This article elaborates on two earlier texts by the author:
Nuclear War against Iran , January 2006
Planned US-Israeli Attack on Iran , May 2005
"Current US nuclear weapons policy as immoral,
illegal, militarily unnecessary, and dreadfully dangerous. The risk of
an accidental or inadvertent nuclear launch is unacceptably high. Far
from reducing these risks, the Bush administration has signaled that it
is committed to keeping the US nuclear arsenal as a mainstay of its
military power - a commitment that is simultaneously eroding the
international norms that have limited the spread of nuclear weapons and
fissile materials for 50 years. Much of the current US nuclear policy
has been in place since before I was secretary of defense, and it has
only grown more dangerous and diplomatically destructive in the
intervening years." (Robert McNamara, US Secretary of Defense under the
Kennedy and Johnson administrations)
The Bush administration's new nuclear
doctrine contains specific "guidelines" which allow for "preemptive"
nuclear strikes against "rogue enemies" which "possess" or are
"developing" weapons of mass destruction (WMD). (2001 Nuclear
Posture Review (NPR) and Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations (DJNO) ).
preemptive nuclear doctrine (DJNO), which applies to Iran and North
Korea calls for "offensive and defensive integration". It explicitly
allows the preemptive use of thermonuclear weapons in conventional war theaters.
In the showdown with Tehran over its alleged nuclear
weapons program, these Pentagon "guidelines" would allow, subject to
presidential approval, for the launching of punitive bombings
using "mini-nukes" or tactical thermonuclear weapons.
While the "guidelines" do not exclude other (more
deadly) categories of nukes in the US and/or Israeli nuclear arsenal,
Pentagon "scenarios" in the Middle East are currently limited
to the use of tactical nuclear weapons including the B-61-11 bunker
buster bomb. This particular version of the bunker buster is a
thermonuclear bomb, a so-called Nuclear Earth Penetrator or NEP. It
is a Weapon of Mass Destruction in the real sense of the word. Its
utilization by the US or Israel in the Middle East war theater would
trigger a nuclear holocaust.
B61-11 NEP Thermonuclear Bomb
History of the B61 Thermonuclear Bomb
The B-61 thermonuclear bomb, first produced in 1966,
is described as a light weight nuclear device. Its construction
essentially extends the technology of the older version of tactical
nuclear warheads. (for further details see, http://nuclearweaponarchive.org/Usa/Weapons/B61.html .
The B61-11 earth-penetrating version of the B61 was
developed in the immediate wake of the Cold War under the Clinton
administration. It was configured initially to have a "low" 10
kiloton yield, 66 percent of a Hiroshima bomb, for (post-Cold War)
"In October 1993, Harold Smith, Assistant to
the Secretary of Defense for Atomic Energy, sought approval to develop
an alternative to the B53 high-yield nuclear bomb, which was the
principal "bunker buster" weapon in the U.S. arsenal. The B53 was also
the heaviest payload nuke in use, weighing 8,900 pounds, and only
deployable from the B-52 bombers. Under the guise of "weapons
modernization," Smith was pushing the development of the B61-Mod 11.
... The B61-11 was developed and put into the
stockpile without full-scale nuclear tests. Some critics have
maintained that the B61-11 is a new nuclear weapon, but the US has said
all along that the B61-11 is not new, but a modification of older B61s
to give the weapon an earth-penetrating capability to destroy buried
The B61-11 was intended for the Middle East.
The Clinton administration had in fact threatened to use it
against Libya, suggesting that Libya's alleged underground chemical
weapons facility at Tarhunah "might be a target of the then-newly
deployed B61-11 earth-penetrating nuclear weapon." ( The Record (Bergen
County, NJ) February 23, 2003)
Military documents distinguish between the NEP and
the "mini-nuke" which are nuclear weapons with a yield of less than 10
kilotons (two thirds of a Hiroshima bomb). The NEP can have a yield of
up to a 1000 kilotons, or seventy times a Hiroshima bomb.
