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Bunker Bomb Will Bust Test Ban

11 March 2002

Months before the September 11 attacks the Pentagon was formulating a nuclear posture review, part of a nuclear-weapons policy that is almost certain to collide with the comprehensive test ban treaty (CTBT).

The review is the work of a group of radical defense strategists appointed in the early days of the Bush administration. They include Stephen Younger, a former head of weapons research at the Los Alamos nuclear laboratories who wrote a policy paper in 2000 advocating the development of a new generation of low-yield nuclear "bunker-busting bombs".

On September 1 he was made director of the defense threat reduction agency, responsible for anticipating future dangers to national security.

The other members of the team are Stephen Hadley, now deputy national security advisor, Steve Cambone, special assistant to the defense secretary, and Robert Joseph, senior director for proliferation strategy at the White House.

They jointly wrote a National Institute for Public Policy paper last year which echoed Mr Younger's arguments, portraying a nuclear bunker-buster as an ideal weapon against the nuclear, chemical or biological weapons stockpiles of rogue nations such as Iraq.

Under the tutelage of Donald Rumsfeld, the new strategists argue that such a weapon will not deter a rogue regime if it is so big that the enemy can be fairly sure that the US will not use it.

As Mr Rumsfeld said last year, the US nuclear arsenal would not deter Saddam Hussein "because he knows a US president would not drop a 100-kiloton bomb on Baghdad".

Deterrence would only work, so the argument runs, if the US had "mini-nukes" it might actually consider using.

The nuclear posture review calls for development of these weapons to begin as early as next month, bringing forward the day when one of the new generation of tactical nuclear weapons will have to be tested, in violation of the CTBT.

Although the Senate refused to ratify the CTBT the US, which signed it six years ago, has abided by its principles. But Mr Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz have made it clear that they see such cold war treaties as unwanted burdens of another age, preventing new strategic thinking.

"It is just a matter of time until they start testing again, and that's going to create an international firestorm," said Stephen Schwartz, publisher of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.

Last year, the administration commissioned a study on how quickly mothballed nuclear test sites in the Nevada desert could be put back in action. General John Gordon, head of the national nuclear security administration promised he would work to improve their readiness.

Julian Borger, Washington
Published in the Guardian © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002

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