THE PROBABILITIES OF ON THE BEACH: ASSESSING 'ARMAGEDDON SCENARIOS' IN THE 21st CENTURY
by Desmond Ball
The Australian National University Strategic & Defence Studies Centre
Professor Desmond Ball is Special Professor at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University. He was head of the Centre from 1984 to 1991.
This is a revised version of a paper prepared for a conference on Science and Ethics: Can Homo Sapiens Survive?, organised by Manning Clark House, and held in Canberra on 17-18 May 2005.
Published by the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at The Australian National University, Canberra
National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry
Ball, Desmond, 1947–
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Emeritus Professor Paul Dibb
Professor Hugh White
Strategic and Defence Studies Centre
The Probabilities of On the Beach: Assessing ‘Armageddon Scenarios’ in the 21st Century
This paper has four sections. The first section reviews the debate about ‘Nuclear Winter’ in the 1980s and the proposition that a nuclear war would inject sufficient amounts of dust, smoke and other particulates into the upper atmosphere to significantly reduce the temperature and ambient light on the planet and hence to threaten the survival of the human race. The second summarises recent developments with respect to US and Russian nuclear weapons capabilities, including some disturbing aspects of the US nuclear posture. The third discusses the current proliferation of nuclear weapons in South Asia and Northeast Asia and assesses the prospects for nuclear war in these regions. Finally, the fourth section briefly discusses developments with respect to chemical and biological weapons (CBW) and the threat of pandemics of new infectious diseases.
On the Beach and ‘Nuclear Winter’
Fears that the development of nuclear weapons would lead to the obliteration of the human race surfaced at the very beginning of the nuclear age. Some scientists involved in the Manhattan Project worried that an atomic detonation might spark a chain reaction that would burn up the Earth’s entire atmosphere, instantly and horrifically extinguishing all life. Albert Einstein himself wrote in 1947 of ‘the danger of starting a chain reaction of a scope great enough to destroy part or all of the planet’. It was the theme of numerous novels and films in the 1950s and 1960s; others imagined the travails of small groups of humans who survived and struggled to re-create civilisation. Nevil Shute’s On the Beach quickly became the best-known of the ‘extinction novels’; the movie was perhaps eclipsed by Stanley Kubrick’s hilarious parody of nuclear strategy, Dr Strangelove, released in 1964.
I re-read On the Beach in April 2005. I have my grandfather’s copy, which my grandmother had given him when it came out in 1957 and which I first read when my parents inherited it after my grandparents died in the early 1960s. I had not read it since, although I have seen the movie, produced in 1959 (with Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Anthony Perkins and Fred Astaire), about once a decade. It is still an entertaining story, albeit simple like the 1950s, but implausible on both technical and strategic grounds. It describes the last months of humanity, in Melbourne around 1964, after a nuclear war between Russia and China, in which both had used cobalt bombs, producing worldwide radiation which had already killed everyone in the northern hemisphere and was inexorably reaching the city. The idea of a cobalt bomb originated with Leo Szilard, who opposed the US thermonuclear weapons (H-bomb) program, and who publicised it in an article in February 1950, not as a serious proposal for a weapon but to point out the imminent possibility of building Doomsday-weapons that could destroy all life on earth. It involved covering an H-bomb with a thick outer layer of Cobalt-59 that on detonation would transmute into Cobalt-60, which produces highly energetic (and thus penetrating and lethal) gamma rays and has a half-life of 5.26 years, long enough for airborne particles to settle and cover the earth before significant decay has occurred, and making it impractical to protect and sustain substantial numbers in fallout shelters. The Doomsday mechanism in Dr Strangelove was a gigantic complex of nuclear devices covered with cobalt.
Nevil Shute’s scenario involved a Russo-Chinese war in which ‘most’ of the bombs had ‘cobalt elements’. The Russian strategy was to reduce the Chinese population by half and to make northern China, from Shanghai up, uninhabitable for a couple of decades. The Chinese ‘aimed to blanket the Russian industrial regions with a cobalt fallout, city by city’, and ‘turn the Russians back into agricultural people’; they could then occupy the safe areas as they desired.1 They each grossly underestimated the toxicity of the Cobalt-60.
However, the doomsday scenario greatly underestimated, implicitly at least, the amount of cobalt and the number of bombs required for global extinction. To cover every square kilometre of the earth’s surface with just one gram of cobalt would require the disbursement of more than 100 tonnes of transmuted Cobalt-60, involving more than a thousand bombs. Several thousand would be required to ensure that every square kilometre actually received a dose. In such a world, where cobalt was the main currency of nuclear strategy, parts of humanity would have had to move into vast complexes deep underground, to experiment with new social structures and prepare for the possible influx of millions of people who would need to stay there for anything from 20 to 100 years, depending on the intensity of the gamma radiation on the surface. As far as is known, only one bomb with a cobalt element was ever tested—a British device tested at Maralinga on 14 September 1957.
