FUEL FOR THE FIRE:
TACTICAL NUCLEAR WEAPONS AND TERRORISM
After the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 11 September, the United States recruited allies and newly found friends in an effort to formulate options for any retaliatory strikes. United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld noted that retaliation would be “unconventional”, citing the use of special forces and other less traditional means of dealing with a new type of enemy that is characterised by elusiveness. He also refused to rule out the possibility that an arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) could be used as a component in what was declared as a war against terrorism. 1 Larry Johnson, a former terrorism expert at the State Department, joined a growing chorus of analysts who elaborated on that point in the aftermath of the tragedy by noting that “the options are everything from conventional air strikes to cruise missiles up to and including tactical nuclear weapons”. 2
The term tactical nuclear weapon refers to a broad array of atomic explosive weapons. These range from so-called nuclear landmines and nuclear artillery shells to air-dropped or missile-launched nuclear warheads. Their yields vary from a relative low of 0.1 kiloton to slightly higher than those of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The type of TNWs that have been recommended for optional use as part of the response to the 11 September attacks on the United States would be Earth- penetrating, or “bunker buster” weapons.
Any response by the United States involving the use of TNWs has far- reaching and serious negative consequences and should be rejected for a number of reasons.