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Foreign Relations of the United States 1964-1968


Fra U.S. Department of State hjemmeside, omhandlendende noget af det fordækte og politiske omkring eftervirkningerne af ulykken den 21. januar 1968.

Foreign Relations of the United States 1964-1968, Volume XII, Western Europe
Released by the Office of the Historian

Documents 1-11

1. Editorial Note

On January 21, 1968, a fire broke out aboard a nuclear-armed U.S. Strategic Air Command B-52 bomber, based at Plattsburgh Air Force Base in New York, while it was over Greenland on a routine mission.

The pilot sought to make an emergency landing at Thule Air Force Base in Greenland but then ordered an immediate evacuation when smoke filled the cabin and electrical power went out. The pilotless aircraft crashed 7-1/2 miles from Thule Base on the ice of North Star Bay.

The conventional high explosives in the B-52's four thermonuclear bombs went off, scattering radioactive debris over the ice, but there was no nuclear detonation. Six of the seven crew members survived.

For more information on the accident, see Scott D. Sagan, The Limits of Safety: Organizations, Accidents, and Nuclear Weapons (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), pages 156-203. In its January 22 press release announcing the crash, the Department of Defense stated that the aircraft carried nuclear weapons but that they were unarmed and thus there was no danger of a nuclear explosion at the crash site. (Telegram 102343, January 22; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files, 1967-69, DEF 17 US)

On January 22 U.S. Ambassador to Denmark Katherine White warned the Department of State the "repercussions in Denmark may be severe in light of special nuclear sensitivities." (Telegram 2814 from Copenhagen; Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Denmark, Vol. 1) Within hours Danish Foreign Minister Tabor issued a press release stating, in part: "The Danish policy regarding nuclear weapons also applies to Greenland and also the air space over Greenland. There are no nuclear weapons in Greenland.

The American authorities are aware of Denmark's nuclear policy and the Danish Govt assumes that there are no American over-flights of Greenland by aircraft carrying nuclear weapons." (Telegram 2835 from Copenhagen, January 22; ibid.)

Two hours later Danish Prime Minister Krag made a similar statement, specifying that "there can be no overflights over Greenland by aircraft carrying nuclear weapons." (Telegram 2838 from Copenhagen, January 22; ibid.) Both statements noted, however, that in times of emergency it could become necessary for an American aircraft to land in Greenland.

The statements by Tabor and Krag expressed a view of Danish nuclear policy that differed markedly from the way it was understood by U.S. officials, a difference that precipitated 4 months of negotiations resulting in a new agreement between the two countries.

This critical period in relations between Denmark and the United States-and the Cold War developments that led up to it-later became the focus of a study commissioned by the Government of Denmark. In 1995 the Danish Government asked the newly established Danish Institute of International Affairs (DUPI) to produce a historical review of U.S. overflights of Greenland with nuclear weapons and the role of Thule Air Force Base in that connection for the period from 1945 to 1968.

The government also asked that the report deal with the decision-making process and the general situation so far as security policy and international relations were concerned.

In 1997 DUPI submitted to the Danish Minister of Foreign Affairs and then published a two-volume study entitled Gronland under den kolde krig: Dansk og amerikansk sikkerhedspolitik, 1945-68 (Greenland During the Cold War: Danish and American Security Policy, 1945-68).

DUPI indicated that its access to Danish Government archives had, in general, been satisfactory but that its extensive research in U.S. Government archives did not include privileged access. Volume 1, in Danish, contains 614 pages of analysis. Volume 2 contains facsimiles of 102 documents from Danish and U.S. archives. DUPI also published a 51-page Summary consisting of an English translation of the concluding chapter of volume 1.


2. Memorandum of Conversation /1/

Washington, January 23, 1968, 6:30 p.m.

/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, DEF 17 US. Secret. Drafted by Klebenov.

The memorandum is Part III of III. According to a memorandum of conversation marked Part I of III, the group first discussed a proposed Department of Defense press release that described the findings of the ground survey team that visited the crash site. (Ibid.) The meeting was held in Leddy's office.

U.S. Air Force Routes
Ambassador Torben Ronne, Embassy of Denmark
Mr. Per Fergo, Minister-Counselor, Embassy of Denmark
Assistant Secretary John M. Leddy, EUR
Deputy Assistant Secretary Walter J. Stoessel, Jr., EUR
Mr. David H. McKillop, Country Director, SCAN
Mr. Eugene Klebenov, Country Desk Officer, SCAN

Mr. Leddy said that the statements by Danish Government leaders on nuclear storage and overflights/2/ had come as a surprise to us. Ambassador Ronne said that Prime Minister Krag and Foreign Minister Tabor had merely re-stated Danish nuclear policy. Mr. Leddy said that we did not want to go any further into this question; that we saw no utility in pursuing the matter.

Ambassador Ronne said that Danish nuclear policy covers Greenland, as the Krag and Tabor statements had pointed out. Mr. Leddy replied that we had not contradicted these statements, but that we do not want to get into a public discussion on the matter of routes; that we believe it would be most unwise to open such a discussion. Therefore, we could not add to the statement (attachment B)/3/ a reference to overflights.