The prompt effects of particular nuclear scenarios, in terms of casualties and levels of urban-industrial destruction and damage, are fairly easy to estimate. The calculus involves only a few variables: the density of the population and industrial capacity; the number of nuclear detonations, the specific points of detonation and whether the weapons are air-burst or ground-burst; the yield of the weapons; and the local meteorological conditions. The blast effects are easiest to calculate, depending only on the warhead yield, as measured in kilotons or megatons, and the hardness of objects in the area of detonation, as measured in pounds per square inch (psi) overpressure. An overpressure of 3-5 psi will destroy most residences and lightly constructed commercial buildings; stronger constructions, including reinforced concrete structures, are destroyed by 10-20 psi. Fifty percent of the people in areas receiving more than 5 psi will die; assuming that an equal number will die in areas receiving less than 5 psi, then blast fatalities will equal the number of people in a 5 psi circle. A one megaton weapon, detonated at an altitude of 2,400 metres, would produce 5 psi out to a distance of six kilometres.2 The impact of radioactive fallout is much more difficult to assess. The relevant factors contain larger uncertainties, especially meteorological conditions such as wind directions and speeds, and the timing of subsequent precipitation; the longer time period over which the fatalities occur also makes it statistically difficult to attribute deaths to the effects of radiation rather than other causes. Fallout estimates were usually omitted from official casualty calculations.
Strategic nuclear policies during the Cold War had both ‘declaratory’ and ‘action’ or ‘employment’ dimensions, the former comprising official statements about nuclear policy and the latter being the policy guidance for the actual targeting of weapons in the event of a nuclear conflict. The exemplary declaratory policy was Assured Destruction, defined by US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in February 1965 as the ability of US strategic nuclear forces to absorb a Soviet first-strike and still ensure ‘the destruction of, say, one-quarter to one-third of its [the Soviet Union’s] population and about two-thirds of its industrial capacity’. The required levels of destruction were later somewhat reduced. Secretary McNamara said in January 1967 that the destruction of ‘one-fifth to one-fourth of its population and one-half to two-thirds of its industrial capacity’ would be sufficient.3 This amounted to around 50-60 million people in the Soviet population of 230 million in 1965. Bipolarised as Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), this was the posture advocated by arms controllers, notwithstanding the problematical ethical basis of its counter-city essence, on the grounds that it placed finite limits on force requirements and hence was less conducive of arms races, and that it provided robust crisis stability and hence a low probability of nuclear conflict.
On the other hand, action or employment policies, embodied in the actual targeting plans prepared for execution in the event of a nuclear conflict, stressed either counter-force operations, in the US case at least since the early 1960s, or a massive, mixed counter-city and counter-force strike, in the Soviet case. The US war plans, incorporated in the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP), have been based on the concept of ‘limited’ or ‘controlled’ nuclear warfighting, whereby a large variety of ‘Limited Nuclear Options’ (LNOs), ‘Selective Attack Options’ (SAOs) and ‘Major Attack Options’ (MAOs) have been prepared. One of the MAOs involved a comprehensive counter-force attack against the Soviet strategic nuclear forces (inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) silos, submarine bases and bomber bases); it was estimated that even such a circumscribed attack would kill from six to 30 or even 50 million people in the Soviet Union, depending on assumed fallout parameters. But even much smaller nuclear attacks would almost certainly quickly escalate into all-out exchanges, as the command, control, communications and intelligence (C3I) systems collapsed due to the physical and electro-magnetic effects of the first fifty or so detonations.4 The Pentagon estimated in 1979 that a US attack that struck the full set of Soviet targets in the SIOP (Soviet nuclear forces, conventional military sites, industrial areas and leadership sites) would kill from 30 to 100 million people and injure perhaps 30 million others. Other US Government estimates for an all-out nuclear exchange were 50-105 million Soviet deaths and 70-160 million US deaths. These calculations included fallout fatalities, but only those occurring during the first thirty days following the exchange.5
In the early 1980s, various scientists and scientific organisations questioned the simplicity of these calculations, and especially their neglect of longer-term ecological and environmental consequences. Atmospheric physicists and biologists/ecologists demonstrated that the sudden injection of a couple of hundred million tonnes of smoke, soot and other particulate matter into the upper atmosphere would have catastrophic environmental consequences, characterised as ‘Nuclear Winter’. They argued that an all-out exchange would involve expenditure of 5,000 to 10,000 megatons. The most widely cited baseline scenario involved some 14,750 warheads with a total of 5,750 megatons, with almost every city in the world with a population of three million or more being attacked with fifteen warheads totalling ten megatons and those with populations of 1-3 million each being allocated three 1 megaton weapons. A baseline counter-force scenario allocated 4,000 megatons to strategic counterforce targets, which ignited wildfires over 500,000 square kilometres of forest, brush and grasslands, consuming some 0.5 grams per square centimetre of fuel in the process and producing some 76.5 million tonnes of smoke. This was said to ‘follow statistically’ from the fact that ‘approximately 50 percent of the land areas in the countries likely to be involved in a nuclear exchange are covered by forest or brush, which are flammable about 50 percent of the time’.6
