[R-G] Pentagon Prepares For Possible Use Of Nuclear Weapons
DavidMcR at aol.com
DavidMcR at aol.com
Sat Jan 25 03:22:44 MST 2003
The Effects Of Nuclear War:
U.S. Weighs Tactical Nuclear Strike on Iraq
For what one defense analyst says is a worst-case
scenario, planners are studying the use of atomic
bombs on deeply buried targets.
The Nuclear Option in Iraq
January 26, 2003
By Paul Richter, Times Staff Writer
WASHINGTON -- As the Pentagon continues a highly
visible buildup of troops and weapons in the
Persian Gulf, it is also quietly preparing for the
possible use of nuclear weapons in a war against
Iraq, according to a report by a defense analyst.
Although they consider such a strike unlikely,
military planners have been actively studying
lists of potential targets and considering
options, including the possible use of so-called
bunker-buster nuclear weapons against deeply
buried military targets, says analyst William M.
Arkin, who writes a regular column on defense
matters for The Times.
Military officials have been focusing their
planning on the use of tactical nuclear arms in
retaliation for a strike by the Iraqis with
chemical or biological weapons, or to preempt one,
Arkin says. His report, based on interviews and a
review of official documents, appears in a column
that will be published in The Times on Sunday.
Administration officials believe that in some
circumstances, nuclear arms may offer the only way
to destroy deeply buried targets that may contain
unconventional weapons that could kill thousands.
Some officials have argued that the blast and
radiation effects of such strikes would be
But that is in dispute. Critics contend that a
bunker-buster strike could involve a huge
radiation release and dangerous blast damage. They
also say that use of a nuclear weapon in such
circumstances would encourage other nuclear-armed
countries to consider using such weapons in more
kinds of situations and would badly undermine the
half-century effort to contain the spread of
Although it may be highly unlikely that the Bush
administration would authorize the use of such
weapons in Iraq -- Arkin describes that as a
worst-case scenario -- the mere disclosure of its
planning contingencies could stiffen the
opposition of France, Germany and Middle East
nations to an invasion of Iraq.
"If the United States dropped a bomb on an Arab
country, it might be a military success, but it
would be a diplomatic, political and strategic
disaster," said Joseph Cirincione, director of
nonproliferation studies at the Carnegie Endowment
for Interna- tional Peace in Washington.
He said there is a danger of the misuse of a
nuclear weapon in Iraq because of the chance that
"somebody could be seduced into the mistaken idea
that you could use a nuclear weapon with minimal
collateral damage and political damage."
In the last year, Bush administration officials
have repeatedly made clear that they want to be
better prepared to consider the nuclear option
against the threat of "weapons of mass
destruction" in the hands of terrorists and rogue
nations. The current planning, as reported by
Arkin, offers a concrete example of their
determination to follow through on this pledge.
Arkin also says that the Pentagon has changed the
bureaucratic oversight of nuclear weapons so that
they are no longer treated as a special category
of arms but are grouped with conventional military
A White House spokesman declined to comment Friday
on Arkin's report, except to say that "the United
States reserves the right to defend itself and its
allies by whatever means necessary."
Consideration of the nuclear option has defenders.
David J. Smith, an arms control negotiator in the
first Bush administration, said presidents would
consider using such a weapon only "in terribly
ugly situations where there are no easy ways out.
If there's a threat that could involve huge
numbers of American lives, I as a citizen would
want the president to consider that option."
Smith defended the current administration's more
assertive public pronouncements on the subject,
saying that weapons have a deterrent value only
"if the other guy really believes you might use
Other administrations have warned that they might
use nuclear weapons in circumstances short of an
all-out atomic war.
In January 1991, before the Persian Gulf War,
Secretary of State James A. Baker III warned Iraqi
diplomat Tarik Aziz in a letter that the American
people would "demand the strongest possible
response" to a use of chemical or biological
weapons. The Clinton administration made a similar
warning to the Libyans regarding the threat from a
But officials of this administration have placed
greater emphasis on such possibilities and have
stated that preemptive strikes may sometimes be
needed to safeguard Americans against adversaries
who cannot be deterred, such as terrorists, or
against dictators, such as Saddam Hussein.
Instead of making such a warning from time to time
as threats arise, the Bush administration "has set
it out as a general principle, and backed it up by
explaining what has changed in the world," Smith
In a policy statement issued only last month, the
White House said the United States "will continue
to make clear that it reserves the right to
respond with overwhelming force -- including
through resort to all of our options -- to the use
of weapons of mass destruction against the United
One year ago, the administration completed a
classified Nuclear Posture Review that said
nuclear weapons should be considered against
targets able to withstand conventional attack; in
retaliation for an attack with nuclear, chemical
or biological weapons; or "in the event of
surprising military developments." And it
identified seven countries -- China, Russia, Iraq,
North Korea, Iran, Libya and Syria -- as possible
The same report called on the government to
develop smaller nuclear weapons for possible use
in some battlefield situations. Both the United
States and Russia already have stockpiles of such
tactical weapons, which are often small enough to
be carried by one or two people yet can exceed the
power of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, Japan,
in World War II.
The administration has since been pushing Congress
to pay for a study of how to build a smaller, more
effective version of a 6-year-old nuclear
bunker-buster bomb called the B-61 Mod 11. Critics
maintain that the administration's eagerness for
this study shows officials' desire to move toward
building new weapons and to end the decade-old
voluntary freeze on nuclear testing.
The B-61 is considered ineffective because it can
burrow only 20 feet before detonating. The
increasingly sophisticated underground command
posts and weapon storage facilities being built by
some countries are far deeper than that. And the
closer to the surface a nuclear device explodes,
the greater the risk of the spread of radiation.
The reported yield of B-61 devices in U.S.
inventory varies from less than 1 kiloton of TNT
to more than 350. The Hiroshima bomb was 20
Discussion of new weapons has set off a heated
argument among experts on the value and effects of
smaller-yield nuclear weapons.
Some Pentagon officials contend that the nation
could develop nuclear weapons that could burrow
deep enough to destroy hardened targets. But some
independent physicists have argued that such a
device would barely penetrate the surface while
blowing out huge amounts of radioactive dirt that
would pollute the region around it with a deadly
Wade Boese of the Arms Control Assn. in Washington
said there is no evidence that conventional arms
wouldn't be just as effective in reaching deeply
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