Under the circumstances, it would probably be just as well to have no statement at all.

/2/See Document 1.

/3/Attached is the text of a proposed Department of Defense press release, which was transmitted to Copenhagen in telegram 103632, January 23.

The press release stated that news stories claiming that the B-52 was scheduled to land at Thule Airfield were wrong; the B-52 was scheduled to return to Plattsburgh Air Force Base after completing its mission without any intervening landings elsewhere; furthermore, there were not "scheduled landings of B-52's at Thule at any time."

Ambassador Ronne said that Premier Krag would, the following day, be questioned on Danish nuclear policy. The Ambassador added that Mr. Leddy was familiar with Denmark's policy in this area.

Mr. Leddy said that he felt that statement could create more problems than it solved but that he would accede to its release. He added that we did not want to set off another round of routes discussion and that we could not go any further than the present statement.

Ambassador Ronne said that lack of further U.S. comment could indicate that the U.S. does not accept Denmark's foreign policy on nuclear matters. Mr. Leddy sad that it was simply that we do not comment in a way that could lead people to speculate on alert flight routes. Ambassador Ronne said that the lack of U.S. Government comment left him in a very difficult situation.

Mr. Leddy pointed out that the Danish Government had made its policy statements; that we did not challenge these statements but will not comment further on this subject. Ambassador Ronne said that he was very unhappy with the situation, and that he would be informing his Government.

Ambassador Ronne said that he would call later in the evening and let us know if the Danish Government concurred in the two press statements. Mr. Leddy said that, on receiving concurrence from the Danes, we would notify the Department of Defense for an 8:00 am release, January 27.

[Since the Danish Government found the shorter statement (attachment B) inadequate, the USG did not release it.]/4/

/4/Brackets in the source text.

3. Telegram from the Department of State to the Embassy in Denmark/1/

Washington, January 27, 1968, 2320Z.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Denmark, Vol. 1. Top Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Leddy, cleared by McKillop, and approved by Leddy.

106058. Personal for the Ambassador from Leddy.

1. I called in Ambassador Ronne on the afternoon of January 21 and handed him an informal record of remarks on the background of our understandings with Denmark on the questions of storage and overflights with respect to nuclear weapons./2/ The text is being sent you by separate telegram./3/ I suggested that he communicate this record personally to Prime Minister Krag only.

/2/Document 4.

/3/Telegram 106059 to Copenhagen, January 27. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Denmark, Vol. 1)

2. I also showed Ronne, but did not leave with him, the texts of Embtel 406 of November 18, 1967/4/ and Embtel 519 of February 6, 1964./5/

/4/This reference is incorrect. Presumably Leddy is referring to telegram 419 from Copenhagen, November 18, 1957. See footnote 4, Document 4.
/5/See footnote 6, Document 4.

3. In making this information available to him I explained that we had done so because it had appeared to us that the public statements of Prime Minister Krag and Foreign Minister Tabor on the questions of storage and overflights seemed to us to be inconsistent with the tacit understandings between the two governments; that we had realized that these understandings had been closely held within the Danish Government; and that in view of the delicacy of the matter we had delayed reminding the Danish Government of these understandings in the hope that the Danish leaders themselves would become aware of them from their own sources within the Danish Government.

4. Ronne said that he personally had been completely familiar with Denmark's NATO files on this subject up to 1962 (he was chief of NATO and military affairs in FonOff 1957-62) and had never heard of these understandings. However, he raised no question about them nor did he seem surprised.

He concentrated instead on the inadequacy of the public statement suggested in paragraph four/6/ and on the need for the US to make some statement of its own which would reassure the Danish people. We should at least say that there have been no nuclear overflights since the accident.

I replied that it would be unwise to attempt to work out at this point any statement going beyond the one proposed in Deptel 103632/7/ which we have not used because it did not fully meet the desires of the Danish Government. I said that it seemed to me the only sensible course was for him first to report to Prime Minister Krag the informal record of the remarks which I had made so that he could view the matter in perspective.

If the Danish Government then wished to raise with us the question of an additional public statement by the U.S. we would, of course, be willing to look at their suggestions. I reminded him, however, of the language in paragraph four of my remarks that the "U.S. Government must continue to stand by its policy of not confirming or denying publicly the presence of nuclear weapons on its aircraft or bases anywhere in the world". Ronne agreed with this course of action.

/6/Paragraph 4 of Document 4.

/7/See footnote 3, Document 2.

5. Ronne then said that since we have caused all the trouble we should make some public statement expressing regret and our understanding for the concern of the Danish people. I undertook to explore the possibility of releasing a statement along these lines at the earliest suitable occasion.

6. Ronne did not explicitly press for assurances for the future (carefully omitted from the record of my remarks), but indicated that the Danish Government was greatly concerned over the nuclear question in general and would no doubt wish to pursue it further. I said that we wanted to be sure that the outgoing government, which had been in power when our understandings had been reached, was fully informed and would of course always be willing to discuss these questions with the incoming government.



4. Informal Record of Remarks/1/

Washington, January 27, 1968.

