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During the years since the end of the Cold War, Peter Handberg – a writer and translator – has travelled many times in the Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. He has visited many sites where nuclear weapons were kept at the time, ready to destroy the world.
Handberg has also spoken to military officers who once watched over these instruments of Armageddon. He has written an important book on the subject, Undergångens skuggor (Shadows of Doom). The book is not translated, but a documentary film is planned.
He has just led a group of people from Sweden to some of these bases, abandoned since 1987. We were about ten physicians from the Swedish section of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) and ten others – historians, people with an interest in the Baltic states, etc…
I learnt three important facts, from the book and by visiting these sites:
1/ The size of the Soviet nuclear complex in these small Baltic states was enormous; there were at least 35 bases.
2/ The officers who watched over the missiles were, especially in 1983, convinced that an American attack would come and they expected to launch their missiles.
3/ There were at some of these bases, in the sixties but also much later, short distance missiles with a range of not more than 600 km, enough to reach Southern Finland and Eastern Sweden only. They carried a large number of bombs, mostly of 100 kt effect, or about six Hiroshima bombs.
The reason “neutral” Sweden was targeted was that a US attack with bomb planes carrying nuclear weapons was expected to come also over Sweden, possibly using Swedish airfields.
Maybe that was correct: Sweden would have been used as a platform for an American nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. Such a scenario is described by Thomas Reed, once head of US Air Force, in his book At the Abyss.
Reed was a US defence analyst who in the eighties participated in the selection of enemy targets in the strategic plane called SIOP.
I can not avoid comparing this piece of history to the situation today: Sweden’s government is moving ever closer to NATO and has – through the Host Country Agreement – prepared for NATO bases in the country and thereby – potentially at least – for an attack to be carried out by NATO from Swedish territory.
We Swedes are making ourselves a target.