US rehearses dropping nuclear bombs in Europe
On Monday, the NATO military alliance will hold a training exercise known as Steadfast Noon, during which US B-52 bombers and F-16 fighters will simulate dropping nuclear bombs over Europe amid a deepening nuclear standoff with Russia.
The training exercise comes just 10 days after US President Joe Biden warned of a nuclear “apocalypse” and said the risk of nuclear war was the greatest since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
“This is the exercise that will train NATO’s nuclear strike mission with dual-capable aircraft and the B61 tactical nuclear bombs that the US is stationing in Europe,” wrote Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists.
The plane will rehearse dropping “tactical” B61 thermonuclear bombs, each up to 20 times more powerful than the weapon that destroyed Hiroshima in World War II and killed up to 126,000 civilians.
While nuclear training exercises are usually portrayed as routine, non-threatening and not targeting any specific country, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg made it clear this year that the exercise is intended to pose a threat to Russia.
In a speech in which Russia was mentioned five times, Stoltenberg announced: “Next week NATO will hold its long-planned Steadfast Noon deterrent exercise.” He added: “Russia knows that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought .”
As of 2019, the United States had deployed 150 “tactical” nuclear warheads as part of NATO’s nuclear arsenal across Europe, including in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey.
On Sunday, a day before the planned nuclear exercise, China urged its citizens living in Ukraine to leave the country, citing the “serious security situation”.
In June, the NATO alliance released a document pledging to provide “the full spectrum of forces” needed “for high-intensity, multi-domain warfare against nuclear-armed peer competitors.”
Announcing the Steadfast Noon exercise, NATO said the training flights will include “14 countries and up to 60 aircraft of various types, including fourth- and fifth-generation fighter jets, as well as surveillance and refueling aircraft.” It added that “US B-52 long-range bombers” will “fly out of Minot Air Base in North Dakota” to take part in the exercise.
The flights will take place “over Belgium, which is hosting the exercise, as well as over the North Sea and the United Kingdom”.
NATO added, “No edged weapons will be used,” which is a relief given that the weapons involved in the exercise would irradiate several hundred square miles and spread fallout to multiple countries.
On October 7, President Joe Biden said the world was threatened with nuclear “Armageddon,” implying that the rapid escalation of the war in Ukraine could lead to a nuclear war between the United States and Russia.
“We haven’t faced the prospect of Armageddon since Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis,” Biden said.
Biden added that he doesn’t believe “there is such a thing as the ability to just[deploy]a tactical nuclear weapon and not end up in Armageddon.”
In February, he warned that sending offensive weapons to Ukraine would trigger “World War III.” Since then, the US has sent hundreds of armored vehicles, advanced long-range missile systems and other high-end weapons to Ukraine.
In an article published in last week PoliticallyFormer CIA director Leon Panetta wrote that the probability of the war in Ukraine developing into a nuclear war is one in four, according to US intelligence agencies.
“Some intelligence analysts now believe that the likelihood of tactical nuclear weapons being used in Ukraine has increased from 1 to 5 percent at the start of the war to 20 to 25 percent today,” Panetta wrote.
On Friday the Guardian reported that governments are making plans to prevent “panic” if the war in Ukraine escalates into a nuclear conflict. “West plans to avoid panic if Russia uses nuclear bomb in Ukraine,” was the headline of his report, which quoted an unnamed official as saying governments were “making prudent planning for a number of possible scenarios.” execute.
The NATO nuclear exercise is scheduled to take place at virtually the same time as Russia is conducting its “grom” nuclear exercise. While NATO was loudly announcing its nuclear bombing exercises, no similar announcement came from Russia.
However, this did not prevent the NATO representatives from loudly denouncing the as yet unannounced Russian exercise as a provocative escalation.
An unnamed US official told Reuters, “Using nuclear weapons to coerce the United States and its allies is irresponsible.”
He added: “We consider nuclear saber-rattling to be reckless and irresponsible. Russia may choose to play that game – but we won’t.” The US official said this just days before Washington planned to fly bombers to Europe to practice dropping nuclear bombs.
Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, last week threatened to “annihilate” the Russian military if nuclear weapons were used in Ukraine, saying: “Any nuclear attack on Ukraine will produce a response, not a nuclear response, but one.” military response so powerful that the Russian army will be annihilated.”
On October 7, the same day as Biden’s comment on nuclear Armageddon, at a meeting of an Australian think tank, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on NATO to launch pre-emptive strikes against Russia to prevent the “possibility of Russia using nuclear weapons.”
“What should NATO do? Eliminate the possibility of Russia using nuclear weapons,” said Zelenskyy. “We need pre-emptive strikes so they know what will happen to them if they use nuclear weapons, not the other way around.”
In this overheated atmosphere, the US-led nuclear exercise raises the prospect of a major miscalculation. It is a well-known fact that during the Cold War, NATO’s annual “Able Archer” exercise almost led to full-scale nuclear war in 1983, when the Soviet Union leadership was convinced that the United States would indeed launch a nuclear attack.
That Washington Post noted that the Soviet bomber crews “were ordered to load nuclear bombs on one aircraft squadron in each regiment and the aircraft were placed on ‘Ready 3’, meaning a 30-minute alert”.
In February 2021, the US State Department’s Historian’s Office declassified a letter from Lt. Gen. Leonard H. Perroots clarifying that Soviet forces had responded to the US buildup by loading nuclear warheads on their bombers, and that, if the United States had responded, it could have triggered nuclear war.
After publication, the Perroots memo was taken offline by the State Department and a judge ruled that it should be classified.