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[casi] Hugo Young article from today's Guardian

Dear list,

>From the article:
``There's not much doubt, either, that Iraq is trying to become

Also, HY implies that the use of ``allegedly low-yield, "smart", mini not
mega, perhaps bunker-busting bombs eventually applicable against
al-Qaida's caves and Saddam's labs alike'' would be acceptable
(whereas the use of Trident ICBM's would need more ``thought'' about
Iraqi casualties -- a welcome sign of at least a flicker of humanity
from a commentator who invariably equates Iraq with Saddam
Hussein in his frequent discussions about war on Iraq).
An article from the ``Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists'' says that
``To be fully contained, a 100-ton burrowing "mini-nuke" targeted
against a hardened underground bunker would have to penetrate 230 feet
underground (through soil, solid rock, and reinforced
concrete) before exploding, a feat that is physically impossible.''
And, of course, there's no evidence that these ``mininukes'' would
be targetting ``Saddam's labs'' anyway. Other list members probably
know more about estimates of damage caused by these weapons.

Letters to

Include your name, address and daytime number. If you do not want your
email address published, say so.

best wishes,
Fay Dowker


Hoon's talk of pre-emptive strikes could be catastrophic.

The defence secretary's defiance makes nuclear war more likely

              Hugo Young
              Thursday June 6, 2002
              The Guardian

Before Jack Straw went to the subcontinent to lecture India and
Pakistan on the consequences of nuclear war, he irritably brushed
aside a pertinent question. Asked by John Humphrys why they should pay
attention to a country that had itself never renounced first use of
nuclear weapons, he said everyone knew the prospect of Britain (and
the US and France) using nuclear weapons was "so distant as not to be
worth discussing". It sounded like a reassuring platitude. In fact it
was about as misleading an answer as can be found in the entire record
of Britain's conduct as a nuclear power.

<P>Normally, British
ministers are reticent about their nuclear weapons. The standard
formula is to say, if asked, that we don't rule anything out if anyone
attacks us. All this has now changed. The first person who says
nuclear use is worth discussing happens to be Straw's colleague, Geoff
Hoon, the defence secretary. In March, Hoon said, in the context of
Iraq: "I am absolutely confident, in the right conditions, we would be
willing to use our nuclear weapons."

<P>Those who heard him say this,
including some expert advisers, were startled. Such explicitness broke
a norm that even Washington has usually observed. But they thought it
was an accidental one-off occurring, as it did, at the end of a select
committee session and without obvious premeditation. However, a few
days later Hoon gave more particulars to Jonathan Dimbleby, insisting
that the nuclear option would be taken pre-emptively, if we thought
British forces were about to be attacked by Iraqi chemical or
biological weapons. My colleague Richard Norton-Taylor reported and
commented on this at the time, but there was little political

<P>Then, to make sure we understood, Hoon said it for a
third time, telling the full House of Commons: "A British government
must be able to express their view that, ultimately and in conditions
of extreme self-defence, nuclear weapons would have to be used." This
triple whammy, insisting on Britain's right to use nukes,
pre-emptively if necessary, against states of concern that aren't
themselves nuclear powers, has made the quietest of impacts. Yet it
has no precedent in the policy of any government, Labour or

<P>It's not merely the words that are new. Some
officials close to high policy making tried to pretend to me that Hoon
was merely saying what any informed interpreter of British nuclear
policy could have known all along. This is nonsense. Dr Stephen
Pullinger, author of an instructive recent Isis paper on military
options against Iraq, shows clearly how much has changed.

<P>In cold
war days Britain, like Nato as a whole, opposed a policy of
no-first-use because we feared superior Warsaw pact conventional
forces might make the nuclear option imperative to save Europe. The
scenario Hoon envisages is quite different. Instead of deploying nukes
in a conflict initiated by the other side, we claim the right to start
nuclear war before any attack is made; and we contemplate doing so,
for the first time, against a state that is neither nuclear itself nor
allied with a nuclear power.

<P>The best case for this language is
that it's intended to be deterrent. Leaders unversed in the
calculations that sustained nuclear inertia in the cold war need to be
reminded in plainest detail of the terrible risks they might be
running. That certainly seems to be true of Pakistan. But if further
evidence were needed of how much has changed in the case of Iraq, it's
supplied by what happened under the Major government, at which time
Saddam Hussein was deterred from using chemical and biological (CB)
weapons, which he had in plenty, by less apocalyptic means. John Major
was asked about that at the start of the Gulf war. He said Britain had
a range of weapons and resources to deal with CB attacks on her
troops. "We &#91;do&#93; not envisage the use of nuclear weapons," he
added. "We would not use them."

<P>It's still possible to argue that
his successors are engaged in sabre-rattling against a reckless enemy,
though Saddam didn't show that kind of recklessness in 1991. There's
not much doubt, either, that Iraq is trying to become
nuclear-equipped. Maybe intelligence sources think they're closer to
getting there than the public can be allowed to know, and far sooner
than outside experts have contemplated. In which case a break with the
old nuclear grammar might start to be defensible.

<P>What's more
obviously happening is a change in the rules of the game being written
in Washington. Hoon's readiness to import first-strike thinking into
his public discourse, which has shocked old nuclear hands, is
consistent with many hours spent in the company of the visitor whom
Tony Blair and he received in Downing Street yesterday, the US defence
secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. The Pentagon's nuclear posture review,
leaked in March, scatters nuclear threats around the globe, listing
Libya, Syria, Iraq, Iran and North Korea, as well as any Chinese
threat to Taiwan, as potentially necessary first-strike targets. It
also spells out a plan for the US to develop new nuclear weapons,
allegedly low-yield, "smart", mini not mega, perhaps bunker-busting
bombs eventually applicable against al-Qaida's caves and Saddam's labs

<P>Britain has no such weaponry. Our usable nukes are almost
entirely on top of Trident ICBMs. Is this what Hoon means we might use
against Baghdad? What exactly would be our targets? How hard have we
thought about Iraqi civilian casualties? Or about what we say when
Saddam turns out to have survived our nuclear strike? These are
questions of detail, which the defence secretary should surely
answer. But more general issues arise from the strategic turmoil
that's replacing the nuclear discipline of the cold war.

what's supposed to happen to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, the
bulwark on which so much depends? A crucial element of the treaty was
the 1978 pledge by the US, Britain and the Soviet Union never to use
nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states, except when they started a
war in alliance with a nuclear state. In 1995, China and France joined
in reiterating this. More than 180 non-nuclear states accepted the
deal. If the US or Britain takes Iraq as a pretext to break the
promise, what's to stop many countries rushing to acquire the only
weaponry they think might keep them safe?

<P>Second, and more
acutely, we're witnessing the banal-isation of nuclear
weapons. Suddenly they seem to have lost their unique horror. Pakistan
and India needed teaching about the truth, and may yet not have
learned it even with a potential 12 million deaths held out for their
inspection. The British case is much worse. The defence secretary's
strutting defiance makes the nuclear option sound like merely a
stepped-up version of a regular battlefield weapon. Every time he
flourishes it, his insouciance renders it more normal, instead of the
most terrible calamity that could be visited on the earth. Any use of
it, by any power, at any time, would fit such a description. What is
it about our times that allows a Labour minister - a Labour minister -
to forget that?


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