The leading populariser of the ‘Nuclear Winter’ hypothesis was Carl Sagan, the brilliant planetary scientist and humanist. He had noticed in 1971, when Mariner 1 was examining Mars, that the planet was subject to global dust storms which markedly affected the atmospheric and surface temperatures. Large amounts of dust in the upper atmosphere absorbed sunlight, heating the atmosphere but cooling the surface, spreading ‘cold and darkness’ over the planet. He recognised that wholesale ground-bursts of nuclear weapons and the incineration of hundreds of cities could produce sufficient dust and smoke to cause a similar effect on the Earth. Sagan even postulated the existence of some threshold level— around 100 million tonnes of smoke—for production of ‘Nuclear Winter’.7
I argued vigorously with Sagan about the ‘Nuclear Winter’ hypothesis, both in lengthy correspondence and, in August-September 1985, when I was a guest in the lovely house he and Ann Druyan had overlooking Ithaca in up-state New York. I argued that, with more realistic data about the operational characteristics of the respective US and Soviet force configurations (such as bomber delivery profiles, impact footprints of MIRVed warheads) and more plausible exchange scenarios, it was impossible to generate anywhere near the postulated levels of smoke. The megatonnage expended on cities (economic/industrial targets) was more likely to be around 140-650 than over 1,000; the amount of smoke generated would have ranged from around 18 million tonnes to perhaps 80 million tonnes. In the case of counter-force scenarios, most missile forces were (and still are) located in either ploughed fields or tundra and, even where they are generally located in forested or grassed areas, very few of the actual missile silos are less than several kilometres from combustible material. A target-by-target analysis of the actual locations of the strategic nuclear forces in the United States and the Soviet Union showed that the actual amount of smoke produced even by a 4,000 megaton counter-force scenario would range from only 300 tonnes (if the exchange occurred in January) to 2,000 tonnes (for an exchange in July)—the worst case being a factor of 40 smaller than that postulated by the ‘Nuclear Winter’ theorists. I thought that it was just as wrong to overestimate the possible consequences of nuclear war, and to raise the spectre of extermination of human life as a serious likelihood, as to underestimate them (e.g., by omitting fallout casualties).
The current US-Russian nuclear forces
The sizes of the US and Russian nuclear stockpiles have declined substantially since the end of the Cold War. They now have only about 20 percent of the peak number of around 70,000 in 1986, when the Soviet Union had about 45,000 and the United States about 24,000 (down from a peak of 32,500 in 1967), of which 33,800 and 10,550 respectively were classed as tactical or ‘theatre’ weapons and 11,200 and 13,450 as strategic. Most of the tactical and theatre weapons have been dismantled and the numbers of strategic weapons halved.
The United States and Russia still possess a total of about 15,300 nuclear weapons, or about 7,200 and 8,130 respectively. As of April 2005, they had 10,700 operational strategic nuclear weapons: the United States with 5,996 and Russia with 4,732.8 The United States has 1,200 non-strategic weapons (800 B-61 gravity bombs and 320 nuclear-armed Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles) and Russia about 3,400.
The prospects of a nuclear war between the United States and Russia must now be deemed fairly remote. There are now no geostrategic issues that warrant nuclear competition and no inclination in either Washington or Moscow to provoke such issues. US and Russian strategic forces have been taken off day-to-day alert and their ICBMs ‘de-targeted’, greatly reducing the possibilities of war by accident, inadvertence or miscalculation. On the other hand, while the US-Russia strategic competition is in abeyance, there are several aspects of current US nuclear weapons policy which are profoundly disturbing. In December 2001 President George W. Bush officially announced that the United States was withdrawing from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty of 1972, one of the mainstays of strategic nuclear arms control during the Cold War, with effect from June 2002, and was proceeding to develop and deploy an extensive range of both theatre missile defence and national missile defence (NMD) systems. The first anti-missile missile in the NMD system, designed initially to defend against limited missile attacks from China and North Korea, was installed at Fort Greely in Alaska in July 2004. The initial system, consisting of sixteen interceptor missiles at Fort Greely and four at Vandenberg Air Force in California, is expected to be operational by the end of 2005. The Bush Administration is also considering withdrawal from the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and resuming nuclear testing. (The last US nuclear test was on 23 September 1992). In particular, some key Administration officials believe that testing is necessary to develop a ‘new generation’ of nuclear weapons, including low-yield, ‘bunkerbusting’, earth-penetrating weapons specifically designed to destroy very hard and deeply buried targets (such as underground command and control centres and leadership bunkers).
