BOSTON — A SENIOR US military officer says the United States would not use chemical weapons or battlefield nuclear weapons if fighting broke out with Iraq. ``The US has no plans [to use such weapons],'' says Gen. Michael Dugan, the new US Air Force chief of staff. ``We would avoid in every possible circumstance even talking about deploying or using chemical weapons. We've made a national policy of getting rid of [them].''
The general, who met recently with Monitor editors and writers, says US forces in Saudi Arabia are equipped and trained to defend against a possible Iraqi chemical attack.
``Chemical weapons are a severe problem any place, any time, especially in a desert environment,'' where the temperatures can approach 120 degrees, he says. ``In those kinds of temperatures, one doesn't keep fighting. One just survives, and you exit the area and you prepare ... for another engagement.''
The disadvantage would be mutual, General Dugan says. ``Anyone who would use [chemical weapons] has to put on the same kind of protective gear as well.''
The Air Force chief of staff says he is pleased so far with the smoothness of the US deployment in Saudi Arabia. ``It is just going along like a machine and it is running exquisitely,'' he says.
Dugan does not rule out the use of the F-117 ``stealth'' fighter in the Gulf. ``It is a capability that would be useful in an air-defense environment that has surface-to-air missiles ... ,'' he says. He also would not rule out the use of B-52 and B-1 long-range bombers, should conflict break out.
The cornerstone of US policy is to deploy ``those kinds of forces that give the US and Saudis an exploitable advantage'' - air and naval power, Dugan says. Iraqi tanks would be very exposed to air attack, since they have no cover in desert terrain. And while Iraq has some 500 fighter planes, he says, Iraqi pilots ``are not particularly well-trained.''
The greatest threat is Iraq's 1 million-man Army, the world's fourth largest, he says. ``They are well-trained and well-equipped, and there is some evidence they are fanatical.''
Dugan says the chief of US Central Command, Gen. Norman Swartzkopf, would have a key position in commanding the multinational forces converging in Saudi Arabia. ``Clearly the Saudis have the dominant and lead role in orchestrating a multinational force,'' he adds.
Regarding the 3,500 Americans trapped in Kuwait and Iraq, Dugan says, ``The first consideration is the safety of American lives and American civilians on scene. Everything that we are doing is being done in view of finding out who's there, how many are there, where they are, and what we can do to secure their release.'' ''
Shifting to East-West issues, the general remarks that ``the cold war is over, but the war for the budget is always on in Washington.'' Central Europe is certainly less tense today than in the past, he notes, but it is also less stable.
``Around the rest of the world, it's business as usual.''
``Given the change in the Soviet Union, ... even if Gorbachev were replaced by a different regime, they would have great difficulty at the conventional level dealing with major problems outside their borders,'' Dugan says. ``At the strategic level, it's a different story.''
The Soviets are still building two new bombers, two new submarines, and two new land-based mobile missiles, Dugan says. In conventional weapons, however, they have reduced forward deployments, trimmed forces, and reduced production of some tanks and fighter planes.
Dugan says the US will continue to experience situations similar to Grenada, Libya, Panama, and Iraq. Given the cuts in the Air Force budget since 1985, he says, if the 25-percent force reduction proposed by Defense Secretary Richard Cheney is implemented, ``we would have less capacity to deal with such events, as we are doing today.''
Dugan says he is most concerned about the rate of reduction in spare parts and support for the air fleet. Even so, ``with a 25 percent reduction in force structure, one can still have a healthy Air Force.''
The general also defends the B-2 bomber program. ``The first thing that we need to do is to protect the US public from the only credible military threat,'' he says. ``That's the Soviet Union and will be only the Soviet Union for a long period of time. One of the things the Soviets have a great deal of respect for is the manned penetrating bomber built by the US.''
The B-2 has impressive conventional uses as well as nuclear, the general says.