- BRITAIN was prepared to use three tactical nuclear warheads on targets
in Iraq if Baghdad had launched a chemical or biological attack on UK or
allied forces massing in the Gulf last month.
- A warning in the House of Commons from
Foreign Secretary Robin Cook that "nothing could be ruled out"
in response if Saddam Hussein chose to use weapons of mass destruction
is understood to have been relayed to Baghdad and may have been instrumental
in Iraq's eleventh-hour climbdown over UN weapons inspections.
- Defence Secretary George Robertson confirmed
the implied threat yesterday: "The Foreign Secretary made our position
clear in Parliament during the crisis. I don't think I need to go beyond
what was said then. But there was an SSBN - Trident missile boat - in Gibraltar
last week." The Vanguard-class submarines usually patrol the North
- A Vanguard-class missile submarine, believed
to be HMS Victorious, from the Clyde Submarine Base at Faslane was at sea
last month and is understood to have been ordered to programme one of its
American-made Trident2 D5 missiles for a retaliatory strike on key Iraqi
military installations and suspected research sites away from centres of
- The missile was tipped with three two-kiloton
"battlefield" warheads capable of being independently targeted
over a wide area. They are designed to split from the "bus" -
the missile body - as the Trident re-enters the atmosphere and are computer-guided
towards their separate objectives.
- Each is theoretically accurate to within
100 metres of the selected point on the ground, but were preset to explode
5000 feet above the targets to produce a pressure and blast wave capable
of collapsing underground bunkers. Nuclear airbursts also minimise radioactive
fallout downwind of the explosion.
- The warheads themselves are known in
military jargon as "sub-strategic" and originally meant for localised
use on battlefields during the Cold War. They would typically be employed
to destroy massed tank attacks or take out headquarters complexes or heavily-defended
- They are not the city-killers for which
the Trident system was originally conceived. Its purpose was to deluge
Soviet population centres, military targets and command bunkers and swamp
defences with 192-warheads per submarine, each 15 times more powerful than
the weapon which wiped out Hiroshima.
- Britain has three operational Tridents
with a fourth due to enter service next year. The end of the Cold War meant
that such immense firepower was no longer valid. The UK has since come
up with a strategy which fits the new world situation while maintaining
a credible deterrent.
- Meanwhile, a 12-strong team of UN inspectors
was turned back yesterday when it tried to carry out a no-notice search
of one of four major offices of Iraq's ruling Baath Party in Baghdad. An
Iraqi spokesman claimed later that "a mistake" had been made
and that the site was not regarded as sensitive. - Dec 10