The Bush Administration’s new policies for nuclear weapons employment include both erstwhile features of the SIOP and more permissive guidance for nuclear strikes against so-called ‘rogue states’. According to the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) submitted to Congress on 31 December 2001, ‘the U.S. will no longer plan, size or sustain its forces as though Russia presented merely a smaller version of the threat posed by the former Soviet Union’.9 On the other hand, the SIOP is still primarily devoted to attacks against Russia. Recent versions still allocate strategic nuclear warheads to 2,260 ‘vital Russian targets’, consisting of 1,100 Russian nuclear weapons sites, 500 conventional military sites, 500 war-supporting industry targets and 160 leadership targets.10 The destruction of these targets would produce casualties comparable to an all-out exchange in the 1960s, (i.e., more than 30-50 million Russian deaths).
The recent US nuclear war plans also involve increasing capacity to attack targets in China. Several so-called LNOs have been developed for Chinese contingencies, two of which have been publicly identified. One is ‘a military confrontation [with China] over the status of Taiwan’ and the other ‘a limited attack on China in connection with a conflict involving North Korea’, each involving ‘small numbers of strategic nuclear weapons’. There is also an MAO involving perhaps 500 nuclear weapons against the full range of Chinese nuclear weapons sites, conventional military bases, industrial areas and leadership facilities.11
Further, the recent US nuclear planning guidance deliberately removes the distinction between strategic and non-strategic nuclear weapons, and between nuclear and conventional contingencies, thus lowering the firebreak against nuclear use. More specifically, it greatly relaxes previous restrictions on nuclear use and substantially broadens the range of circumstances in which US commanders might initiate nuclear strikes. In particular, it includes options for nuclear attacks against non-nuclear countries, in otherwise conventional wars, and in a broad range of ‘immediate, potential, or unexpected contingencies’, not necessarily involving any imminence of military action directly against the United States. According to the NPR, US nuclear forces must be used ‘to dissuade states from undertaking political, military, or technical courses of action that would threaten U.S. and Allied security’. It explicitly includes ‘potential adversaries who have access to modern military technology, including NBC weapons and the means to deliver them over long distances’. It states that, in an otherwise conventional conflict, ‘nuclear weapons could be employed against targets able to withstand non-nuclear attack (for example, deep underground bunkers or bio-weapons facilities)’. It identified North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Libya as countries against which the United States must plan to use nuclear weapons. Examples of ‘immediate contingencies’ for which the United States must be prepared to use nuclear weapons include ‘an Iraqi attack on Israel or its neighbors’ and ‘a North Korean attack on South Korea’.12
In other words, since the end of the Cold War the probability of the United States being involved in a nuclear exchange with Russia may have greatly declined (the Nuclear Posture Review said that a nuclear contingency ‘involving Russia, while plausible, is not expected’), but the probability of nuclear attacks by the United States against other countries has undoubtedly risen significantly.
The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and long-range delivery systems
The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and long-range missile systems is now proceeding much more rapidly and extensively in Asia than in any other part of the world (refer Tables 2-4). It is both a much more complicated and a potentially more volatile process than the bipolar superpower strategic nuclear arms race of the Cold War. The proliferation process which is developing in Asia involves multi-dimensional dynamics. There are several bilateral competitors, some of which are engaged in multiple pairings. The most obvious direct nuclear competition is between India and Pakistan. A nuclear arms race between India and China, which is a real possibility, would be especially disturbing. The expansion of China’s nuclear arsenal could also cause other countries in Northeast Asia to exercise their own nuclear options. Moreover, the dynamics now involve not only comparative nuclear capabilities, but interactive connections between nuclear postures and developments in other WMD areas (i.e., CBW) and between WMD and conventional capabilities. The situation is further complicated by the possibilities for access to WMD by non-State actors, such as terrorist organisations.
Five of the world’s nine nuclear countries are in Asia—including Russia (which still maintains hundreds of nuclear weapons in the Far East), as well as China, India, Pakistan and North Korea (a member of ‘the axis of evil’). The United States also maintains hundreds of nuclear weapons in the Pacific, as well as hundreds of others based in the United States itself but targeted on China, North Korea and the Russian Far East.
