MARGARET WARNER: For more on the risks and consequences of a nuclear war in South Asia, we get three views: Pakistani Brigadier General Feroz Hassan Khan was intimately involved in his country's nuclear development program. His most recent assignment was as director of arms control and disarmament affairs within the military. He's currently a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. Matthew McKinzie is a physicist and staff scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. He has done studies on the effects of the use of nuclear weapons. And we hope to be joined momentarily by Sumit Ganguly, Professor of Central Asian Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, specializing in regional security in South Asia. He was born in India and has lived in the U.S. for the last 25 years and is a U.S. citizen.
Welcome, gentlemen. General Khan, how close, how near do you think these two countries are to nuclear conflict?
BRIG. GEN. FEROZ HASSAN KHAN: Well, at least they're very close to a conventional conflict. They've reached the brink that we are all along advocating that situation of this sort should never arise in the subcontinent, especially after they had declared the nuclear weapons -- but somehow or other that has not been prevented.
Right now we are close to an outbreak of a conventional war. I could say that there would still be similar elements that nuclear war may not be there as a deliberate decision but there could be other reasons where nuclear war could be precipitated.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, give us the most likely scenario in your view for this conventional war that you think they're closed to turning into a nuclear conflict.
BRIG. GEN. FEROZ HASSAN KHAN: What has happened now is that this is complete mobilization of both forces, as you know. And this is a situation where the first danger is that a side that feels it has preponderance could go for a preemptive strike on the other side.
Now, this is a situation that we normally call the defense condition one, the convention forces… into war. What we have understood from the public statements, nuclear weapons may not necessarily be in defense condition one, as convention forces are. That gives a little bit of confidence that they may be not in that state as you might have seen.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me interrupt you. You're saying that if, say, India were to launch an attack, it's not necessarily the case that Pakistan would immediately respond with nuclear weapons.
BRIG. GEN. FEROZ HASSAN KHAN: Well, as a deliberate decision, I don't think so that this decision would be taken in that sense. Everyone is very conscious of something that Secretary Powell said a short while ago, that this is unthinkable.
MARGARET WARNER: So how could it happen?
BRIG. GEN. FEROZ HASSAN KHAN: Well, what could happen is that under these circumstances, as things are going closer and closer, the coefficient of safety which is normally kept in peace time is now on an alert status. So that is getting lower and lower in the favor of battle effectiveness.
That is a place where it is going -- and this is a curve that nobody has gone through in the nuclear age so far. Now here there can be many other things that can happen, an accident, and an accidental launch. Two different things. Misperception, false warning-all these practices--
MARGARET WARNER: For instance, let me just interrupt you, you're talking about a misperception. For instance, Pakistan thinking either that India is attacking with nuclear weapons? Is that the kind of misperception you mean?
BRIG. GEN. FEROZ HASSAN KHAN: Yes, these misperceptions could occur due to many reasons. For example, India is capable of nuclear, hypothetically capable of nuclear.
They may have a conventional warhead on them but as they come there is hardly any time for anybody to realize. You can see on the screen there is no warning time there like you had about 27 or 28 minutes in this case. Now, this is just absolutely no warning at all. So this is a misperception that is likely to happen, and that's a danger right now, more danger than a deliberate well thought out decision. That I don't think is in the offing so soon.
MARGARET WARNER: In your studies, have you war-gamed what might be the most likely scenario?
MATTHEW McKINZIE: War game is perhaps not the appropriate description. What we did is we looked at two scenarios involving the use of nuclear weapons, one in which ten nuclear weapons were detonated above five Indian and five Pakistani cities, and the other in which twenty-four nuclear weapons were detonated over fifteen cities producing fallout.
In these different scenarios, and I think you have a graphic showing the fallout scenario, what we've done is to estimate the likely consequences of nuclear conflict. And what we found are that for the first scenario, we would say, estimate five million casualties and for the second scenario, up to 30 million.
MARGARET WARNER: Now the defense department came in sort of halfway between that -- twelve million deaths, seven million wounded. How can that possibly be quantified? How do you explain the differences?
MATTHEW McKINZIE: The first step in quantifying it is to understand what the scenarios were: How many nuclear weapons, what their yield was and so forth. These details are all important.
MARGARET WARNER: We've just been joined by Sumit Ganguly, I believe. Welcome, Mr. Ganguly. I'm glad you could join us. Let me just paraphrase quickly, General Khan, another guest on this program, has just said that he thinks the two countries really are at the brink and he has laid out some scenarios in which a conventional conflict might escalate into a nuclear one. I'd like to know how likely or how close you think the two countries are to this.
SUMIT GANGULY: Well, with all due respect to the General, I don't believe we are on the brink of nuclear war. I think nuclear war can indeed be avoided. I don't think the Indians are likely to engage in such precipitate actions that would put the Pakistanis in a position where they would go into a state of panic and then press the nuclear button.
MARGARET WARNER: And what would you consider precipitate action of the sort that might provoke -- in other words, if it were to happen, what might provoke a Pakistani nuclear response?
SUMIT GANGULY: What could provoke a Pakistani nuclear response would be a deep Indian incursion into Pakistani territory involving substantial numbers of say tanks accompanied by air power. I don't think the Indians are foolish enough to engage in such an utterly provocative and reckless act.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you want to respond?
BRIG. GEN. FEROZ HASSAN KHAN: Yes. I would like to respond. This is precisely the danger that it seems to be very dismissive in India, and particularly in India… on what has come on the basis, an assumption that they have the escalation control; that they can precisely predict what exactly are the red lines, not realizing that once the situation goes out -- once they start, then that is precipitation and things are going to go from one end to the other. It is like a domino effect that is going to lead to that. That is a danger.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Ganguly, your view of that.
