Three days ago, I looked at the flaring Kashmir tensions between India and Pakistan. I examined the history of flare ups between the two nations and who other participants in any conflict might be. And at the end I concluded that the current flare up is posturing – albeit dangerous posturing – between the two nuclear armed rivals.
But let us for a few harrowing minutes stop and look at what this would be if it were not posturing, but the prelude to a full blown conflict that escalates into a nuclear exchange?
I will start by making a couple of assumptions. The first is that there will be a short albeit brutal period of conventional war using the naval, air and ground forces of the two sides. In this particular scenario I will also assume China, which has a passing interest in Kashmir as well because it backs onto the Chinese border stays out of it – albeit no doubt on its highest non-war level of alert.
So, we will assume that the conflict is not going well for Pakistan, which is out numbered in just about every category of conventional weapon – tanks, artillery, aircraft, warships, troops. In the first instance Pakistan, rather than firing a nuclear warhead straight at India, might conduct a nuclear test just to test the water and remind everyone of how serious this conflict could become. It might rock India a bit, but the biggest alarm will be everywhere else around the world and in particular their immediate neighbours.
As a precaution after that I imagine the diplomatic missions from various nations to both countries might start being withdrawn, with only a skeletal crew left behind for urgent diplomatic purposes. India might test missiles or conduct a nuclear test in response as a form of sabre rattling. Chaos would probably ensue as nationals from all nations scramble to get out of the country, overwhelming border crossings, airports and ports alike.
I do not believe that there will be a limited exchange between India and Pakistan if one happens. Once a nuclear warhead is irretrievably on its way to a target, the target nation will have only a matter of minutes to determine whether it is an accident or an actual act of war. Because any launch is not going to be an accident, it will be most probably construed as act of war. At that point massive, unrestrained retaliation is the only probable reaction. It is called Mutually Assured Destruction (M.A.D. – and a wholly appropriate acronym at that!).
But what is truly scary about India and Pakistan potentially having a nuclear exchange, is that neither country has the checks and balances that any of the United Nations Security Council P5 or Israel have. It is for example a 100% deliberate act to launch a U.S. missile. In some respects even North Korea is safer because any order would ever come from President Kim Jong Un, and only if it is obvious his regime is going to be toppled by force.
There would be no winners in a nuclear exchange, irrespective of whether 10 warheads or their entire arsenals were used.
The estimate done in 2002 that 7-12 million would die immediately would possibly not even cover the actual exchange, and certainly not the hundreds of millions that die in the weeks and months following from Acute Radiation Sickness. The size of the nuclear arsenals India and Pakistan possess now are both about 5-6 times larger at about 140-150 warheads each. It would not cover the fact that millions of tons of radioactive debris will be sucked up by explosions – especially those at ground level – and dispersed by wind patterns, that will eventually spread it around the world. There will be crop failure on a massive scale internationally and So let us hope that this settles down quickly and some sense is seen between the two sides.
Thousands of kilometres away on the other side of the Equator, do not assume New Zealand would be spared. If it is not the immediate effects of radiation and nuclear explosions, it will be the massive economic, political, social, environmental fallout.
Probably no nation around the world would be entirely spared the consequences of such an exchange.
Stop and think about that.