A NATO-affiliated body accidentally published a document which revealed the locations of US nuclear weapons throughout Europe, according to the Washington Post. The document was subsequently deleted and replaced with a final version of the report which omits where US bombs are stored.
A version of the document, titled “A new era for nuclear deterrence? Modernisation, arms control and allied nuclear forces,” was published in April. Written by a Canadian senator for the Defense and Security Committee of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, the report assessed the future of the organization’s nuclear deterrence policy.
But what would make news months later is a passing reference that appeared to reveal the location of roughly 150 U.S. nuclear weapons being stored in Europe. -Washington Post
A copy of the document was published Tuesday by Belgian newspaper De Morgen, which reads "These bombs are stored at six US and European bases — Kleine Brogel in Belgium, Büchel in Germany, Aviano and Ghedi-Torre in Italy, Volkel in The Netherlands, and Incirlik in Turkey."
As a matter of practice, neither the US nor its European partners disucss the location of America's nuclear weapons on the continent.
"We do not comment on the details of NATO’s nuclear posture," said a NATO official cited by the Post, who added "This is not an official NATO document."
A number of European outlets, however, viewed the report as confirmation of an open secret. “Finally in black and white: There are American nuclear weapons in Belgium,” ran the report in De Morgen. “NATO reveals the Netherlands’s worst-kept secret,” said Dutch broadcaster RTL News.
The presence of U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe was indeed “no surprise,” Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat-reduction policy at the Arms Control Association, said in an email. “This has long been fairly open knowledge.” -Washington Post
And while there has never been an official disclosure of this nature regarding the US stockpiles, a diplomatic cable from a US ambassador to Germany revealed concerns over how long the weapons would be stored.
"A withdrawal of nuclear weapons from Germany and perhaps from Belgium and the Netherlands could make it very difficult politically for Turkey to maintain its own stockpile," reads the November 2009 memo written by then-US Ambassador Philip Murphy.
As the Post notes, the placement of US weapons around Europe stems from an agreement reached during the 1960s, designed as both a Cold War deterrent to the Soviet Union, as well as to convince European nations that they don't need to develop their own nuclear weapons programs.
But times have changed. In 2016, after a coup attempt and the rapid spread of the Islamic State extremist group next door, analysts openly wondered whether Turkey was really such a great place to store nuclear weapons.
"The military mission for which these weapons were originally intended — stopping a Soviet invasion of Western Europe because of inferior U.S. and NATO conventional forces — no longer exists," according to Reif.