/1/Source: Department of State, Danish Desk Files: Lot 73 D 167, Thule Crash--Internal Memos.

Top Secret. No indication of the drafting officer appears on the record. Leddy gave Ronne a verbatim copy of the record during their meeting on January 27 (see Document 3) which Ronne included in his January 27 telegram to Krag reporting on the meeting. Ronne's telegram is printed in Greenland During the Cold War, vol. 2, pp. 451-453.


1. Our review of the record indicates that in 1957 we determined that the effective operation of the strategic deterrent would require sometime in the future storage of nuclear weapons at Thule, Greenland. Our records indicate that while we believed that Article II(b)(3)(ii) of the 1951 Defense Agreement/2/ entitled us to store these weapons at Thule, nevertheless, we considered it important to determine whether your Government wished to be informed prior to introducing nuclear weapons into Greenland. Accordingly, our Ambassador made an approach of this nature to the then Prime Minister Hansen on November 13, 1957./3/

On November 18, 1957, Prime Minister Hansen gave our Ambassador a written statement which he characterized as informal, personal, highly secret and limited to one copy each on the Danish and American side./4/ This statement noted the United States Government's view of the Base Agreement and that we had not submitted a concrete plan for storage nor asked questions as to the attitude of the Danish Government.

The Prime Minister concluded that in these circumstances no comment on his part was necessary. He was adamant, however, that there should be no publicity now or later since any kind of leak could be highly damaging to our two countries. Inasmuch as the Prime Minister did not register objection to the possibility of storage and did not request that he be informed prior to actual introduction of nuclear weapons, less than 1 line of source text not declassified the United States Government./5/2/For text of the 1951 Defense Agreement, which was signed at Copenhagen, April 27, 1951, and entered into force June 8, see 2 UST 1485.

/3/Ambassador Peterson advised such a course of action in telegram 376, October 31, 1957, in the belief that the "general spirit of Dano-United States relations and cooperation in Greenland in defense matters puts us under moral obligation to be frank and open with Prime Minister on matter of such potential political importance for Denmark."

The Department authorized an approach to Hansen in telegram 499, November 8. In telegram 406, November 13, Peterson reported that he had met that day with Hansen, who, because of the issue's "serious psychological and political implications," wanted to study it and meet again in a few days. All three telegrams are in the National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1955-59, 711.56359. The difficulties that Hansen faced in responding to the U.S. approach are discussed in Greenland During the Cold War, Summary, pp. 21-22.

/4/Peterson reported on the November 18 meeting and Hansen's statement in telegram 419 from Copenhagen, November 18, 1957. Peterson indicated that Hansen asked him to consider his copy of the statement "purely personal." (Department of State, Danish Desk Files: Lot 73 D 167, Thule Crash--Internal Memos) No copy of Hansen's statement has been found. In telegram 105056 to Copenhagen, January 26, 1968, the Department indicated that it could not locate a copy of Hansen's statement and asked whether the document or a copy existed in Embassy files. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Denmark, Vol. 1) The Embassy replied in the negative. (Telegram 2933, January 26; ibid) The text of Hansen's statement, from Danish archives, is printed in Greenland During the Cold War, Summary, pp. 23-24.

/5/In telegram 3436 from Copenhagen, February 23, the Embassy reported that General Ramberg, Chief of Defense, Danish Armed Forces, had explained to the Embassy Counselor the previous evening that Danish anti-nuclear weapons policy was first authoritatively enunciated on December 2, 1957, at a NATO Ministerial meeting when Hansen stated that Denmark did not want nuclear weapons on its soil. Ramberg emphasized that Danish officials had always regarded this as an expression of the belief that nuclear weapons should not be stored on the soil of European Denmark. Ramberg was sure Hansen's remarks were uttered in a context that excluded Greenland. "At most, one might say prohibition against storage of nuclear weapons on Greenland was intended; certainly prohibition against overflights was never contemplated--particularly since overflights were guaranteed by 1951 treaty." (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, DEF 17 US)


2. Our records also indicate that the question of nuclear weapons operations from Thule was discussed early in 1964 by Under Secretary for Greenland Brun and Ambassador Blair in relation to an accident in the state of Maryland involving a U.S. bomber carrying nuclear weapons./6/

This discussion frankly addressed the possibility that a similar accident could arise as a result of operations involving nuclear weapons at or near Thule which would raise difficult questions in the Folketing. Ambassador Blair suggested that if such an unfortunate incident ever occurred, the Danish Government could state that U.S. activities in Greenland had as their sole object the defense interests of the Free World and that they had been worked out in full cooperation with Danish defense forces and the Danish Government under terms and conditions of the 1951 Defense Agreement and in accordance with over-all Danish policies. Under Secretary Brun made no objection to this proposal and pursued the matter no further.

/6/A B-52 bomber carrying two nuclear weapons crashed in Maryland on January 13, 1964. Blair reported on his February 5 meeting with Brun in telegram 519 from Copenhagen, February 6. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Denmark, Vol. 1)

3. In connection with overflights of Greenland, the effective operation of the strategic deterrent has also required that such flights involving nuclear weapons be carried on from time to time in accordance with Article V (3) of the 1951 Defense Agreement.

