Security of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Overseas--Where Does It Stand?

C-EMD-81-2: Published: Nov 3, 1980. Publicly Released: Nov 3, 1980.

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GAO has issued several reports on various aspects of the U.S. nuclear safeguards program. These included reviews of physical security involving: (1) nuclear weapons grade materials, (2) commercial nuclear power reactors, (3) transportation of nuclear materials, and (4) nuclear weapons. A recent report addressed the adequacy of the security systems at the Department of Defense (DOD) nuclear weapons installations within the continental United States. The basic conclusion of the report was that the security needed improvement. In this report, GAO reviewed the adequacy of the security of U.S. nuclear weapons held outside the continental United States.

Some of the thousands of these nuclear weapons installation sites are located in the Pacific area; however, many are located in Europe. All of the sites in Europe are in support of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and are under the auspices of that organization. Accordingly, NATO is responsible for the security of the weapons. At the Pacific sites, however, DOD provides the security. For nearly 10 years, there has been a general effort to upgrade the security systems at nuclear weapons facilities. NATO, although it is not bound to follow the security measures prescribed by DOD, has adopted DOD requirements, with some modification, for use at its nuclear weapons sites. In view of the global significance surrounding the security and use of U.S. nuclear weapons and the serious societal repercussions that would result from any incident involving the misuse of any U.S. nuclear weapon, it is imperative that U.S.-owned nuclear weapons are effectively protected no matter where they are located. However, GAO recognizes the political and diplomatic realities that affect any U.S./NATO activity and the limitations which such considerations place on any unilateral action the United States may wish to take. Nonetheless, GAO found that the security of U.S. nuclear weapons held outside the continental United States needs improvement.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

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    Matter: Congress should pursue with NATO, through DOD, options that would improve, in an expeditious manner, the status of security at all sites having U.S. nuclear weapons.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status:

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    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should: (1) provide additional guidance for improving the security of U.S. nuclear weapons, and (2) review the security practices at all sites having similar types of U.S. nuclear weapons to assure that similar levels of protection are provided wherever the weapons are located.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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