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Dear list, >From the article: ``There's not much doubt, either, that Iraq is trying to become nuclear-equipped.'' 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 fall-out. <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 Conservative. <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 [do] 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 alike. <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. <P>First, 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? <P><A>HREF=mailto"email@example.com"> firstname.lastname@example.org</A></FONT><BR> _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. 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