This distinction between mini-nukes and NEPs is in
many regard misleading. In practice there is no dividing line. We are
broadly dealing with the same type of weaponry: the B61-11 has
several "available yields", ranging from "low yields" of
less than one kiloton, to mid-range and up to the 1000 kiloton bomb. In
all cases, the radioactive fallout is devastating. Moreover, the
B61 series of thermonuclear weapons includes several models with
distinct specifications: the B61-11, the B61-3, B61- 4, B61-7 and
B61-10. Each of these bombs has several "available yields".
What is contemplated for theater use is the "low yield" 10 kt bomb, two thirds of a Hiroshima bomb.
Mini-Nukes in Conventional War Theaters
There are indications that the Bush administration
does not exclude using thermonuclear bunker buster bombs in the Middle
East war theater. These weapons were specifically developed for use in
post Cold War conventional war theater "with third world nations".
In October 2001, in the immediate wake of 9/11,
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld envisaged the use of the B61-11 in
Afghanistan. The targets were Al Qaeda cave bunkers in the Tora Bora
Rumsfeld stated at the time that while the "conventional" bunker buster bombs "' are going to be able to do the job', ... he did not rule out the eventual use of nuclear weapons." (Quoted in the Houston Chronicle, 20 October 2001).
The use of the B61-11 was
also contemplated during the 2003 bombing and invasion of Iraq. In this
regard, the B61-11 was described as "a precise, earth-penetrating
low-yield nuclear weapon against high-value underground targets", which
included Saddam Hussein's underground bunkers:
"If Saddam was arguably the highest value
target in Iraq, then a good case could be made for using a nuclear
weapon like the B61-11 to assure killing him and decapitating the regime" (.Defense News, December 8, 2003).
There is no documentary evidence, however, that the B61-11 was used against Iraq.
A B-2A bomber releases a test version of the new B61-11 gravity bomb over the Tonopah Test Range in Nevada, November 20, 1996
"Safe for Civilians"
The B61-11 is categorized as a "deep earth
penetrating bomb" capable of "destroying the deepest and most hardened
of underground bunkers, which the conventional warheads are not capable
of doing". The B61-11s can be delivered in much same way as the
conventional GBU (gravity bomb), from a B-2. a 5B-2 stealth bomber or
from an F-16 aircraft.
"military officials and leaders of America's nuclear
weapon laboratories are urging the US to develop a new generation of
precision low-yield nuclear weapons... which could be used in conventional conflicts with third-world nations.
Critics argue that adding low-yield warheads to the
world's nuclear inventory simply makes their eventual use more likely.
In fact, a 1994 law currently prohibits the nuclear laboratories from
undertaking research and development that could lead to a precision
nuclear weapon of less than 5 kilotons (KT), because "low-yield nuclear
weapons blur the distinction between nuclear and conventional war."
... Senate Republicans John Warner (R-VA) and Wayne
Allard (R-CO) buried a small provision in the 2001 Defense
Authorization Bill that would have overturned these earlier
restrictions... Senators Warner and Allard imagine these nuclear
weapons could be used in small-scale conventional conflicts against
rogue dictators, while leaving most of the civilian population
untouched. As one anonymous former Pentagon official put it to the Washington Post last spring, "What's
needed now is something that can threaten a bunker tunneled under 300
meters of granite without killing the surrounding civilian population."
Statements like these promote the illusion that nuclear weapons
could be used in ways which minimize their "collateral damage," making
them acceptable tools to be used like conventional weapons." (See http://www.fas.org/faspir/2001 / click v54nl, italics added)
In an utterly twisted logic, the nuclear bunker
buster bomb is presented as an instrument of peace-making and regime
change, which will enhance global security. It is intended to curb the
dangers of WMD proliferation by "nonstate organizations (terrorist,
criminal)" and "rogue states". Pentagon propaganda has carefully
distorted the nature of this bomb.
The B61-11 is casually described as causing an underground explosion without threatening "the surrounding civilian population".
