India and Pakistan

Yesterday, India conducted an air strike in Pakistan. Last night, Pakistani Prime Minister Khan is reported to have consulted with the body in control of its nuclear arsenal. This is one of the few times that two nuclear armed states have directly been involved in military conflict against each other. It is another sign of the dangerous times we are living in.

India and Pakistan both have highly populated cities within striking distance of each other’s nuclear weapons. Their arsenals are estimated to contain more than 100 times the destructive power of the bomb used in Hiroshima. An explosion of a Hiroshima-sized nuclear bomb over Mumbai would result in between 150,000-800,000 civilian casualties within a few weeks from the combined effects of blast, burn, & radiation. Cancers & other illnesses would increase the casualties totals over time.

Climate scientists modelled what a limited exchange of relatively low-yield nuclear weapons between India and Pakistan could look like (use of about 50 weapons on each side) and found that smoke from the explosions would make temperatures plunge, causing wheat, rice, corn and soybean production to be reduced globally by 10 to 40 percent for five years. This could risk famine for about 2 billion people, or about 25% of the world’s population. The explosions also would cause severe depletion of the Earth’s ozone layer, damaging human health and the environment.

This is yet another demonstration that reliance on nuclear deterrence to prevent conflict is risky at best, and potentially catastrophic.  What we have here is a developing escalation spiral.  It is likely that reassurances will come with language such as “re-establishing deterrence” & “red lines” but those are not precise nor controlled, and they do not address the root of the problem.

All efforts to de-escalate the situation should be a priority. No one is immune to the effect if nuclear weapons are used. This is either the start of something much bigger, or where both sides can decide they’ve had enough and begin a process of de-escalation.  The choice is clear- step back, take a breath, and think.  Before the unthinkable becomes reality.