Continuing the discussion from What if the unthinkable happens? An India-Pakistan Nuclear War could look something like this:
Recently, defence minister Rajnath Singh said India’s no first-use (NFU) nuclear policy may change if the situation arises, sparking speculation amid heightened tensions with Pakistan following the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu & Kashmir. Across the border, too, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has been making angry noises. The Pakistan government described the "substance and timing of Rajnath Singh’s statement as “highly unfortunate”, saying the world must seriously consider the safety and security of India’s nuclear arsenal. But the fact is, it’s in nobody’s interest to start a nuclear war.
Data compiled by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists shows that every year between 1986 and 2017 the global nuclear stockpile actually declined. But the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) says that recently the pace of reduction has slowed down significantly compared with the 1990s. Still, the world is far better off now than it was earlier.
Russia, US have 9 of every 10 nuclear bombs in the world
FAS estimates that as of early-2019, there were about 13,890 nuclear warheads spread across 9 nuclear states. Over 90% of these nuclear bombs are owned by the US and Russia.
Of these countries, only four have deployed nuclear warheads, ready to use for long-range targets. According to FAS, 3,600 of these warheads are deployed on intercontinental missiles and at heavy bomber bases and are under control of operational forces. Of these about 1,800 are on high alert and are ready for use at short notice.
The US, signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, has pledged not to use nuclear weapons against others who do not have their own arsenal. Washington has said it would consider using nuclear weapons first to defend itself or its allies. In 1982, the then Soviet Union pledged a NFU policy; however in 1993, Russia did away with the stance and said it would not use nuclear weapons against other countries that do not possess them. France, meanwhile, maintains the right to use them first under any circumstances, while the United Kingdom has a vague policy.
India, Pakistan capable of hitting each other anywhere
Starting from 350 km, India’s nuclear capable ballistic missiles can strike up to a distance of more than 5,000 km — covering far beyond Pakistan. Similarly the highest range of Pakistan’s nuclear capable missile is 2,750 km, which will cover most of India.
What would happen if the neighbours exercised the nuclear option
The atom bomb dropped at Japan’s Hiroshima had explosive power of 15 kilotons (kt) of TNT while the one dropped on Nagasaki had an explosive power of 20kt. The largest weapon tested by India was 60kt while the corresponding value was 45kt for Pakistan. If a 100kt bomb is dropped in New Delhi and Islamabad, it will impact a much larger area.
India’s no-first-use policy
After India successfully conducted nuclear tests in Pokhran in 1998, the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said the country’s nuclear arsenal would be used only as a deterrent, adding that Delhi reserved the right to retaliate if attacked by another country. In January 2003, India’s first official nuclear doctrine stated the no-first-use policy. It, however, made it clear that nuclear retaliation to a first strike would be massive and designed to inflict maximum damage, also stating that India may consider using nuclear weapons in response to chemical and biological weapon attack.
Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine unclear
Islamabad remains ambiguous as to under what conditions it will resort to using its nuclear arsenal. The uncertainty is deliberate and intended to deter use of conventional force by India in response to Pakistan’s use of terror proxies. In 2002, then Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf stated that “nuclear weapons are aimed solely at India” and would be used if “the very existence of Pakistan as a state” was at risk.
Research: Atul Thakur; Graphic: Sunil Singh; Source: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Federation of American Scientists, Nukemap created by Alex Wellerstein