BIOLOGICAL AND CHEMICAL WEAPONS
July 12, 2007: Without any official
announcement, the United States appears to have reduced its once enormous
nuclear weapons stockpile still further. An administrative document showing
that there would no longer be nuclear weapons inspections at Ramstein airbase,
means that the U.S. no longer stores nuclear weapons there. These bombs were
intended for the use by German aircraft, in the event of a major war with,
well, there don't seem to be any suitably scary enemies available any more.
There are still apparently about 300 American nuclear weapons stored in Europe,
all of them believed to be 1960s era B61 nuclear weapons, configured as a half
ton bomb that can be carried by most U.S., and some European, fighter-bombers.
Some 3,200 B61s were built since the design
went into service in the mid-1960s, and about half of those remain available
for use. Some are being refurbished, so they will good for another two decades.
The basic B61 nuclear bomb weighs 700 pounds, is 330mm in diameter and about
twelve feet long. Those stored in
Europe, and these are not being refurbished, meaning that those withdrawn are
probably approaching the end of their shelf life. Without the refurb, all these
older warheads will be useless in less than a decade. Most B61 warheads were
variable yield, and could be set to provide an explosion ranging from less than
a kiloton, to over 300 kilotons.
During the early 1970s, the United States had
over 7,000 nuclear warheads stored in Europe, most of them 8 inch and 155mm
artillery shells. This was in the belief that, if the Russians, and their
Warsaw Pact allies, invaded Western Europe, they would do so using these
"tactical" (a yield of under 100 kilotons) nuclear weapons. Plans were drawn up
to use hundreds of these warheads in battles with the invading Russians. But
eventually, it was realized that such use would destroy Western Europe, and
probably lead to a full scale nuclear war that would devastate the planet. So,
by the end of the Cold War in 1990, there were only about 4,000 U.S. nukes left
in Europe. By the end of the 1990s, there were only about 500 left. Most of
these were for the use of NATO allies. During the Cold War, European nations
were to be provided with American nuclear weapons, in the event of a major war.
Most of these agreements are still in effect.