- Britain kept nuclear weapons at bases in Cyprus and Singapore
during the cold war without telling the governments of the two countries,
according to a study to be published this week.
- Tactical nuclear weapons were deployed at RAF Akrotiri
in southern Cyprus as early as 1960. Two years later Harold Macmillan,
then prime minister, personally authorised the storage of nuclear weapons
at RAF Tengah in Singapore.
- "There are a number of people in those countries
who will be none too thrilled to discover what the British government was
up to at the time," said Stephen Schwartz, publisher of the Chicago-based
Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, which will publish the report.
- "If this information had been available to the public
in Cyprus and Singapore, I don't think these operations would ever have
been carried out."
- While the Foreign Office told its diplomats of strategic
deployments, neither Tunku Abdul Rahman, then prime minister of Malaysia
(of which Singapore was part), nor Archbishop Makarios, the Cypriot leader,
were party to Whitehall's decision to keep the weapons on their soil.
- The account is based on recently declassified British
government documents showing that America was not the only country to have
taken the controversial and secretive measure of deploying its nuclear
- The documents not only describe various British deployments
but also the lengths to which London went to keep its allies unaware of
covert weapon movements.
- In one declassified 1960 memorandum, an official in the
Air Ministry insists that all those involved maintain their silence. "All
possible measures should be taken in Cyprus to conceal the arrival and
storage of nuclear bombs," wrote the official, "whether they
be inert or drill or the real McCoy."
- Deployment to the Mediterranean island was seen by military
planners as an inexpensive contribution to the region in the event of nuclear
war between the Soviet Union and the western allies.
- As early as 1956 discussions had started about developing
the British base at Akrotiri as a permanent home for Canberras, light aircraft
that were able to drop nuclear bombs.
- By 1960 part of the base had been prepared for 16 Red
Beard tactical nuclear weapons. The following year permanent storage facilities
for 32 of these weapons was opened nearby at Cape Gata.
- Richard Moore, a historian of Britain's nuclear defences
and author of the new study, said last week that by the end of 1962 facilities
had been upgraded to handle heavier nuclear bombers. "We can assume
that Britain had a full low-altitude nuclear bombing capability in Cyprus
by that stage," said Moore.
- Vulcan nuclear bombers remained on the island until 1975.
Whitehall officials also advocated the deployment of nuclear weapons in
the Far East, saying they would have to be used in the event of a war between
China and the West or a war against Britain's regional allies such as Australia,
New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines and Thailand.
- By 1960 the RAF was involved in nuclear planning for
the region, drawing up targets and making plans to move 48 Red Beards to
Tengah, an RAF base in Singapore, two years later. It was planned that
Vulcans and Canberras would be based there. In 1960 a dummy Red Beard
was flown for the first time by RAF transport aircraft to Singapore via
Libya, Yemen and the Maldives.
- The political problems inherent in moving nuclear weapons
to the Far East were already clear. Duncan Sandys, minister of defence
between 1957 and 1959, caused widespread controversy when he suggested
nuclear weapons might be stored in Malaysia and Singapore.
- In 1961 Lord Selkirk, British high commissioner to Singapore,
advised that the presence even of dummy weapons in the region would be
- This did not prevent Macmillan from issuing his directive
a year later, however, resulting in the deployment of Vulcans. The squadron
at Tengah began low-altitude nuclear bombing exercises at the end of 1963
and remained in the region until 1970 - although it is still not known
for how long it remained equipped with nuclear weapons.
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