of the National Security Archive, but until now, they have been classified. On the website, it is noted that this is not the first time clues have been discovered about such plans.

Historian Valur Ingimundarson had previously argued that a weapon storage facility built in Keflavík in the 1950s was intended for nuclear weapons. Furthermore, during the 1980s, historian William Arkin reported that a presidential directive from President Richard Nixon’s period in office treated Iceland as one of several conditional deployment locations for nuclear weapons in the event of war.

The National Security Archive maintains that nuclear weapons were never deployed in Iceland. In 1951, Icelandic Foreign Minister Bjarni Benediktsson asked US authorities whether there were plans to use Iceland as an “atomic base,” contrary to the defense agreement signed that year. US authorities denied having any such plans.

In 1999, there were arguments that nuclear weapons had been stored in Iceland in the 1950s. The Clinton administration denied those claims. The National Security Archive states that researchers mixed up Iceland and the island of Iwo Jima, Japan.

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