Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Avoiding Armageddon
Companion Book

Book Excerpts
From Part One:
Reversing the Nuclear Race
From Part Two:
Zeroing In On Silent Killers
From Part Three:
Terror
From Part Four:
Future Solutions Toward
Feeling Safe Again


Book Reviews

Martin Schram


Avoiding Armageddon - Now available on VHS and DVDClick here for VHS and DVD detailsCheck local listings for re-runs
Meet the People Learn the Facts Get Involved
From the Experts WMD: A Primer Companion Book
From Part One: Reversing the Nuclear Race

Nuclear Thresholds:

How could nuclear war start in South Asia? The most often-discussed scenario is of a desperate but deliberate decision by the one nation - Pakistan - that has reason to fear military annihilation. In this scenario, Pakistan, perpetually at a conventional force disadvantage, finds itself overwhelmed yet again as India's military advances inside Pakistani territory. At some point Indian forces cross what defense strategists and wargamers call the "red line" - that point where Pakistan's civilian and military chiefs believe their national security and maybe national existence are so threatened that Pakistan must exercise its one last option: its nuclear option. In this scenario, Pakistan launches a nuclear strike against, say, Bombay…

But there is a second scenario for how nuclear exchange could erupt in South Asia. Brigadier General [Feroz] Khan [of Pakistan] calls it "the danger of inadvertence" -it is the most chilling threat of all, for it is guided not by human planning but human frailty. Khan speaks as both a former battlefield commander and a weapons authority; he was formerly the Director of Arms Control and Disarmament at the Strategic Plans Division of Pakistan's Joint Services Headquarters at Rawalpindi. According to the Brigadier General, a nuclear weapon could be launched not as part of a carefully conceived defense strategy but rather as an unplanned, inadvertent act by either nuclear adversary during the confusion of combat. Or, as Khan terms it, "the fog of war."

The Fog of War:

Nuclear Reality Collides with Human Frailty. Harsh battlefield realities haunt thoughtful generals. In an unusually candid interview, Khan spoke with clarity about how unclear perceptions can become during a war, even for those in command.

"Once the conventional war breaks out, the fog of war sets in," said Khan. "And during war you have deceptions. You have misperceptions. You have communications breakdowns. Things get heated up-and nuclear weapons that are normally kept in peacetime, or even during the crisis, under a certain set of conditions where safety is more important than effectiveness, [could be made available] to battle deployment. You are now moving the safety coefficient lesser and lesser - in favor of battle effectiveness. . . . I only say this could happen, because the procedures in both countries are so ambiguous and they are kept operationally secret."

These are realities that most generals see but rarely discuss outside the fraternity of war; they mostly talk about the iron-clad surety of their nuclear command-and-control systems. That is why Brigadier General Khan's willingness to share his insights amounts to a warning call for all world leaders and citizens that conventional war can spin horribly out of control and go nuclear. Especially in a war of nuclear next-door neighbors such as India and Pakistan, where missiles are just minutes away from their targets and life-and-death decisions must be made instantly.

Khan talked about how the command-and-control decisions - which include the arming and firing of nuclear weapons - could become clouded during that seldom discussed but all-too-real circumstance that Khan refers to as the "fog of war." …

"I can assure you that every general officer, whether of India or Pakistan, or anywhere in the world, would really understand what I'm talking about - the 'fog of war,' " continued Brigadier General Khan. "If he has ever been in war, he would know what I am talking about. The fog of war is something which is only known when you have been in the battlefield. You know what it is like."

"Mostly people have thought that, you know, somebody could go mad. Somebody could go crazy. No, not necessarily. I'm talking about the human and technical errors that are possible in a conventional war when nuclear weapons are at play. . . . So this is a major concern. . . . Indian and Pakistani arms control experts should be talking about these concepts and these dangers."

Presented by: WETA  Sponsored by: Ted Turner Documentaries  Site Design by: Starpoint Solutions
Copyright 2003 WETA. All rights reserved. | PBS Privacy Policy