It’s time to think about the unthinkable, if only to prevent it.
After the Narendra Modi government effectively abrogated Article 370 and split the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories, Pakistan has adopted a belligerent tone, with its prime minister Imran Khan even raising the spectre of a nuclear conflict in South Asia.
Meanwhile, Rajnath Singh’s surprising remarks on India’s ‘No First Use’ doctrine – the union defence minister hinted that New Delhi could be doing a re-think on it – have created a buzz in the country’s strategic and defence circles.
However, nuclear weapons can’t be looked at just from the prism of a strategic doctrine or war simulations carried out by experts and think-thanks. They are no ordinary weapons, and the destruction they cause is too horrific to imagine.
Yet, imagine we must, since it’s important to know what we are talking about when we discuss a nuclear war.
The size of the world’s nuclear arsenals ::
The size of India and Pakistan’s respective nuclear arsenal is roughly the same. While India is believed to have 130-140 plutonium-based nuclear warheads, Pakistan’s arsenal, which is likely to be made using highly enriched uranium, comprises an estimated 140-150 nuclear weapons, according to a study by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
China is believed to have an estimated 300 nuclear weapons.
Russia and the US continue to hold more than 90 per cent of all nuclear weapons in the world. While Russia has 6,490 nuclear weapons, the US has 6,185 warheads.
France and the UK have 300 and 215 nuclear weapons, respectively, according to the Ploughshares Fund, which funds research and supports organisations involved in reducing nuclear threats facing the planet.
Israel has not publically declared that it possesses nuclear weapons, but it may have up to 80 warheads, according to Ploughshares Fund. North Korea is estimated to have 20-30 nuclear weapons.
Destruction unleashed by a nuclear bomb ::
During the Cold War, the so-called doctrine of ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ is believed to have prevented the US and Soviet Union from using nuclear weapons, but they did come precariously close to war during the Cuban Missile Crisis of the 1960s.
Still, the only real examples of what nuclear weapons can do are from World War 2 when the US dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on 6 August 1945, followed by another one on Nagasaki three days later.
The atomic bomb on Hiroshima, which was dropped by parachute, exploded 580 metres above the ground. An estimated 70,000 residents of Hiroshima were killed instantly. Medium and long-term effects triggered by deadly radiation killed thousands more.
The blast flattened many buildings and about 10 sqkm of the city was devastated.
In Nagasaki, the final death toll was calculated to be 50,000.
If India, Pakistan fight a nuclear war ::
From what is known publically, India has tested a nuclear weapon four times as powerful as the one used in Hiroshima while Pakistan has tested one with explosive power three times that of the bomb dropped by the US on the Japanese city.
In case of a full-blown nuclear war between India and Pakistan (assuming the two countries use about 100 nuclear weapons), the estimated casualties spread across the two countries within the first week would exceed 2 crore, according to a study by researchers from University of Colorado-Boulder, Rutgers University and University of California, Los Angeles.
But the fallout will not be limited to the subcontinent. In 10 days, temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere could see a rapid fall, the study warns.
Specifically, if Pakistan attacks New Delhi with a single, 45 kiloton nuclear bomb, more than 6.5 lakh people will be killed and 15 lakh injured, according to a website which researches the effects of nuclear warfare. This is not counting the impact on animals, plant life and buildings.
(A similar attack by India on Karachi will also kill about 6.5 lakh people, the simulation suggests.)
It’s a sobering scenario, which Indian political leaders and strategic experts are hopefully keenly conscious of.