Tuesday, December 6, 2022

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“Steadfast Noon”: a touch of the cold war

Each year, NATO tests the use of tactical nuclear weapons. But this time “Steadfast Noon” brings back bad memories of 1983.

It cannot be kept secret when dozens of warplanes take off from NATO bases across Europe on the same day. However, not much is known about the “Steadfast Noon” nuclear exercise, which the military alliance holds every October. In 2020, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg commented on the maneuver for the first time, officially confirming its existence.

According to military experts, “Steadfast Noon” is about the practice of using tactical nuclear weapons that the

The United States has stationed at various bases in Europe as part of the nuclear sharing. These weapons are B-61 hydrogen bombs that are delivered to the target by bombers. In “Steadfast Noon”, soldiers practice transporting bombs from underground arsenals and mounting them on combat aircraft. However, jets do not carry bombs on their training flights. According to Jens Stoltenberg, more than 50 aircraft took part in the exercises in 2020.

US nuclear weapons are stationed at six bases in Europe, as revealed in a NATO document made public in 2019. As a result, the weapons are stored in Kleine Brogel in Belgium, in Volkel in the Netherlands, in Inçirlik in Turkey, at the bases of Aviano and Ghedi in Italy and at the Büchel air base in Rhineland-Palatinate. According to the anti-nuclear movement Ican, a total of 180 B-61s are stored in these bases, 20 of them in Büchel. The federal government has yet to confirm or deny this. The weapons are under the command of the US military.

Nuclear weapons in Büchel have repeatedly become a political issue in recent years. Peace activists and the Left Party are calling for the withdrawal of weapons, but in June the majority of Germans voted for the weapons to be stationed in Germany. In 2015, ZDF magazine “Frontal 21” first reported on US plans to modernize their B-61 in Europe. According to Ican, all 180 bombs must be converted into “smart” guided missiles by 2024 and the new version will then be called B-61-12. The previous version, produced since 1968, is a “stupid” bomb that must be dropped directly on the target area.

Due to Russian nuclear threats against Ukraine, “Steadfast Noon” has attracted more public attention this year than in previous years. Critics say the move could further provoke the already nervous Russian leadership. The NATO Secretary General opposes this with the principle of deterrence: the core of NATO’s nuclear capabilities is to maintain peace and prevent aggression, according to Stoltenberg. He called the Russian threats “dangerous and irresponsible”.

For some observers, “Steadfast Noon” is likely to awaken bad memories of autumn 1983. In November of that year, NATO heads of state and military simulated a nuclear war under the name of “Able Archer”. The strict secrecy and the high degree of reality of the exercise caused great nervousness in Moscow.

The Kremlin leadership suspected it was preparation for a real nuclear attack rather than a drill, and alerted its nuclear-capable bomber squadrons. This information also reached NATO officials via double agents, who then prematurely stopped their exercise. US President Ronald Reagan finally got a TV crew to accompany him to his ranch to report to the Kremlin: everything is quiet in the West, there’s no need to panic.

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