4. As for the current situation [less than 1 line of source text not declassified], nor are there now any overflights of Greenland by U.S. strategic aircraft.

I wish to emphasize again that in view of the sensitivity of military operations with nuclear weapons, the United States Government must continue to stand by its policy of neither confirming nor denying publicly the presence of nuclear weapons on its aircraft or bases anywhere in the world.

In addition, I urge that your Government in addressing this problem publicly in the future limit itself to a statement along the following lines:
"U.S. operations in Greenland are the subject of regular consultation between the two Governments and are in accord with the 1951 Defense Agreement as well as their respective policies. The Government of Denmark is fully aware in this connection of its responsibilities to the Danish people in Greenland for their safety and defense. We are fully satisfied that the interests of the Danish people are being protected."

5. We hope that all public statements on this matter by either Government will be subject to consultation between the two Governments.

5. Telegram from the Department of State to the Embassy in Denmark/1/

Washington, January 28, 1968, 2334Z.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Denmark, Vol. 1. Top Secret; Immediate; Nodis. Drafted by McKillop and approved by Leddy.106092. Personal for Ambassador and Blankinship. Following memcon is uncleared FYI and subject to revision upon review.1. Ambassador Ronne was received by the Secretary at 2:15 p.m. Jan 28/2/ and stated Krag had instructed him to seek US approval of the statement text of which already sent us by Amb White: "The Danish Govt which has had contacts with the US Govt is in a position to confirm that in conformity with Danish atomic policy there are no nuclear weapons in Greenland, and no overflights of Greenland by planes carrying such weapons are undertaken."

/2/Just prior to meeting with Rusk, Ronne met with Leddy. A memorandum of their conversation is in the National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, DEF 17.

2. Secretary stated he wished to make two observations: (a) Danish as well as US security depends upon US nuclear arrangements from which those countries receiving this protection cannot claim complete disassociation as if nuclear weapons did not exist, and (b) we have serious problem of how to deal with events in one country so as not to set up a chain reaction with other countries throughout world that could impair the American nuclear deterrent.

To deal with this second problem we have adopted the policy of neither confirming nor denying the presence of our nuclear weapons and have adhered to it rigidly. There is a difference between what the United States can say and what Denmark can say.

3. The Secretary noted that the proposed Danish statement associates it with the United States thus putting the United States in the position of confirming it, a departure from our policy. He then gave the Ambassador the following shorter statement and asked if the Danish Government might wish to say something along these lines: "The Danish Government confirms that there are no nuclear weapons stored in Greenland and no overflights of Greenland with nuclear weapons." The Secretary stressed that if we were queried about such a statement issued by the Danish Government, we would refuse to comment. While we deeply regretted the crash, Danish public opinion is the Danish Government's problem, not ours, and one to be dealt with by a purely Danish statement.

4. Should any question of violation of our international obligations arise, the Secretary reminded the Ambassador of the secret understandings referred to in Assistant Secretary Leddy's informal memorandum to the Ambassador. (Nodis Deptels 106058 and 106059.)/3/ The Ambassador stated that he had been instructed to comment along the following lines on this point: "In light of the background of later developments, the Danish Govt considered that the historical observations made in the memorandum are considered to be without importance in the prevailing concrete situation." In that connection, the Ambassador referred to the many public pronouncements on Danish nuclear policy since the signing of the Greenland Agreement in 1951,/4/ including a statement in Parliament in April 1964 that Danish nuclear policy includes Greenland.

/3/See Document 3 and footnote 3 thereto.

/4/See footnote 2, Document 4.

5. The Secretary replied that if the interpretation of "no importance" means that the question of the understandings is merely being put aside, that would cause no problem; but we could not accept an interpretation of it by which we could be accused of violating our understandings with Denmark.

6. Replying to the Ambassador's inquiry about the question of future overflights, the Secretary said he thought the text given the Ambassador covered the immediate problem and the question of the future could be left to the new government.

7. The Amb mentioned the possibility of Foreign Minister Tabor coming to the United States to discuss the problem. The Secretary made remarks which made it clear to Ronne that such a visit would not be welcome.

He regretted that he would be completely tied up with the Korean problem and would not be in a position to receive the Foreign Minister on Monday, after which time Tabor might not be in office. The Ambassador commented that there was probably nothing more that Tabor could accomplish in any event. He said he would promptly inform Krag of our proposal./5/

/5/On January 29 the Danish Government issued the following statement: "The Danish Government confirms that there are no nuclear weapons stored in Greenland and no overflights of Greenland with nuclear weapons." (Telegram 106766 to all NATO capitals, January 29; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files, 1967-69, DEF 17 US)




6. Intelligence Note/1/

No. 85
Washington, January 31, 1968.

/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, DEF 17 US. Secret; No Foreign Dissem; Controlled Dissem. The intelligence note was forwarded to Rusk by INR Director Thomas R. Hughes.


