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Nuclear threat on Iraq

In light of the current situation, I thought I'd post this recent exchange
in the Glasgow Herald. Spot George Robertson's unsubtle threat in the 3rd

Glasgow Herald,Thursday, December 10, 1998.
Britain was set for nuclear strike at Iraq
EXCLUSIVE IAN BRUCE Geopolitics Editor

BRITAIN was prepared to use three tactical nuclear warheads on targets in
Iraq if Baghdad had launcbed a chemical or biological attack on UK or
allied forces massing in the Gulf last month.
A warning in the House of Commons from Foreign Secretary Robin Cook that
nothing could be ruled out² in response if Saddam Hussein chose to use
weapons of mass destruction is understood to have been  relayed to Baghdad
and may have been instrumental in Iraq¹s eleventh-hour climbdown over UN
weapons inspections.
Defence Secretary George Robertson confirmed the implied threat yesterday:
³The Foreign Secretary made our position clear in Parliament during the
crisis. I don¹t think I need to go beyond what was said then. But there
was an SSBN Trident missile boat in Gibraltar last week.² The
Vanguard-class submarines usually patrol the North Atlantic.
A Vanguard-class missile submarine, believed to be HMS VICTORIOUS, from
the Clyde Submarine Base at Faslane was at sea last month and is
understood to have been ordered to programme one of its American-made
Trident2 D5 missiles for a retaliatory strike on key Iraqi military
installations and suspected research sites away from centres of civilian
The missile was tipped with three two-kiloton ³battlefield² warheads
capable of being independently targetted over a wide area. They are
designed to split from the ³bus² - the missile body - as the Trident
re-enters the atmosphere and are computer-guided towards their separate
Each is theoretically accurate to within 100 metres of the selected point
on the ground, but were pre-set to explode 5000 feet above the targets to
produce a pressure and blast wave capable of collapsing underground
bunkers. Nuclear air-bursts also minimise radioactive fallout downwind of
the explosion. 
The warheads themselves are known in military jargon as ³sub-strategic²
and originally meant for localised use on battlefields dur-ing the Cold
Wasr They would typically be employed to destroy massed tank attacks or
take out headquarters complexes or heavily defended bridges.
They are not the city-killers for which the Trident system was originally
conceived. Its purpose was to deluge Soviet population centres, military
targets and com-mand bunkers and swamp defences with 192-warheads per
submarine, each 15 times more powerful than the weapon which wiped out
Britain has three operational Tridents with a fourth due to enter service
next year. The end of the Cold War meant that such immense firepower was
no longer valid. The UK has since come up with a strategy which fits the
new world situation while maintaining a credible deterrent 
Meanwhile, a 12-strong team of UN inspectors was turned back yesterday
when it tried to carry out a no-notice search of one of four major offices
of Iraq¹s ruling Baath Party in Baghdad. An Iraqi spokesman claimed later
that³a mistake² had been made and that the site was not regarded as


>From George Robertson (letters page):

IAN Bruce appears to have seriously misinterpreted my remarks in 
relation to Britain's nuclear deterrent (Britain was set for nuclear 
strike at Iraq, December 10). Any suggestion that Britain had 
targeted Trident missiles towards Iraq during the recent Gulf crisis 
is totally wrong. All Trident missiles have been de-targeted since 
1994 and we have no plans to change this policy.  

As I said in my interview with Ian Bruce, an SSBN was in Gibraltar 
on November 26. However, that visit was made as part of the new 
post-Cold War role for our Trident force announced in the Strategic 
Defence Review. It was not related to events in the Gulf.  

The SDR announced a reduced operational tempo and wider 
deployment of Trident submarines, and the possibility of port visits 
as a means of providing rest and recreation for SSBN crews was 
raised in the House of Commons Navy debate of November 12. The 
visit to Gibraltar was simply made as part of that new policy.  

While I am sure my remarks were not deliberately misinterpreted, I 
am afraid that on this occasion The Herald has put two and two 
together and got five.  

George Robertson, MP, Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence, 
Whitehall, London.  

          IAN BRUCE, Geopolitics Editor, writes:-

I am delighted to see that Sir Humphrey is alive and well in 
Whitehall and still committed to obfuscation in the national 
interest. However, as beautifully crafted as the missive is, it fails to 
refute the points made in my report on December 10.  

I did not state that Britain had targeted "Trident missiles" on Iraq, 
only that Britain was prepared to launch three tactical warheads if 
Iraq struck at the allied build-up in the Gulf last month with 
chemical or biological weapons.  

It is also disingenuous to state that "all Trident missiles have been 
detargeted since 1994". The process of punching in new co-
ordinates and confirming the submarine's position relative to the 
target by global positioning satellite takes just a few moments to 

Mr Robertson's letter does not deny that the UK was prepared to 
use nuclear firepower, merely that "missiles had been targeted 
towards Iraq". In the interests of accuracy, I would refer him - as he 
referred me during the interview - to Foreign Secretary Robin 
Cook's statement at the time that no response, including a nuclear 
response, could be ruled out if Iraq employed weapons of mass 


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