For the first time, the U.S. government has officially declassified the fact that the United States stored nuclear weapons on Okinawa during the Cold War. Although an open secret for decades, the subject has been controversial because Japan’s leaders and U.S. officials have consistently denied the presence of such weapons on Japanese territory. However welcome the release may be, its significance is somewhat tempered by the astonishing fact that U.S. Air Force photographs of nuclear weapons on the island have been publicly available for over 25 years. The National Security Archive today is posting the first formally declassified document on the subject, along with several of the photos originally released in 1990 in Air Force collections at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), which have essentially gone unnoticed until now.
Also posted today are recently released CIA documents containing bogus information about Iraq’s nuclear programs and State Department cables about another nuclear controversy from the Cold War – the U.S. discovery that Taiwan was conducting laser uranium enrichment research. These records are now in the public domain thanks to the work of the Interagency Security Classification Review Panel (ISCAP), a component of NARA.
The National Security Archive applauds ISCAP for its decisions, which followed appeals by our staff. (Note: not every document is fully declassified.) At the same time, we are obliged to point out that release of this information has been far too long in coming, and the reflexive insistence by national security officials that these materials, the substance of which has been known for many years, remain under official wraps has resulted in an inordinate waste of government time and resources, and has delayed the public’s ability to understand the underlying, critical policy issues more deeply.