News that US nuclear weapons may already be back in Britain, at RAF/USAF Lakenheath in East Anglia, makes Britain once again a forward nuclear base for the US in Europe.
110 US/NATO free-fall B61 nuclear bombs were removed from Lakenheath in 2008, following sustained protest at the base by CND and the Lakenheath Action Group. US nuclear bombs had been located there since 1954. Their return – assigned to NATO – will increase global tensions and put Britain on the front line in a NATO/Russia war. B61s have continued to be sited in five other countries in across Europe – Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Turkey – in spite of strong opposition to them in some of the ‘host’ countries.
The news was revealed by expert Hans Kristiansen after scrutinising a recent US Department of Defense (DoD) document, justifying its 2023 budget plans to Congress. It added the UK to the list of European sites in line for infrastructure investment for storing “special weapons within secure sites and facilities”. Special weapons mean nuclear weapons and the DoD has cited the need to improve NATO infrastructure within alliance territories, in the context of increasing tension with Russia and the current escalating war. The UK was not on the comparable list for the previous year, so this looks like a very recent decision.
Since the weapons were removed in 2008, the empty storage vaults for the weapons have been on ‘caretaker’ status, but reports of nuclear exercises at Lakenheath increase the likelihood that nuclear weapons are back, or on their way; the base currently hosts F-15E fighter-bombers with nuclear capability but these are being replaced by the new nuclear-capable F-35A Lightning. The first of these new fighter-bombers arrived in December 2021. Within the next year US/NATO nuclear bases in Europe will also receive the new B61-12 guided nuclear bomb which is entering full-scale production in the US.
The return of US nuclear weapons to Britain and the upgrading of its nuclear weapons across Europe constitutes a further undermining of prospects for peace in Europe and beyond. The US is the only country to locate its nuclear weapons outside its own borders and this major increase in NATO’s capacity to wage nuclear war in Europe is dangerously destabilising.
The big question is whether they have already been returned to Britain, or is their delivery still in preparation. Either way this is a huge challenge for the peace movement and we will do everything we can to prevent these weapons being sited here. Speaking recently about the risks of the Ukraine war turning nuclear, I said that it was precisely these weapons, at bases across Europe, that would be likely to be used first in a nuclear war over Ukraine – that the US/Russia war will be fought in Europe. This was our worst fear in the 1980s when millions mobilised across Europe against cruise and Pershing missiles being sited here. In the 1980s we got rid of all those weapons, and we have to have the energy, the commitment and the confidence to do that again.