04 February 2003

US Testing Use of 'Small Nukes'

4 February 2003
The Times of India

"If the computer tests suggest an "acceptable" civilian casualty rate, Washington would presumably not be squeamish about using bunker-busting nukes."

US Testing Use of 'Small Nukes'

Siddharth Varadarajan
Times News Network

New Delhi: The Bush administration is actively researching the implications of a nuclear attack on deep underground bunkers using computers to test the 'kill and spill' levels of bunker-busting 'small' nuclear weapons.

The program details of which were reported in the Los Angeles Times on Monday provides further evidence that the US is seriously contemplating the use of nucle ar weapons against Iraq, and possibly other potential adversaries such as North Korea. According to the LAT, the Pentagon "has launched a fast-track program to develop computers that would help decide when nuclear weapons might be used to destroy underground bunkers harbouring weapons of mass destruction".

Apart from determining the amount of force needed, the system "would asses the potential for killing nearby civilians and inflicting other collateral damage, including the spread of radioactive dust thrown into the air by the nuclear device and the dispersal of toxic chemicals from weapons in the bunker".

If the computer tests suggest an "acceptable" civilian casualty rate, Washington would presumably not be squeamish about using bunker-busting nukes.

Whatever the military necessity for such weapons, say critics, the Bush administration's political motivation is to produce nuclear weapons that are 'small' enough to use or 'credibly' threaten an adversary. Pentagon planners feel the destructive potential of regular nuclear weapons is so enormous as to render them politically unusable, especially against a non-nuclear adversary like Iraq.

Though the US has been working for some time to develop a nuclear weapon capability designed to defeat 'Hardened and Deeply Buried Targets' (HBDTs), the programme has received a considerable boost since the election of George W Bush as president.

"This so-called Robust Nuclear Earth penetrator (RNEP) program is part of an overall effort ... called the 'Advanced Concepts Initiative' to look at a variety of new or modified nuclear weapons capabilities", Kathryn randall, a researcher with the British American Security Information Council (BASIC), told The Times of India.

She said the initiative is "certainly very troubling... because it pushes new nuclear designs or modifications that develop new capabilities."

Even though these designs may be validated without any resort to full-scale underground tests, Crandall said they "may still undermine the spirit of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), the goal of which has been to curtail development of advanced, new nuclear weapons capabilities".

In a report to the US Congress in 2001, the Pentagon estimated that there are over 10,000 HBDTs worldwide. While very few are of strategic significance, the Pentagon believes the number will increase significantly in the next decade. The onset of lower yield nuclear weapons, says a BASIC report, is shifting the force structure of the US "towards giving nuclear weapons a more prominent role as usable weapons".


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