Implications of the B-52 Crash for US-Scandinavian Military Arrangements
The crash near the Thule Base of the B-52 carrying nuclear weapons has increased criticism throughout the Scandinavian countries of US military policies. Such criticism was already substantial because of their dislike of the United States' Vietnam policy. This criticism could become strong enough to cause the governments of Denmark, Iceland, and possibly Norway to demand formal assurances from the US that no planes carrying nuclear weapons overfly their countries.

Denmark Most Concerned. While the Danish Government that was in caretaker status since the parliamentary election on January 23 has accepted US assurances that the B-52 approached Greenland only because it was seeking an emergency landing site, demands are rising in all political parties for an investigation into the question of whether US planes carrying nuclear weapons have overflown Greenland in the past.

Press interviews with Greenlanders and with Danes working in Greenland who have stated that such flights have occurred have aroused widespread suspicion.

All parties support the government's policy that no nuclear weapons may enter Danish territory (Greenland is considered an integral part of Denmark), and it appears likely that the new government currently being formed will feel forced to seek formal assurances from the US that such flights will not be undertaken.

How far the new government will go in restricting US military actions in and over Greenland will depend to a large extent on its composition. It now seems almost certain that this government, which is expected to be announced on February 1, will be a coalition of the rightist Conservative and Moderate Liberal Parties, who are the most friendly of all Danish parties to the US and NATO, and of the centrist Radical Liberal Party, which is pacifist-inclined.

The leaders of the Radical Liberals, particularly their parliamentary spokesman, Hilmer Baunsgaard, who is expected to head the new government, are not formally opposed to Denmark's current security arrangements, including membership in NATO. However, they may attribute some of their heavy gains in the election-they doubled their parliamentary representation-to their campaign for drastic defense cuts and a referendum on Denmark's continued membership in NATO after 1969 Some Leftists May Push for Anti-US Policies. Many of the Radical Liberals' new supporters and some of their newly elected parliamentary deputies are anti-militarists in foreign policy who will exploit the B-52 crash, as well as the rising fear among Danes of US policies in Vietnam and elsewhere in the Far East, to try to reduce Denmark's ties to the US and NATO and to put it on a more neutralist path.

These Radical Liberals will be supported by the parliamentary delegations of the far left Venstresocialister Party (VS) and the Socialist People's Party (SPP) and by some of the left-wing Social Democratic deputies.

This combination of these Radical Liberals, VS, SPP, and left-wing social Democrats could not effect any basic changes in Denmark's foreign and defense policies because the great majority of the Parliament agrees on their continuation.

Yet, the key parliamentary position of the Radical Liberals makes it likely that they will feel that they can force the government to request explicit US assurances that nuclear-armed planes will not overfly Greenland, to cut defense spending, and to call a referendum on continued Danish membership in NATO after 1969. Icelanders Also Asking Questions. Icelanders, who are highly sensitive about Icelandic sovereignty over the Keflavik Base, are also concerned over the B-52 incident. Foreign Minister Jonsson has already felt obliged to state that the US is observing his country's policy, which forbids any nuclear weapons on Icelandic territory.

The erroneous impression has spread that there is a formal agreement between Iceland and the US concerning storage of nuclear weapons at the base and flights of aircraft carrying nuclear weapons.

If the Danish Government requests explicit assurances regarding the overflight of nuclear-armed planes, popular pressures in Iceland may increase to the point where the government will be forced to seek such a formal agreement with the US. However, US-Icelandic relations have improved so much and the present Independence Party-Social Democratic coalition has been so friendly toward the US and NATO that the US can expect it--and particularly Prime Minister Benediktsson--to do everything possible to contain worries concerning flights of US planes over Iceland.

Norway Least Concerned. Of the three Scandinavian NATO countries, Norway is the least affected by the B-52 incident. However, memories of the 1960 U-2 affair, when suspicions arose that the US was using a Norwegian base at Bodo for activities that Norwegian officials knew nothing about, are still fresh.

That episode, and the similarity between the Danish and Norwegian criticisms of US policy in Vietnam, lead us to believe that the Norwegian Government would most likely follow the lead of Denmark if the latter sought formal assurances from the US that no nuclear-arms-bearing flights will be made over its territory. However, as in the case of Iceland, the four-party coalition in Norway is basically friendly to the US and can be counted on to try to prevent any serious strain on US-Norwegian relations.

Potential for Strains in Relations. How far the Scandinavian governments that are members of NATO will go in their demands for concrete assurances concerning overflights of nuclear-armed aircraft will depend to a great extent on their impression of US actions and policies concerning this issue.

If the Danish Government fails to get such assurances, it and possibly also the Icelandic Government may have great difficulty in withstanding public pressure for forcing renegotiation of current base agreements to have explicit guarantees against such overflights and storage of nuclear weapons written into them. If relations reach this point, Denmark and Iceland might also seek to assume greater control over all US activities at Thule and Keflavik.

7. Telegram From the Embassy in Denmark to the Department of State/1/

Copenhagen, February 8, 1968, 1720Z.

/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, DEF 17 US. Confidential.

