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
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."