China is the largest nuclear power in Asia, with a stockpile of about 500 nuclear weapons (including more than 250 strategic and some 150 tactical weapons), and an active development program. China has now overtaken France as the world’s third largest nuclear power. Between 1992 and 1995, China had the most active nuclear weapons development and test program in the world—more active than that of France, which received all the opprobrium in 1995. The Chinese program included low-yield tactical or battlefield weapons, which neither the United States nor the former Soviet Union had produced since the 1950s and 1960s; a large device with a yield of more than one megaton, larger than anything the United States or the Soviet Union had detonated since 1961; and various devices fashioned for carriage on the new intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs), ICBMs and submarinelaunched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), including new multiple-warhead or MIRVed ICBMs and SLBMs, being developed by China.
Nuclear proliferation has become overt in South Asia, with India possessing some 120-125 weapons and Pakistan several dozen.13 The Indian nuclear tests of 11 and 13 May 1998 demonstrated a variegated, mature and reliable nuclear weapons stockpile. The three detonations on 11 May 1998 occurred within a five-second span, which is no mean feat. These detonations involved:
The two detonations on 13 May 1998 involved much smaller, sub-kiloton yields—again, battlefield weapons.14
This represents quite a suite. It is a much more variegated and sophisticated program than would be required simply for dealing with Pakistan. It is also a much larger program. In-house studies by India’s nuclear planners have shown that only about 15 weapons would be required to effectively destroy Pakistan’s urban-industrial areas.15 India’s Agni IRBM, which is the leading edge of the Indian ballistic missile program, is primarily designed to hit targets in China. Moreover, Indian satellite reconnaissance systems and other technical intelligence systems have been developed and are operated much more with China than with Pakistan in mind. Indeed, just before the May 1998 nuclear tests, Indian Defence Minister Fernandes called China ‘threat No. 1’, claiming China was encircling India with maritime and naval deployments.16
In Northeast Asia, North Korea may have produced 1-5 nuclear weapons in the early 1990s, with at least one and possibly two generally reckoned to have been most likely.17 In early 2003, after withdrawing from the Non-Proliferation Treaty in December 2002 and then expelling International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, North Korea began reprocessing Plutonium-239 from some 8,000 irradiated reactor fuel rods, which would have provided sufficient fissionable material for another five or six bombs, or a total of up to 7-8.18
Ballistic missile proliferation
There is considerable proliferation of ballistic missile technology in the region, or at least in the Northeast and South Asia sub-regions. China has produced a full suite of ICBMs, SLBMs, IRBMs, medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs), and short-range, tactical ballistic missiles.19 Two new road-mobile ICBMs are being developed—the Dong Feng-31 (DF-31), which is currently entering service, and which ‘will be targeted primarily against Russia and Asia’;20 and a longer range solid-propellant ICBM, which will primarily be targeted against the United States (and which replaces the aborted DF-41 program). China has also exported some short-range ballistic missiles elsewhere in the region (e.g., M-11 missiles, with a range of some 300 km, to Pakistan). North Korea has some 30 Scud B/C and perhaps 15 Nodong missiles. South Korea has some 12 NHK (250 km) ballistic missiles. Taiwan is developing the 950 km-range Tien Ma ballistic missile. India has a comprehensive development program which includes the short-range (150-250 km) Prithvi, the Agni IRBM, and several possible ICBM launchers. Pakistan has flight-tested the short-range Shaheen-I and Hatf-3 (or Ghaznavi) and the medium-range Ghauri (1,300 km) ballistic missiles.