3177. Subject: B-52 Crash: Conversation with Amb Ronne.

1. Amb Ronne, who came to small dinner informally at my home last evening, informed me he is working with Under Secretary Fischer preparing instructions to govern him when he returns to Washington. I gathered that the Danes are exploring possibilities and still hope to hit upon a formula for publicly prohibiting nuclear weapons in Greenland or overflights by planes carrying them that U.S. can accept. He emphasized that exchanges of notes or statement by U.S. which would satisfy Danish public opinion had somehow to be devised.

2. He said Danish Govt wanted to avoid renegotiation of Greenland defense treaty. To try to renegotiate it would open up far more serious problems than it would solve. Among other things he said sensitivity of Greenlanders must be borne in mind. Greenland had more autonomy now than when 1951 treaty was negotiated.

In any renegotiation Greenlanders would interject themselves strongly and become complicating factor. Amb Ronne observed that in some ways the Greenland defense treaty smacked of Danish colonialism-a subject of great sensitivity to both Greenlanders and Danes.

3. Amb Ronne repeated what he has doubtlessly frequently said in Washington; namely, American policy of not confirming nor denying existence of nuclear weapons on Greenland or of overflights of planes carrying them is unduly rigid and the very arbitrariness of this position is a danger to existing status of American bases in Greenland.

4. Protect source.


8. Action Memorandum from the Director of the Office of Scandinavian Affairs (McKillop) to the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (Leddy)/1/

Washington, February 13, 1968.

/1/Source: Department of State, Danish Desk Files: Lot 73 D 167, Thule Crash--Internal Memos. Top Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Klebenov and cleared by Baker (EUR/RPM), Berlack (L/EUR), and Trippe (G/PM).


Talking Points-Anticipated Danish Request for Assurances re Nuclear Overflights and Storage in Greenland


1. In view of our earlier conversations with the Danes and in view of the resolution passed February 8 by the Danish Parliament (Paragraph 1, attached Talking Points), we expect Ambassador Ronne to seek an appointment in the Department of State in order to request assurances that the US is acting in accord with Danish nuclear policy in Greenland.

They will probably request either a public USG statement and/or an exchange of notes between the two governments.

2. We believe that some formal USG assurance is necessary in order to maintain our present defense capability in Greenland. We wish to avoid taking a stance so rigid as to cause the Danes to question the desirability of retaining the 1951 Agreement on the Defense of Greenland. The Danes have not raised this point and probably do not now intend to.

However, we believe that both State and Defense should keep in mind the fact that the Danes do hold the strongest cards in any bargaining sessions.

3. Danish nuclear policy encompasses one basic ambiguity; i.e., on the one hand they wish to demonstrate that all Danish territory is free of nuclear weapons; on the other hand, they realize that Denmark's security ultimately depends on the US nuclear deterrent.

4. We believe that the attached statement (Talking Point 5) meets this situation. It provides [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] and allows the GOD to make a policy decision, in time of grave danger, to allow nuclear deployment and/or overflights.

5. Both we and the Danes realize that a situation might conceivably arise where there would be no time for consultations before initiating overflights or deployment. We believe that this contingency can best be handled by an oral statement such as the Undersecretary made to Ambassador Ronne on February 2./2/ (At that time the Undersecretary said that it was difficult to conceive circumstances where we would initiate nuclear storage or overflights in Greenland without consulting the GOD unless conditions were so extreme that reasons for such actions would be readily apparent.)

/2/Ronne's meeting with Katzenbach on February 2 was reported in telegram 109698 to Copenhagen, February 3. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Denmark, Vol. 1)
6. We hope to have an agreed State-Defense position prior to our discussions with Ronne. We would like to tell DOD that the attached talking points reflect a bureau level decision on this matter.

That you approve the attached talking points as the EUR position on the questions of nuclear overflights and storage in Greenland./3/
/3/There is no indication whether Leddy approved or disapproved the recommendation.


Danish Request for Assurances re Nuclear Overflights and Storage in Greenland
1. The Danish Parliament on February 8 passed a nearly unanimous resolution stating that, "Inasmuch as Parliament presumes that the Government, in attempting to obtain absolute guarantees that no nuclear weapons are stored in Greenland and that Greenland air space is maintained as a zone free of atomic weapons, will make certain that Danish atomic policy will be maintained in all parts of the realm and Danish sovereignty will be respected, the house continues its debate on the proposed budget bill for the fiscal year 1968-69."

2. The USG is prepared to give the Danish Government assurance on a confidential basis that we will not store nuclear weapons in Greenland or overfly Greenland with aircraft carrying nuclear weapons except as a result of a joint Danish-US decision that such storage or overflights were necessitated by a threat to Free World security.

3. As Undersecretary Katzenbach indicated it must be recognized that in circumstances of extreme emergency the situation may not permit advance consultation.

4. In our view such a statement would meet the current needs of the Danish Government and preclude a stronger stand on their part that could call into question the entire 1951 Agreement on the Defense of Greenland.5. Under the circumstances, we would suggest that the Danish Government might wish to make a statement along the following lines:"On the basis of recent discussions with the USG, the Government is satisfied that United States activities in Greenland are and will continue to be in accord with Danish nuclear policies."6. As the Ambassador is aware the USG cannot publicly confirm any statement on the deployment of its nuclear weapons which may be made by the Danish Government, nor can it agree to make public any assurance it has given to the Danish Government.