SUMIT GANGULY: I'm sorry, did you ask me?
MARGARET WARNER: Yes, please.
SUMIT GANGULY: No, I don't think a domino effect -- it is a marvelous metaphor but I don't think it is a terribly accurate metaphor under the circumstances. I think Indian decision makers are acutely cognizant of the horrific nature of nuclear weapons.
And as a consequence, I think you've seen this extraordinary Indian restraint in the wake of significant provocation that has ensued after September 11, most specifically after December 13, when two terrorist organizations attacked the Indian parliament, and it's only through the grace of God and the quick actions of a couple of people that only a handful of lives were lost.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let me get Mr. McKinzie back in this. At the risk of not being too ghoulish here, why are there such horrific casualties from nuclear weapons? In other words, what is it that causes such horrific destruction?
MATTHEW McKINZIE: Well, there are three-- four principal effects of a nuclear explosion. There is the blast wave, which is a shock wave that crushes buildings and hurls people with the force of hurricane winds. There's a thermal radiation, heat radiation given off by the fireball, and there's an initial burst of radiation, nuclear radiation, as well as fallout.
MARGARET WARNER: And by fallout you mean lingering kinds of radiation?
MATTHEW McKINZIE: Well, fallout occurs when the fireball in the explosion touches the surface of the earth and heavier particles are produced, which fall out within the vicinity of the explosion.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, how wide ranging could this fallout be in terms of other-- even other countries? Your graphic showed radiation just in Pakistan and India. But in terms of over weeks and months afterwards, what kind of dispersal are we talking about?
MATTHEW McKINZIE: Well, what that graphic focused on were zones where you would have immediate, severe radiation sickness sometimes leading to death. And, indeed, those zones according to our code, based on the Department of Energy and Department of Defense data would predict that. But there would be radioactive contamination of course beyond those countries.
MARGARET WARNER: How widely?
MATTHEW McKINZIE: It's difficult to say. Both the United States and Soviet Union, for instance, conducted atmosphere -- above-ground nuclear tests for the U.S. in Nevada, and there was widespread contamination of our country leading to cancers, as has been recently revealed. And you would expect the same sort of contamination of the environment, of agriculture, of food production and leading to eventual cancers and birth defects.
MARGARET WARNER: General, you said you believe the political leadership is aware of these horrific consequences, and yet we heard the British, I guess there is a public-- a health researcher in the setup piece said he hasn't detected a deep wariness and I understand Secretary Rumsfeld, when he goes over, plans to take the Defense Department's study with scenarios such as just have been laid out to the political leadership, both in India and in Pakistan to say really, have you grasped how bad this could be? What makes you sure that this is grasped and understood?
BRIG. GEN. FEROZ HASSAN KHAN: Look, if there is an impression that Pakistan is just ready or dying to fire the nuclear weapons that is absolutely incorrect. What I'm trying to say here is that a case is being made that under the umbrella of nuclear weapons, one side which has preponderance on conventional force can go to a weaker side and the weaker side keeps on ruling at every point. That seems to be undermined.
That is absolutely an argument that the people must understand, that you can't push a cat against the wall. A point comes that it turns into a tiger. That is what we are trying to indicate - that conventional war, if it starts, it is going to lead on to a point where there can be many scenarios that can be visualized that could lead to a war even if there is not a deliberate decision. Imagine a scenario where there's decapitating attack of a conventional kind and -
MARGARET WARNER: Decapitating attack meaning--
BRIG. GEN. FEROZ HASSAN KHAN: Meaning that the nerve central, which is centralized authorization, they may not have authorized the use of nuclear weapons but there is an element because of the situation it was disbursed.
Now there is a physical capability of the people there, in the absence of order and a decapitation attack, what they're likely to do is they're going to do what is the best rationale for them to do before they're destroyed. So that is the danger here, which is inherent in a conventional war. And I'm not talking about a deliberate nuclear decision here.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. And Mr. Ganguly, you don't see that inherent danger?
SUMIT GANGULY: No, absolutely not. The last thing India would embark upon is a decapitating strike. And, furthermore, I don't think a decapitating strike is simply possible because the Pakistanis are not foolish either.
Pakistani military decision makers, I'm certain, have disbursed their weapons, have camouflaged their weapons, have concealed their weapons, and as a consequence, it would be extraordinary difficult for a limited power like India -- bear in mind, we are not talking about the capabilities of a major industrial country.
We are not talking about the American conventional arsenal. We are talking about regional power at best. And certainly they would not have enough faith in their abilities to carry out a decapitating conventional strike. This is rather hyperbolic to think that India could even conceive of a preemptive decapitating conventional strike.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree with something General Khan said earlier, which is that the situation is a lot more precarious between your two countries than say it was between the U.S. and Soviet Union in its 50-year standoff?
SUMIT GANGULY: A small correction. India is no longer my country. I've lived away for 30 years. And I'm an American citizen. And I take that very seriously.
But that said, no, I don't think the situation is any more serious because I think one tends to forget that American weapons and Soviet weapons were deployed, both in Eastern and Western Europe throughout the Cold War and flight times, I dare say, were not significantly greater. And there were a series of crises in the 1950s where the United States and the Soviet Union basically backed away and avoided even conventional war. And I don't think why that cannot be done in South Asia.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, let's hope it can be. Thank you all three gentlemen very much.