| A US Marine receives his anthrax innoculation at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Connecticut health workers became the first American civilians to be vaccinated against smallpox under a controversial government plan. (Reuters)
New York, Jan. 25 (PTI): The US is quietly preparing for the possible use of tactical nuclear weapons in a war against Iraq and military planners have been actively studying lists of potential targets, the Los Angeles Times reported today.
The preparations include possible use of bunker-buster nuclear weapons against deeply buried military targets, the Times reported today.
Defence officials have been focusing their plans on the use of tactical nuclear arms in retaliation for a strike by Iraq with chemical or biological weapons, or to pre-empt one, the daily said.
US administration officials believe that in some circumstances, using nuclear arms may be the only way to destroy deeply buried targets that may contain unconventional weapons, the report said.
Some officials have argued that the blast and radiation effects of such strikes would be limited, it added.
But a bunker-buster strike using nuclear weapons could involve a huge radiation release, critics said.
Resorting to nuclear weapons would encourage other nuclear-armed countries to consider using such weapons and would badly undermine the half-century effort to contain the spread of nuclear arms, they said.
Although it may be highly unlikely that the Bush administration would authorise the use of such weapons in Iraq, the mere disclosure of its planning details could stiffen the opposition of France, Germany and West Asian nations to an invasion of Iraq.
“If the US dropped a bomb on an Arab country, it might be a military success, but it would be a diplomatic, political and strategic disaster,” said Joseph Cirincione, director of non-proliferation studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.
He said there is a danger of the misuse of a nuclear weapon in Iraq because of the chance that “somebody could be seduced into the mistaken idea that you could use a nuclear weapon with minimal collateral damage and political damage.”
Bush administration officials had made it clear that they want to be better prepared to consider the nuclear option against the threat of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists and rogue nations.
The current planning offers a concrete example of their determination to follow through on this pledge.
Arkin also says that the Pentagon has changed the bureaucratic oversight of nuclear weapons so that they are no longer treated as a special category of arms but are grouped with conventional military options.
The US said today at least a dozen nations would back an attack on Iraq, even without a new UN resolution, but was reported to be ready to give UN arms experts more time to complete their work.
In Baghdad, a man wielding three knives tried to enter the headquarters of the UN inspectors, but was stopped by guards, a UN spokesman said. In a second incident, a man tried to stop a convoy of UN cars carrying inspectors.
The incidents, which occurred as UN teams were leaving for daily searches of suspected weapons sites, were the first of their kind since the arms experts returned in November after a four-year break. Their activities have aroused Iraqi resentment.
US secretary of state Colin Powell said on his way to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that potential US allies would prefer a new council resolution authorising force against Iraq, but would not insist on one.
“There are quite a number of countries that already have indicated that they would like to have another resolution, but without another resolution they will be with us,” he said.
“We would not be alone, that’s for sure. I could rattle off at least a dozen off memory, and I think that there will be more.”