Cruise missile proliferation
There is also a serious danger of cruise missile proliferation in this region. Cruise missiles are technically easier to produce and cheaper to acquire than ballistic missiles. Enabling technologies such as anti-ship cruise missiles (e.g., Exocets and Harpoons), unmanned aerial vehicles, GPS satellite navigation systems and small turbojet engines are now widely available. However, the development and deployment of cruise missiles are also more difficult to monitor.21
Several countries in East Asia have either begun to indigenously design and develop long-range, land-attack cruise missiles (e.g., China), or to seriously consider the acquisition of such missiles (e.g., Australia). China’s Hong Niao family of cruise missiles is armed with both nuclear and conventional warheads, with ranges up to 1,500-2,000 km (in the case of the HN-2, which entered service in 1996) and 4,000 km (in the case of the HN-2000, a supersonic version which is currently in development).22 The US Navy, of course, maintains about 4,000 Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles, which it has used against six countries since 1991. In August 2000, the US Air Force confirmed that it had moved ‘an unspecified number’ of conventional air-launched cruise missiles to Guam, which US Air Force officials said ‘will allow the USA to respond more quickly to crises, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region’.23
In South Asia, India is in the process of developing and producing a variety of cruise missiles, with cooperation from Russian defence industries. These include the Kh-35 Uran anti-ship cruise missile, the 3M-54E Klub anti-ship missile, and the PJ-10 supersonic medium- range cruise missile (which was first successfully tested on 12 June 2001). Both the Klub and the PJ-10 could be redesigned to serve as long-range (3,000 km) land-attack cruise missiles, and can potentially carry nuclear as well as conventional warheads.24
BSRBM Battlefield Short-Range Ballistic
Source: Centre for Defence and International Security Studies (CDISS), ‘Ballistic Missile Capabilities by Country’, available at http://www.cdiss.org/btablea.htm, accessed May 2005; and Arms Control Association, ‘Missile Proliferation in South Asia: India and Pakistan’s Ballistic Missile Inventories’, May 2002, available at http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/agni.asp, accessed May 2006.
Some implications for crisis stability and nuclear conflict
A three-way nuclear relationship—involving, in this case, India, China and Pakistan—is much more difficult to manage and control than a bilateral relationship. For any one of them to have sufficient capability to counterbalance both others means it would have more than sufficient means to obliterate any one of the others.
The situation is especially unstable when the parties lack assured second-strike capabilities—which require both invulnerable weapons and invulnerable but responsive C3I systems. Weapons can be made invulnerable by hiding them, or putting them in hardened underground silos, or in submarines at sea. This is very expensive—much more expensive than simply producing the warheads. A survivable C3I system is also very expensive.
From the point of view of crisis stability, the most dangerous situation involves nuclear-armed parties with vulnerable C3I systems. The pressures for pre-emptive or ‘decapitation’ strikes can become compelling, as the destruction or incapacitation of the adversary’s command and control system offers the possibility of victory, or at least minimal damage to one’s homeland.
In both New Delhi and Islamabad, the constituent elements of the respective national command authorities and the military high commands are located in soft, above-ground premises—the worst possible situation. Retaliation, the essential ingredient of deterrence, can only be assured by delegating employment authority to field commanders, which provides little reassurance.
Nuclear weapons have figured in crises between India and Pakistan on at least six occasions since the mid-1980s. The first time was during Exercise Brasstacks in December 1986- January 1987, when the Indian Army, under General Sundarji, massed as many as 400,000 troops in Rajasthan, and included tactical nuclear bombs in the manoeuvres. Pakistan feared that the exercise presaged an Indian move to invade Sind and cut the country in half, and was prompted to weaponise its extant nuclear devices.25 The second and more dangerous crisis was in May 1990, during a confrontation over Kashmir, when Pakistan dispersed its weapons from its production facility at Kahuta, about 20 km west of Islamabad, and deployed some of them on its F-16 fighter aircraft.26 The third occasion was evidently at the end of May 1998, when Pakistan put its forces on alert for four days after receiving ‘credible information’ on 27 May of an Indian plan to attack its nuclear installations.27
The fourth occasion was in May 1999, when Indian authorities discovered Pakistani units in the Kargil sector of Kashmir and the Indian Army and Air Force were committed to forcing their withdrawal.28 The fifth was in January 2002, following the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament on 13 December 2001. Both sides, for the first time, moved nuclear-armed missiles to the border and publicly disclosed the deployments, presumably to demonstrate political resolve. The Director of the Central Intelligence Agency said in February that ‘the chance of war between these two nuclear-armed states is higher than at any point since 1971’, and that the CIA was ‘deeply concerned … that a conventional war, once begun, could escalate into a nuclear confrontation’.29 The sixth was in May 2002, following a terrorist attack which killed 31 people in Kashmir. The Indian Army, still mobilised along the border since the previous December, prepared for retributive strikes against Pakistan.30 The Indian Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, said a couple of weeks later that India had been ‘prepared for an atomic war’.31 This crisis was exacerbated on 26-28 June, when Pakistan test-launched three ballistic missiles, one of which, the Ghaznavi (Hatf-3), is capable of carrying a nuclear weapon and has a range of more than 300 km.32 On other occasions, such as in October 2002 and February 2003, Indian or Pakistani missile test launches have raised alarms.33
Analysis of these incidents suggests that nuclear war is in fact more likely between India and Pakistan than it ever was between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. On the other hand, the relatively small nuclear stockpiles mean that the resultant casualties would be much less than would have occurred in an all-out US-Soviet strategic nuclear exchange. Pakistan is especially vulnerable. Its total population is about 150 million, of whom more than half are under fifteen years of age and nearly a third are under nine. Only five cities have more than a million people—Karachi (15 million), Lahore (6 million), the Islamabad/Rawalpindi conurbation (2 million), Faisalabad (3 million) and Hyderabad (2 million). In-house studies by India’s nuclear planners have shown that only about 15 weapons would ever be required against these cities.34 Three warheads with nominal yields of only 20 kilotons each targeted on each of the five cities would kill perhaps 2-3 million people. Fifteen 1 megaton weapons, also allocated three to each city, could kill perhaps 10- 12 million. In June 2002 US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visited both New Delhi and Islamabad and briefed his counterparts about a Pentagon study that concluded that a nuclear war between the two countries could result in 12 million deaths.
