The following quote from an article on arstechnica.com, talking about PAL codes required for arming US nuclear missles, states that Turkey and Greece were attempting to gain control of nuclear weapons to use on each other in the 1960s:

The codes, known as Permissive Action Links (PALs), were supposed to prevent the use of nuclear weapons—and the nuclear weapons under joint control with NATO countries in particular—without the authorization of the president of the United States. The need for such controls became clear during the 1963-1964 Cyprus crisis, when NATO members Turkey and Greece were reportedly seeking control of NATO nuclear weapons—to use on each other.

Is this claim true? Did Turkey and Greece attempt to gain control of NATO nuclear weapons to use on each other during the Cyprus crisis of 1963-1964?

The question has been asked before on Quora, but none of the answers given are satisfactory.

2 Answers 2


The mistake in the article in the OP is the date, "1963-1964 Cyprus crisis".

The problem occurred in 1974 and did relate to a/the Cyprus crisis.

According to U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Europe at page 25:

A prolonged congressional debate and a series of internal Pentagon reviews in 1973 and 1974 led to a conclusion that there were an excessive number of nuclear weapons in Europe as well. Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger directed the first major revision of its nuclear posture in Europe since they were initially deployed in 1954.

Schlesinger’s views were partially influenced, according to one recent account, by the outbreak of war in July 1974 between two nuclear-equipped NATO countries, Turkey and Greece. Schlesinger wanted to know if the U.S. nuclear weapons were secure and asked his director of telecommunications and command and control systems, Thomas C. Reed, if he could talk to the U.S. officers holding the keys to the weapons. Reed reported back that the U.S. custodians were in charge, but at one Air Force base “things got a little dicier.”

“The local Army troops outside the fence wanted in. Their Air Force countrymen inside wanted them kept out. The nukes on alert aircraft were hastily returned to bunkers as the opposing commanders parleyed under a white flag. Soon both sides went off to dinner, but through it all we held out breath.” [cites to reference 39: Thomas C. Reed, At the Abyss: An Insider’s History of the Cold War (Ballantine Books, 2004), p. 173]

The document goes on to state:

As a result of the Turkish-Greek war, the United States removed its nuclear bombs from Greek and Turkish alert fighterbombers and transferred the nuclear warheads from Greek Nike Hercules missile units (see Figure 9) in the field to storage. Greece saw this as another pro-Turkish move by NATO and responded by withdrawing its forces from NATO’s military command structure. This forced Washington to contemplate whether to remove its nuclear weapons from Greece altogether, but in the end the Ford administration decided against it after the State Department warned that removal would further alienate the Greek government from NATO [reference 41]

Nothing was said about this nuclear dilemma in the final communiqué from NATO’s Nuclear Planning Group (NPG) that met in December 1974. The group remarked it had “discussed the recent legislation in the United States calling for an examination of the doctrine for the tactical use of nuclear weapons and of NATO's nuclear posture….” [reference 42] Other than that, the public was kept in the dark.

The Turkish and Greek episode and the discoveries at Pacific Command led to immediate improvements in the command and control of the forward-deployed nuclear weapons. A wave of terrorist attacks in Europe at the time added to the concerns. By the end of 1976, all U.S. tactical nuclear weapons were equipped with Permission Action Links (PALs). The June 1975 NPG meeting made a vague reference to this by stating that, “actions [were taken] to enhance the security of nuclear weapons stored in NATO Europe.” [reference 43]

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    A great answer. it's worth pointing out that it demonstrates a concern that Greece and/or Turkey might try to take control of nuclear weapons, not that they actually did try. Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 22:29
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    @DJClayworth I think Reed is saying that briefly, one of Greece or Turkey (but not both) was trying to take control of the weapons at one location, and he knows whether it was Greece or Turkey (since it is a first hand account) but he won't tell us, wants to keep that secret.
    – DavePhD
    Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 23:26

The Wikipedia page states:

"Added to this was the fact that some of the allies were considered potentially unstable — particularly West Germany and Turkey"

and points to this:

  • Peter Stein, Peter Feaver: Assuring Control of Nuclear Weapons: The Evolution of Permissive Action Links. University Press of America, Lanham 1989, ISBN 978-0-8191-6337-0

The book is on books.google.com. Page 30 seems to discuss issues for Germany and Turkey, while page 48 discusses issues for Greece and Turkey. From what is there I copy:

"It was not until later, during the unrest in Greece and Turkey in the early 1970s, that the possibility that the security of the U.S. forward-based systems might be compromised confirmed the need for"

Unfortunately, no more text is available there.

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