National Security Archive: U.S. Cold War Nuclear Target Lists Declassified for First Time

22 December 2015 — National Security Archive

U.S. Cold War Nuclear Target Lists Declassified for First Time

According to 1956 Plan, H-Bombs were to be Used Against Priority “Air Power” Targets in the Soviet Union, China, and Eastern Europe

Major Cities in Soviet Bloc, Including East Berlin, Were High Priorities in “Systematic Destruction” for Atomic Bombings

Plans to Target People (“Population”) Violated International Legal Norms

SAC Wanted a 60 Megaton Bomb, Equivalent to over 4,000 Hiroshima Atomic Weapons

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 538

Edited by William Burr

Posted December 22, 2015 — National Security Archive

Washington, D.C., December 22, 2015 – The SAC [Strategic Air Command] Atomic Weapons Requirements Study for 1959, produced in June 1956 and published today for the first time by the National Security Archive www.nsarchive.org, provides the most comprehensive and detailed list of nuclear targets and target systems that has ever been declassified. As far as can be told, no comparable document has ever been declassified for any period of Cold War history.

The SAC study includes chilling details. According to its authors, their target priorities and nuclear bombing tactics would expose nearby civilians and “friendly forces and people” to high levels of deadly radioactive fallout. Moreover, the authors developed a plan for the “systematic destruction” of Soviet bloc urban-industrial targets that specifically and explicitly targeted “population” in all cities, including Beijing, Moscow, Leningrad, East Berlin, and Warsaw. Purposefully targeting civilian populations as such directly conflicted with the international norms of the day, which prohibited attacks on people per se (as opposed to military installations with civilians nearby).

The National Security Archive, based at The George Washington University, obtained the study, totaling more than 800 pages, through the Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR) process (see sidebar).

The SAC document includes lists of more than 1100 airfields in the Soviet bloc, with a priority number assigned to each base. With the Soviet bomber force as the highest priority for nuclear targeting (this was before the age of ICBMs), SAC assigned priority one and two to Bykhov and Orsha airfields, both located in Belorussia. At both bases, the Soviet Air Force deployed medium-range Badger (TU-16) bombers, which would have posed a threat to NATO allies and U.S. forces in Western Europe.

A second list was of urban-industrial areas identified for “systematic destruction.” SAC listed over 1200 cities in the Soviet bloc, from East Germany to China, also with priorities established. Moscow and Leningrad were priority one and two respectively. Moscow included 179 Designated Ground Zeros (DGZs) while Leningrad had 145, including “population” targets. In both cities, SAC identified air power installations, such as Soviet Air Force command centers, which it would have devastated with thermonuclear weapons early in the war.

Check out today‘s posting at the National Security Archive – http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/nukevault/ebb538-Cold-War-Nuclear-Target-List-Declassified-First-Ever/

For more information, contact: William Burr: 202.994.7000 or nsarchiv@gwu.edu.

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Unredacted, the Archive blog – http://nsarchive.wordpress.com/

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THE NATIONAL SECURITY ARCHIVE is an independent non-governmental research institute and library located at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. The Archive collects and publishes declassified documents acquired through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). A tax-exempt public charity, the Archive receives no U.S. government funding; its budget is supported by publication royalties and donations from foundations and individuals.

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