A detailed study of the consequences of a nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan was published in June 2002. It assumed two scenarios. The first involved the explosion of ten 15 kiloton bombs over five Indian and five Pakistani cities (Bangalore, Bombay, Calcutta, Madras and New Delhi in India and Faisalabad, Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi in Pakistan). This produced around 1.7 million immediate deaths and 0.9 million severe injuries in India and 1.2 million deaths and 0.6 million severe injuries in Pakistan. The second scenario involved 24 25 kiloton weapons, 12 detonated on eight Pakistani cities and 12 on seven Indian cities. The immediate deaths from blast and fire were estimated to be around 8 million, but the ground-bursts would also produce substantial fallout. About 22.1 million people would die fairly quickly from exposure to lethal radiation doses, while another eight million would suffer severe radiation sickness; most of the very young, old and infirm would die. About half of the 30-35 million deaths would be in Pakistan and half in India. About 99 percent of the Indian population and 93 percent of the Pakistani population would survive.35
In the longer term, a nuclear war between India and China would be much more catastrophic. By 2015, it is possible that China might have more than 1,000 nuclear weapons, including hundreds of DF-31 ICBMs (depending on its reaction to the US ABM program), and that India might have around 300. A nuclear war between them might then involve an exchange amounting to perhaps 500 warheads, deliverable by ICBMs, IRBMs and bomber aircraft. Assuming the detonation of several hundred nuclear weapons on more than a hundred Indian and Chinese cities, the fatalities could amount to some 250-300 million on each side, or as much as a quarter of their respective populations.
Biological weapons and pandemics of infectious diseases
Many countries in the Asia-Pacific region possess chemical and/or biological warfare capabilities. More than half of the countries thought to maintain chemical weapons (CW), for example, are in this region (i.e., China, Taiwan, North Korea, South Korea, Vietnam, Laos, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Burma, India and Pakistan).36 At least four countries in the region also maintain biological weapons (BW) capabilities (i.e., China, Taiwan, North Korea and Vietnam).
Source: Robert Shuey, Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Weapons and Missiles: The Current Situation and Trends, Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., 10 August 2001, p. 8.
Burma is alleged to have used chemical weapons against ethnic insurgent forces on five occasions. The first was in January 1984, when an article in the Bangkok Post claimed that Burmese troops had fired mortars and artillery shells which emitted a ‘toxic gas’ at Karen positions along the Thailand-Burma border. In early 1992, during an offensive against the Karen HQ at Manerplaw, the Burmese Air Force reportedly dropped chemical bombs on the front-line Karen units. In July 1992, the Burmese Air Force evidently used chemical weapons against Kachin troops in northwestern Burma. In February 1995, the Burmese Army reportedly used chemical weapons in their final stages of their capture of the Karen stronghold at Kawmura, near Mae Sot. And, most recently, there is considerable evidence that, on 15 February 2005, Burmese troops fired a number of CW shells containing mustard gas into a Karenni Army base at Nya My, opposite Mae Hong Son.37
Chemical and biological weapons are particularly attractive to terrorist groups. They are frightening weapons, but relatively inexpensive and easy to develop. The Aum Supreme Truth cult, which was responsible for the sarin nerve gas attack in the Tokyo subway in March 1995, acquired an array of CBW capabilities. In 1993, Aum had produced anthrax spores for an earlier (aborted) attack in Tokyo.38
Finally, I want to broach the subject of pandemics of infectious diseases, involving such pathogens as anthrax, smallpox, botulism, plague and hemorrhagic viruses such as Ebola, and to consider both the probability of occurrence and the corresponding consequences of such events. Contemporary human society has produced conditions in which microbial threats can emerge and spread around the globe very rapidly. These include climate changes, altered ecosystems, increased human contact with animals, new medical technologies that have created ‘new pathways’ for the spread of infections, and ‘the rapid and virtually unrestricted transport of humans, animals, foods, and other goods, which can lead to the broad dissemination of pathogens and their vectors throughout the world’.39 As a report by the US Institute of Medicine stated in 2003, the world’s people ‘ultimately share the same global microbial landscape’. The HIV/AIDS pandemic has already killed more than 20 million people, and between 34 and 46 million are currently infected. Some of the other pathogens could kill many tens of millions of people in a much shorter time-scale, measured in months rather than years.