By Richard Cooper in Washington (Sydney Morning Herald, February 4 2003)
The Pentagon is fast-tracking a program to develop computers that would help decide if nuclear weapons should be used to destroy deep underground arms bunkers or other critical targets.
The program, described in unpublished Pentagon documents, seeks to design an array of high-speed computers that could assess structural data, calculate the amount of force needed, then determine whether a nuclear "bunker buster" is required.
The system would also assess the risk of killing nearby civilians and inflicting other collateral damage, including the spread of radioactive dust and the dispersal of toxic chemicals from weapons in the bunker.
The $US1.26billion ($2.15 billion) program is the latest step in a campaign by some Bush Administration officials and members of Congress to press for a new generation of smaller nuclear weapons.
However, the White House and the Defence Department has declined to comment.
Defence analyst William Arkin last week claimed the United States had decided to examine possible roles for nuclear weapons in a war with Iraq.
President George Bush has also been reported as approving nuclear weapons as an option for responding to attacks from weapons of mass destruction used against the US or its allies.
Advocates of the program say that only by developing smaller, more tactical devices can the US deter rogue states and terrorist groups. Existing strategic missiles are portrayed as too massively destructive to be a credible deterrent against an adversary such as Saddam Hussein.
The new program is described in two documents dated from January 29 and drafted by the Defence Threat Reduction Agency.
"In recent years," one document says, "potential adversaries have gone to great lengths [to protect themselves against US air attacks] by placing critical infrastructure and [weapons of mass destruction] in tunnels and other deeply buried locations, or by structurally hardening some buried targets."
As a result, the military "needs to consider and evaluate the option of using nuclear weapons against its most difficult targets".
Meanwhile, the US and Britain are believed to have mapped out a strategy attempting to limit arms inspections in Iraq to no more than an additional six weeks.
Mr Bush and Britain's Prime Minister, Tony Blair, are understood to have agreed that Britain will try to broker language with France that would allow another United Nations resolution on Iraq acceptable to Washington and London.
"I believe there will be a second resolution," Mr Blair told reporters en route to London after his talks with Mr Bush at Camp David.
Los Angeles Times