Background: Nuclear Nightmare India and Pakistan
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JIM LEHRER: The terrible risks and possible consequences of a nuclear war between India and Pakistan. As the tensions over Kashmir intensify, there have been more warnings that the conflict between the two nuclear nations could spin out of control.
Yesterday, on the NewsHour, Secretary of State Powell said a nuclear conflict is unthinkable.
COLIN POWELL: In my conversations with both sides, and especially with the Pakistani side, I have made it clear that this really can’t be in anyone’s mind. I mean, the thought of a nuclear conflict in the year 2002 with what that would mean with respect to loss of life, what that would mean with respect to the condemnation, the worldwide condemnation that would come down on whatever nation chose to take that course of action would be such that I can see very little military, political, or any other kind of justification for the use of nuclear weapons.
Nuclear weapons in this day and age may serve some deterrent effect, and so be it. But to think of using them as just another weapon in what might be start out as a conventional conflict in this day and age seems to be me to be something that no side should be contemplating.
JIM LEHRER: For more background on the possible consequences, here’s a report from Andrew Veitch of Independent Television News.
ANDREW VIETCH: Hiroshima was destroyed by a 15-kiloton nuclear bomb, small compared to those in the arsenals of India and Pakistan. Scientists have worked out how many would die if the same bomb, the equivalent of 15,000 tons of TNT, was dropped on Bombay.
DR. ROBIN STOTT, King’s College Medical School, London: We estimate that the casualties from the three major effects– which are initial blast, secondary firestorm, and the third, nuclear fallout– would be in the range of 200,000 to a million deaths. And this, of course, is immediate casualties.
ANDREW VIETCH: A full-scale nuclear exchange between the two countries would kill 12 million and injure another 7 million, according to Pentagon estimates. And that’s not allowing for the long-term effects of radiation: the poisoning of the soil, the poisoning of the water, the genetic damage to children yet unborn.
But the warnings of nuclear experts in both India and Pakistan have been ignored. During the Cold War, both sides knew they could not survive a nuclear holocaust. Deterrence was based on the doctrine of mutually assured destruction, mad, but India and Pakistan have far fewer and far less powerful warheads. Leaders on both sides appear convinced that while millions may die, most will survive.
DR. ROBIN STOTT: My feeling was when I was there not long ago, was that people felt these are just kind of oversized grenades that you hurled into a marketplace. I’m being slightly flippant about it, but there was no comprehension of the destructive power of these, particularly, actually, in cities whose fabric is not particularly sound. And I… the consequences are unimaginable and unthinkable, and as a health professional, I have to say that we cannot possibly do anything to protect against them.
ANDREW VIETCH: These are the nuclear arsenals. India’s biggest missile, the Agni, carries a 2,000-pound warhead and has a range of 1,200 miles. It can easily hit any target in Pakistan. Pakistan’s answer, the Ghauri, carries a 1,500-pound warhead and has a range of 900 miles. The cities of Delhi and Bombay are well within range. Both sides also have mobile missiles and aircraft, which can deliver nuclear bombs.
ANDREW KENNEDY, Royal United Services Institute: There are almost too few nuclear weapons in this relationship, both– particularly on the Indian side, but potentially in the Pakistan side, as well– both of them have a belief that they could survive a first strike or even a complete strike of the other side’s nuclear arsenal. So there is no such thing as an assured destruction capability on either side.
ANDREW VIETCH: Pakistan, with fewer conventional forces, is thought most likely to resort to nuclear weapons if India invades or uses its navy to blockade the country. Yet, India has nuclear as well as conventional supremacy. It uses plutonium and has enough for at least 50 nuclear bombs. Plutonium remains lethal for thousands of years.
Pakistan uses weapons-grade uranium, and may have only 25 warheads. But one is enough to cause massive devastation. Depending on which way the wind is blowing, the fallout will spread to the neighboring countries: Afghanistan, Iran, Bangladesh, and China. Radioactive plumes, like that from Chernobyl, only worse, may eventually spread much farther. Even the Indus and the Ganges, the holy river, will be poisoned.