On arriving at the Thule Airport in Greenland, a passenger is greeted with a sign that reads: "Air Force Space Command's 12th Space Warning Squadron, Latitude 76 degreesN, Longitude 68 degrees 42W." Thule is one of two military bases outside the U.S. providing America with advanced information of possible airborne attack. As such, it holds the potential of being a key location for the proposed development of the U.S. National Missile Defense system.
Located 800 miles above the Arctic Circle, one might suppose that such a base would evoke little concern from those living in this isolated region. But they would be wrong. Inuit Greenlanders from Qaanaaq are deeply concerned about this potential development--and for good reason. For they have suffered deeply from past U.S. military actvities. They began in May of 1953 when the small Inuit community was forced to move to make room for an American surface-to-air-missile battery.
Fifteen years later, a far more serious event occurred when, on January 21st, 1968, an Air Force bomber loaded with four nuclear bombs crashed seven miles southwest of the runway at Thule Air Force Base. The B-52, flyng out of Plattsburgh Air Force Base in New York, crashed after a fire broke out in the navigator's compartment. Upon impact with the ground, the plane burst into flames, igniting the high explosive outer coverings of at least one of the bombs. The explosive then detonated, scattering plutonium and other radioactive materials over an area about 300 yards on either side of the plane's path, much of it in "cigarette box-sized" pieces. One crew member was killed.
Immediately after the January 21st crash, the Danish media speculated that U.S. military aircraft operating in Greenland airspace prior to the accident carried atomic weapons, an action prohibited on Danish territory [including Greenland]. Two days later in a secret telegram addressed to the Secretary of State, the U.S. Ambassador to Denmark urged that briefings about the accident avoid saying the bomber was on a routine flight to Thule. Instead, suggest that it was "diverted" due to the emergency. Following negotiations between the U.S. and Danish governments, the U.S. State Department wrote a formal letter on May 31st, 1968, assuring Denmark that it would not store store nuclear weapons in Greenland or overfly Greenland without the consent of the Danish Government.
More recently, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten gained access to other classified documents suggesting that one of the four nuclear bombs carried by the B-52 bomber was never found. Although Washington assured the Danish Government in the spring of 1968 that clean-up had been completed, it was never told of the lost nuclear bomb [serial number 78,252].
Given this continually unfolding history, it is hardly surprising that most Greenlanders today are strongly opposed to Thule having anything to do with the proposed defensive shield designed to protect the U.S. from missile attack.
Norman Chance, Convener