The Pentagon has blurred the distinction between
conventional battlefield weapons and nuclear bombs. Already during the
Clinton Administration, the Pentagon was calling for the use of the
"nuclear" B61-11 bunker buster bomb, suggesting that because it was
"underground", there was no toxic radioactive fallout which could
The Bush administration has gone one step
further in defining the use of tactical nuclear weapons, which are now
part of America's preemptive arsenal. Essentially they are described
defensive weapons. Under the preemptive nuclear doctrine,
they are specifically identified for use in conventional war theaters.
The Pentagon claims that the use of the B61-11
minimizes the risks of "collateral damage". According to US. military
planners, "potential adversaries" are hiding their WMDs in "fortified
bunkers" below more than 100 feet of concrete. Yet test results
indicate that the low yield B61-11 has never penetrated more than 20
feet below the ground (See also The Independent. 23 October 2003) :
"The earth-penetrating capability of the B61-11 is
fairly limited. ... Tests show it penetrates only 20 feet or so
into dry earth when dropped from an altitude of 40,000 feet. ... Any
attempt to use it in an urban environment would result in massive
civilian casualties. Even at the low end of its 0.3-300 kiloton yield
range, the nuclear blast will simply blow out a huge crater of
radioactive material, creating a lethal gamma-radiation field over a
large area " (Low-Yield Earth-Penetrating Nuclear Weapons by Robert W. Nelson,Federation of American Scientists, 2001 ).
According to GlobalSecurity.org
, the use of the B61-11 against North Korea would result in extensive
radioactive fallout over nearby countries, thereby triggering a nuclear
"... In tests the bomb penetrates only 20 feet into
dry earth,... But even this shallow penetration before detonation
allows a much higher proportion of the explosion to be transferred into
ground shock relative to a surface burst. It is not able to counter
targets deeply buried under granite rock. Moreover, it has a high
yield, in the hundreds of kilotons. If used in North Korea, the
radioactive fallout could drift over nearby countries such as Japan" (http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/systems/b61.htm )
If it were to be launched against Iran, it would
result in radioactive contamination over a large part of the Middle
East - Central Asian region, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths,
including US troops stationed in Iraq:
"The use of any nuclear weapon capable of destroying
a buried target that is otherwise immune to conventional attack will
necessarily produce enormous numbers of civilian casualties. No
earth-burrowing missile can penetrate deep enough into the earth to
contain an explosion with a nuclear yield [of a low yield B61-11] even
as small as 1 percent of the 15 kiloton Hiroshima weapon. The explosion
simply blows out a massive crater of radioactive dirt, which rains down
on the local region with an especially intense and deadly fallout."(Low-Yield Earth-Penetrating Nuclear Weapons, by Robert W. Nelson, op cit )
At present, the B61-11 is slated for use in war theaters together with conventional weapons. (Congressional Report" Bunker Busters": Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator Issues ,
Congressional Research Service March 2005). Other versions of the B61,
namely mod 3, 4 and 7, which are part of the US arsenal, involve
nuclear bunker buster bombs with a lower yield to that of B61-11).
(For further details see http://nuclearweaponarchive.org/Usa/Weapons/B61.html )
While the US Congress has blocked further research
funding in fiscal 2005 on new more robust tactical nuclear weapons,
this decision does not affect the existing arsenal of tactical nuclear
weapons including the B61-11, developed during the Clinton
administration. The B61-11 bunker busters are fully operational,
The B61-11 has apparently been tested "resulting in its
acceptance as a standard stockpile item". It has been cleared for
Part II of this article is forthcoming on Global Research
Michel Chossudovsky is the author of the
international best seller "The Globalization of Poverty " published in
eleven languages. He is Professor of Economics at the University of
Ottawa and Director of the Center for Research on Globalization, at
www.globalresearch.ca . He is also a contributor to the Encyclopaedia Britannica. His most recent book is entitled: Americaĺs "War on Terrorism", Global Research, 2005.
To order Chossudovsky's book America's "War on Terrorism", click here.
Related Articles by the Author
Planned US-Israeli Attack on Iran, by Michel Chossudovsky
Nuclear War against Iran, by Michel Chossudovsky
Michel Chossudovsky's Presentation on The Dangers of a US Sponsored Nuclear War at the Perdana Peace Forum,