Britain Said To Have
Been Ready To Nuke Iraq

By Ian Bruce
Geopolitics Editor
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 Atlantic.
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 civilian population.
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 bridges.
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