US Cold War nuclear target list released

US Cold War nuclear target list released
By Euronews  with NY Times, National Security Archive

Document shows how US Air Force proposed to drop atomic weapons on densly populated areas and target civilians in big cities.

  • US hit list in event of nuclear war included:1,100 Soviet airbases, 1,200 towns and cities from East Berlin to Beijing.
  • Populations of the cities were an explicit target
  • US stockpile included 12,000 atomic bombs

Declassified information

Following a freedom of information request first tabled in 2006, the National Archives and Records Administration in the United States has released a detailed list of potential targets considered by Washington in the event of a war with the Soviet Union.

The 800-page document is titled “Atomic Weapons Requirements Study”, dates from 1959 and is marked “Top Secret”.

  • when the Atomic Weapons Requirements Study was prepared in 1959)*

It is the first detailed list of targets to be made public.

The strategy

Targeting Soviet air power was the main priority.

At the time, experts think the US had 20,000 megatons of atomic bombs – around ten times the size of the Soviet nuclear arsenal. Their arsenal of around 12,000 weapons would almost double to more than 22,000 by 1961, two years later.

The thinking was that the initial strike could determine the outcome of the conflict. The goal was to destroy Soviet airfields, thereby preventing bombers from taking off and targeting US interests.

The targets

1,100 Soviet airbases are named.

The Bykhov and Orsha bases in Belarus are first on the list, followed by four other bases in Belarus, seven in Ukraine, six in Russia and one in Estonia.

Industrial infrastructure was the second priority in the event the conflict lasted beyond the first strikes.

1,200 cities are also included

179 targets are listed for “systematic destruction” in Moscow, 145 in Leningrad (now St Petersburg) and 91 in East Berlin (now reunited with West Berlin and known simply as “Berlin”)
As well as listing military installations, factories, government buildings and even medicine production plants, the report identifies “population” as a target of any strikes.

These sites could have been hit by atomic bombs many times the size of that dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki.


The report’s authors saw targeting civilians, however unpalatable, as a pragmatic and prompt solution leading to a shorter conflict and fewer casualties in the long term.

Civilian deaths were seen as a way of undermining enemy morale, leading to a swift resolution of the conflict.

The experts who worked on this report would also have lived through the bombings of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and seen at first hand the influence they exerted on the course of the Second World War.

Japan surrendered days after the bombings in August 1945.

What they are saying

“Grim and frankly appalling” – Stephen I.Schwarz , author of 1998 “Atomic Audit”.

“The heart of deterrence is the threat to destroy the adversary’s cities, even today.” – Matthew G. McKinzie Natural Resources Defense Council.

“This document may be history but unfortunately the weapons are not” – Schwarz, ibid.

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