Brig. Vijai K Nair (Retd). Dr. Nair an M Sc. in Defence Studies and a Ph. D. in Political Science. He specializes in Nuclear Strategy formulation and nuclear arms control negotiations. He has considerable experience on issues related to NPT, CTBT and FMCT. Dr. Nair is currently revising the nuclear strategy for India [in keeping with nuclear transience] suggested in his book “Nuclear India.” Besides two tenures of combat duty, in service experience includes being a Member Army Experts Committee - 1989-90; Core staff officer to the Committee on Defence Expenditure 1990.
He is the Life Trustee of the Forum for Strategic & Security Studies; and, Managing Director, Magoo Strategic Infotech Pvt Ltd. An information service providing daily news updates and analyses on “Nuclear Agenda’s”.
Independent of the operational strategy followed by the US military to defeat Japan, the US detonated two nuclear devices over Hiroshima and Nagasaki bringing the Second World War to an abrupt end. Japan surrendered, not because of its inability to stand up to US military genius or strength but because the President of the US authorized the use of the Atom Bomb to eliminate two whole cities in a blinding flash. Because of the destructive capabilities demonstrated by this phenomenal bomb the militaries in the West and their rivals declared this a weapon and have spent years in developing war-fighting concepts, doctrines, structures and systems to incorporate nuclear weapons as a military instrument of war.
The professional growth of senior military officers in the US is tempered by the evolution of means, methods and structures designed to win wars by threatening to apply nuclear weapons to any and all warfighting situations. Atom bombs became military weapons that swamped military thought for four long decades of the Cold War, literally cornered the minds of strategic planners and thinkers and became a naturally accepted element of military munitions that accompanied US forces deployed to project military power. The omnipresence of tactical nuclear weapons is second nature to the US psyche – both military and civil.
From the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan down to those gathered around the traditional hotdog stands the threat of terrorists acquiring nuclear, biological and chemical attack is being portrayed as the “greatest danger” facing the world. Osama bin Laden’s statement – “The Nuclear Bomb of Islam,” declaring "it is the duty of Muslims to prepare as much force as possible to terrorize the enemies of God," and Mamdouh Mahmud Salim’s endeavours to acquire a “suitcase bomb” from Chechen mobsters, are being revisited out of context creating a hysteria in Western societies. And encouraging national security strategists inside and outside the government to threaten to respond with nuclear arms to chemical or biological attacks.
Barely a week after the WTC outrage US diplomatic sources disclosed that the Defense Department has recommended to President George W. Bush the use of tactical nuclear weapons [TNWs] as a military option to retaliate for last week's terrorist attacks in the US. The Japan Times reports that ever since the attacks on Libya and Afghanistan failed analysts suspect that US officials “may be mulling the use of tactical nuclear weapons, which can cause much greater destruction than conventional weapons.” Sam Cohen, the scientist who invented the neutron bomb has urged officials in the Bush administration and in Congress “to use a small neutron bomb to wipe out Osama bin Laden in a quick first strike in the war on terrorism.” Gen. Alexander Haig, former NATO supreme commander, secretary of state and White House chief of staff, is reported to have said in an interview “to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction by terrorists, the president should give "a firm warning in advance that we would retaliate in kind and in a devastating manner." And, Senator Jon Kyl proposed that the US should retaliate with nuclear weapons if terrorists launch chemical or germ warfare against the nation.
To crown this all, not only did the Secretary of Defense, Rumsfeld side-step the question on the possible use of TNWs as a component in the war against terrorism, but added fuel to fire by postulating that while thermonuclear bombs ‘don't fit the Bush administration's war on terrorism, smaller tactical nukes do not seem out of the question in the current mindset of the Defense Department.’
Finally a national survey of 439 people conducted by Booth Research Services found that “ One in five Americans support a limited nuclear strike against those responsible for the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.
The term tactical nuclear weapon refers to a broad array of atomic explosive weapons ranging from nuclear landmines and nuclear artillery shells to air-dropped or missile-launched nuclear warheads. The yields of such weapons range from being relatively low (0.1 KT) to being higher than those of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The most likely candidate is a tactical micro-nuke called the B61-11, an earth-penetrating nuclear device known as the "bunker buster" designed to penetrate through layers of reinforced concrete by way of a "shock-coupling effect." It is designed to destroy underground military facilities such as command bunkers and deep underground facilities to protect enemy personnel or strategic assets. The force of its explosive energy is directed downward, destroying everything buried beneath it to a depth of several hundred meters making it ideal to flush Bin Laden and his followers from tunnels and caves where they are reportedly holed up.
Where delivery by air is impracticable, the B 61-11 loses its relevance and will have to be substituted by nuclear landmines, suitcase bombs "small neutron bombs, which emit strong radiation, nuclear mines, shells, and other nuclear ammunition suited to commando warfare in mountainous terrain." and the like.
With this background one tends to review the initial skepticism with which one views the first report on the deployment of TNWS by the US military in the Northern Sector put out by an Israeli based intelligence weekly – Debka. It reports that the US has along with its forces deployed in the Central Asian States, inducted TNWs. The report goes on to identify four former Soviet Central Asian bases where these tactical nuclear weapons [TNWs] have been located: “the military air facility at Tuzel,” 15 km northwest of Tashkent; “Kagady in the Termez region;” “Khandabad, near the city of Karshi; and at the military air base in Dushanbe."
From the same report it would appear that Presidents Bush and Putin had mutually agreed to the deployment of TNWS as early as September 23. Though Debka goes on to qualify that to have it from unnamed "military sources" that the US would not be the first to use the nuclear weapons in Afghanistan.
It would seem that they are deployed for use, "only in certain extreme circumstances," - (1) To counter a move by bin Laden's men to bring out nuclear, chemical or biological weapons against the US forces. (2) In the eventuality of a chemical or biological assault "by the Taliban against Pakistan." (3) In response to the Al-Quaida wielding weapons of mass destruction against US military targets or US nuclear arms in other parts of the world. And (4), if using them is the only way to save heavy American combat casualties.
However, it is difficult to believe that the US would perpetrate a nuclear attack in the Subcontinent after using the “nuclear flash point” gambit as its lead instrument in its nonproliferation policy that is high on the list of national interests. An even stronger argument against a possible use of TNWs is that the US sensitivity to any act that would legitimise the use of nuclear weapons in war lowering the overall nuclear threshold – an issue that has figured prominently in all past war planning by the US.
What we cannot afford to forget is that the US has, for the last eight years vigorously pursued a counter-proliferation policy that has given it a wide range of conventional weapon systems that provide the lethality of ‘small and low yield’ nuclear weapons. There is no earthly reason why US forces will not use all the means available to it before even contemplating the use of nuclear weapons – tactical or strategic.
Another weapon system that would be high in the priorities of C-in-C Central Command would be the EMG bomb. A weapon system that generates a massive electromagnetic pulse, similar to that experienced when detonating a nuclear explosion that damages unhardened electronic systems such as the entire range of modern communications equipment.
The prospect of nuclear weapons being used against an indistinct enemy, largely untargetable, buried in the forbidding recesses of the Hindu Kush, in small groups – is most unlikely.