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We Will Use Nukes First: Secret Plan 'Will Spark Arms Race'

2 July 2002

Defence chiefs are drawing up plans for a "first strike" strategy using nuclear weapons.

For the first time Britain could use battlefield nuclear weapons against enemy troops and terrorist targets.

Armies with chemical and biological weapons would be hit with short range "tactical" nuclear missiles.

Small nuclear bombs would also be targeted on heavy bunkers and deep cave complexes like the ones used by al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.

US defense experts have been ordered to start the rapid development of new weapons.

A senior Westminster source told the Daily Mirror the Ministry of Defense was also planning for their use.

He said: "If you are dealing with forces with weapons of mass destruction and the willingness to use them, then we also need to look at new sorts of weapons technology.

"Destroying deep cave complexes can take huge amounts of manpower and military force."

Donald Anderson, chairman of the Commons foreign affairs committee, called for Ministers to come clean about the proposals.

He said: "The development of a new generation of tactical nuclear weapons in response to the terrorist threat would have implications for arms control policy."

There was an argument for updating the nuclear strike policy from the Cold War era, when two sides faced each other with massive arsenals.

But he said: "If it is to be revised it needs to be done with full public debate, not by a few mandarins talking among themselves."

He was backed by a report from his committee.

The all-party group said: "The Government must state clearly what is its policy on the first use of nuclear weapons."

Labour anti-war campaigner Alice Mahon said: "This is madness. It will cross a threshold which is totally and completely unacceptable.

"It will give the green light to the rest of the world to get in on the nuclear action and develop their own weapons."

She warned that the move will spark a massive rebellion at the party conference in October.

Her Halifax party was planning to put in a motion warning against adopting a new nuclear policy and she expected "dozens and dozens" more to flow in to party HQ. Carol Naughton, chairwoman of CND, said: "The adoption of a first strike strategy, potentially with nuclear weapons, is a very disturbing development."

A Ministry of Defense spokesman said Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon had spelled out the position in the Commons two weeks ago.

Mr Hoon said then: "There has been no change in the essential rules we follow on the use of nuclear weapons.

"They would be used in only what are described as extreme conditions of self-defense ... proportionately and consistently with our obligations in international law."

Mr Hoon caused anger this year when he said Britain would be ready to use its long range nuclear weapons against Iraq.

In March it was revealed that US President George Bush had ordered a "nuclear posture review".

He wants battlefield nuclear weapons to be developed within three years to attack deep underground facilities beyond the reach of conventional weapons.

Low yield nuclear warheads could also be used against buried stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons.

Bob Roberts
Published in the The Mirror © 2002

Nuclear weapons - general issues index     'War on terrorism' index


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