9. Information Memorandum from the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (Leddy) to Secretary of State Rusk

Washington, February 23, 1968.

/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, DEF 17 US. Confidential. Drafted by Tucker (EUR/SCAN) and cleared by Fulton (G/PM).


Background on B-52 Crash near Thule Air Force Base, Greenland

The following summary on aspects of the B-52 crash not directly related to the politico-military problem is presented for your information.

Public Opinion-Public attitudes have not been a significant problem thus far. Excellent cooperation among Danish and American officials began at Thule AFB and is continuing.

As a result, official statements by the Danes, and a joint statement at the end of the US/Danish scientific meetings on February 15-16 in Copenhagen/2/ have been very favorable to US interests. Emphasis on US/Danish cooperation and negation of the hazards to life in Northwest Greenland seem to have helped to minimize public reaction to the crash.

/2/The scientists from Denmark and the United States met to discuss the issue of radioactive debris in the vicinity of the crash and, in their joint statement, "agreed that under present conditions the radioactivity spread in the area is not a hazard to people or biological species, nor is any hazard foreseen for the future." (Telegram 3332 from Copenhagen, February 16; ibid.)

Contamination--The plutonium contamination in the area does not present a serious problem unless ingested or inhaled in large quantities. None of those working at the site have encountered serious contamination. The alpha particles do not penetrate through the skin, and no significant amount has been detected in the air.

The contamination has been relatively fixed in the ice and snow in the immediate area of the crash. A "gentlemen's agreement" concluded on February 16 in Copenhagen provides that we will undertake to remove about 50 percent of the contaminated ice and snow./3/ This is a massive undertaking, but we believe that General Hunziker can do the job.

/3/The agreement was transmitted in telegram 3346 from Copenhagen, February 16. (Ibid.)

Impact on Local Population--We do not yet know how many of the approximately 650 people in the Thule District were affected by the crash. They hunt seal, walrus, and small whale for a livelihood.

The area of the crash, one of the best hunting grounds, is now a restricted zone. We expect that compensatory claims will be made, but the Danish Government has not yet done so.

Fisheries--Greenland's economy is heavily dependent upon its fisheries (exports $9 million in 1965). The fisheries are located some 500 miles to the South of the crash area and should not be affected by contamination. Nevertheless, adverse psychological consumer reaction could become a problem.

Nuclear and Ecological Studies--Joint US/Danish scientific studies are underway and will be carried out at Thule for some time.

We believe that this effort will help to reassure international opinion through careful precautionary monitoring. We anticipate that the results will confirm earlier conclusions that no real hazards exist. Nevertheless, we cannot discount the very minor possibility of isolated incidents of exposure to heavy contamination.

10. Letter from the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (Warnke) to the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (Leddy)/1/<

Washington, February 24, 1968.

/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, DEF 12 US. Secret.

Dear John:

Regarding the Department of State's draft of February 16 on the question of US-Danish nuclear weapons policies,/2/ I would like to propose the attached preliminary revision as a basis for a joint State-Defense position.

/2/The February 16 draft, a copy of which is in the Department of State, Danish Desk Files: Lot 73 D 167, Thule Crash--Internal Memos, was based closely on the talking points forwarded to Leddy by McKillop on February 13 (attachment to Document 8).

I understand that your staff has assured mine that the final US position will not be communicated to the Danish Government until there has been full review in both our Departments of the Danish position.

Paul C. Warnke


/3/Secret; Exdis.

The following is a draft of an Aide-Mèmoire (or Note, PM etc., depending upon the form in which the Danish Ambassador presents the Danish position to the Secretary), in response to the anticipated Danish request for an exchange of notes on nuclear weapons in and over Denmark and its territories.

1. The United States Government is prepared to give the Danish Government assurance on a confidential basis that we will not store nuclear weapons in Greenland except with Danish approval.

2. The United States Government is also prepared to give the Danish Government assurance on a confidential basis that we will not overfly Greenland with aircraft carrying nuclear weapons except in consultation with the Danish Government. It must be recognized, however, that in circumstances of extreme emergency the situation may make advance consultation difficult.

3. Fundamental security considerations prohibit the USG from publicly commenting in any way on the deployment or movement of its nuclear weapons.

4. The United States Government recognizes that the Danish Government desires that a public statement be made on the immediate question of the B-52 crash in Greenland.

The USG suggests that if the Danish Government feels it must make a statement, it might be along the following lines:
"The Government is satisfied that United States activities in Greenland are and will continue to be in accord with Danish nuclear policies."

The USG could, of course, in no way confirm or comment on any such statement issued by the Danish Government.

11. Note from the Danish Ambassador (Ronne) to Secretary of State Rusk/1/

No. 93.USA.8
Washington, February 26, 1968.

/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, DEF 15 GREENLAND-US. No classification marking.

Ronne presented the note to Rusk during a 15-minute meeting with Rusk, Leddy, and McKillop that began at 4:05 p.m. on February 26. (Johnson Library, Rusk Appointment Book) A memorandum of Ronne's conversation with Rusk was transmitted to Copenhagen in telegram 120936, February 27. (Ibid., National Security File, Country File, Denmark, Vol. 1)

1. With reference to our recent discussions regarding defense arrangements in Greenland, I have the honor to inform you that the Danish Government has considered the lack of consistency between the declared Danish policy on nuclear weapons on the one hand and the agreement of April 27, 1951, between our two governments concerning the defense of Greenland on the other.

2. The Danish Government appreciates the assurances recently given by the United States Government that there are no nuclear weapons in Greenland and that no overflights with such weapons are taking place.

My Government has also noted with satisfaction the undertaking given by your Government that this situation will not be changed without prior consultation with the Danish Government.

3. The declaration made by the Danish Government at the opening session of the Danish Parliament on February 6, 1968, included the following section:
"It is the policy of the Government that no nuclear weapons should be found within Danish territory. This policy is also valid for Greenland and for Greenland air space."

4. On February 8 the Danish Parliament passed a resolution to the same effect and requesting the Government to get absolute guarantees that no nuclear weapons are stored in Greenland and that Greenland air space is kept free of such weapons so as to ensure that Danish nuclear policy is maintained in all parts of the realm.

5. I am instructed to ask the U.S. Government that discussions be initiated with a view to reaching agreement as soon as possible between our two governments on supplementing the agreement of April 27, 1951, concerning the defense of Greenland to the effect that no nuclear weapons may under the agreement be stored in or introduced into Greenland including Greenland air space.
Please accept, Sir, the renewed assurances of my highest consideration./2/

/2/In a March 13 note to Ronne, Rusk acknowledged receipt of the February 27 note and stated that the U.S. Government was "prepared to join in the discussions you have proposed" and would "convey its views to you as soon as possible." (Ibid.)Torben Ronne

Documents 12-24

12. Letter From the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (Leddy) to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (Warnke)/1/

Washington, March 11, 1968.

/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, DEF 17 US. Secret. Drafted on March 5 by Klebenov and cleared by McKillop, Getz (EUR/RPM), Trippe (G/PM), and Berlack (L/EUR).

Dear Paul:

Your letter of February 24 and the Danish note to the Secretary/2/ arrived here within a few hours of one another.
/2/Documents 10 and 11.

We have now prepared a response that reflects the note itself as well as your suggestions of February 24. I have enclosed a copy of our proposed reply,/3/ as well as of our negotiating points for the anticipated negotiations./4/

/3/Not attached, but see the attachment to Document 10.

/4/Not attached.

Since the Danes did not, in their note, request a USG public statement, but rather, chose to raise that matter orally, we do not plan to address this question in the note itself but as a separate but related issue.
Our first paragraph calls for a joint decision of the two Governments for both storage and overflights, rather than only storage, as you had proposed.

The reasons for this change are: (a) The Danes have specifically asked for equal assurance on both points, and (b) we feel that the second paragraph of our reply provides the US with the flexibility necessary in the event of future emergencies.


The first paragraph of our response also takes into account Denmark's desire to supplement the 1951 Agreement on the Defense of Greenland. We see no objection to doing this in a classified note inasmuch as the practical effect of the assurances we propose will in fact be to modify rights which the Danes agree were accorded us by the 1951 Agreement.

Our statement on crisis consultation in regard to overflights is designed to place on record, as you do, the idea that conditions may make such consultation difficult.

I agree with your method of stating the need to avoid public comment on nuclear weapons deployment. We do, however, feel that we should, in such a statement, cite our mutual responsibilities to all of the Alliance members.

In regard to the public statement to be made by the Danes, we believe that the phrase "On the basis of recent discussions with the United States Government . . ." is necessary. Since we propose to tell the Danes that we will not publicly confirm their statement, we feel that we cannot expect them to limit a unilateral Danish Government statement in the way that you suggest.

 Indeed, there is little to prevent the Danes from issuing a much stronger unilateral statement than the one we propose. While it is true that the Danish Government made a statement on January 29 that did not cite discussions with the US Government,/5/ they were far from satisfied with that arrangement.

We believe that if we had not been dealing with a recently defeated, caretaker Government, we would have encountered strong, continuous pressure for US confirmation of the Danish announcement. We consider a statement along the lines of that given in our negotiating points to be the minimum that the new Government could accept, especially in view of its publicly stated intention of seeking US agreement on nuclear matters.

/5/See footnote 5, Document 5.

In sum, we hope to work out with the Danes some sort of agreement and accompanying public statement that will remove this question from the public arena and that will insure our continued access to Greenland as a radar site and as an air route and/or deployment site in future emergencies. I believe that our proposed draft will accomplish this. I look forward to receiving your views as a matter of urgency.

Sincerely yours,
John M. Leddy/6/

/6/Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.

13. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Denmark/1/

Washington, March 13, 1968, 2339Z.

/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, DEF 15-4 GREENLAND-US



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