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) warned in April 2005 that there was a 50 percent probability that a mutated version of the avian influenza H5N1 virus could become a global pandemic that could kill millions of people. Estimates of the number of people who might die in a future influenza pandemic vary widely. The WHO reported in December 2004 that: ‘Even in the best case scenarios of the next pandemic, 2 to 7 million people would die and tens of millions would require medical attention. If the next pandemic is a very virulent strain, deaths could be dramatically higher’.40 Some estimates of possible deaths are over 50 million.41
I have been impressed by the arguments of one of my younger colleagues, Christian Enemark, concerning the dangers of thefts or accidental releases of deadly bacteriological or viral agents from laboratories. There are thousands of laboratories around the world, in defence establishments, national health institutes, universities and the pharmaceutical industry, working on understanding and finding antidotes to an increasing range of pathogens—activities which inevitably produce substantial quantities of these pathogens and the discovery of even more virulent varieties. The security procedures in many of these laboratories, including those in defence establishments, is lamentably lax. In the early 1990s, a US Army inquiry found that lab specimens of anthrax spores, Ebola virus, and other pathogens had disappeared from the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick in Maryland. The USAMRIID was probably the source of the ‘weapons-grade’ anthrax that was disseminated through the mail system in the United States in October 2001.42
I want to finish this excursion into the calculus of mass death by presenting a tabular summation of some of the various horror scenarios mankind has visited upon itself.
Table 5 includes very subjective probability (p) estimates, sample fatality (f) estimates, and notional products representing the ‘threats’ to humanity. The figures are not to be taken literally but they do illustrate some of the relative magnitudes of particular catastrophes. I have included an entry on ‘human security’ issues—i.e., the number of people dying each year from civil conflicts, starvation, or preventable diseases. About 13 million a year die from starvation, 85 percent of whom are five years of age or under. Another five million or so die from water-borne diseases or AIDS. The probability of at least 200 million people dying from these causes over the next decade is 100 percent.
1 Nevil Shute, On the Beach, Heinemann, Melbourne, 1957, pp. 82–84.
2 Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), US Congress, The Effects of Nuclear War, Croom Helm, London, 1980, pp. 16–19.
3 Desmond Ball, Targeting for Strategic Deterrence, Adelphi Papers No. 185, International Institute for Strategic Studies, London, Summer 1983, p. 14.
4 Desmond Ball, Can Nuclear war be Controlled?, Adelphi Papers No. 169, International Institute for Strategic Studies, London, Autumn 1981.
5 Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), US Congress, The Effects of Nuclear War, p. 8.
6 R.P. Turco, O.B. Toon, T.P. Ackerman, J.B. Pollack and C. Sagan, ‘Nuclear Winter: Global Consequences of Multiple Nuclear Explosions’, Science, 23 December 1983, pp. 1282–92.
7 P.R. Erlich, C. Sagan, D. Kennedy and W.O. Roberts, The Cold and the Dark: The World After Nuclear War, W. W. Norton, New York, 1984.
8 US Department of State, START Aggregate Numbers of Strategic Offensive Arms, Bureau of Arms Control, Department of State, Washington, D.C., 18 April 2005, available at http://www.state.gov/t/ac/rls/fs/44763.htm, accessed May 2006.
9 US Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review, Department of Defense, Washington, D.C., 31 December 2001), available at http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/library/policy/dod/npr.htm, accessed May 2006.
10 John M. Donnelly, ‘Senator Confirms Secret U.S. Nuclear Targeting Plans’, Defense Week, 12 June 2000, p. 1.
11 Hans M. Kristensen, ‘U.S. Nuclear Strategy Reform in the 1990s’, March 2000, available at http://www.nautilus.org/archives/nukestrat/StratRef.PDF, accessed May 2006; Bruce G. Blair, ‘Trapped in the Nuclear Math’, The New York Times, 12 June 2000, Section A, p. 29; and John M. Donnelly, ‘Senator Confirms Secret U.S. Nuclear Targeting Plans’, Defense Week, 12 June 2000, p. 1.
12 US Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review, Department of Defense, Washington, D.C., 31 December 2001, available at http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/library/policy/dod/npr.htm, accessed May 2006.
13 Desmond Ball, ‘The Indian and Pakistani Nuclear Programmes’ in Desmond Ball and Mohan Malik, The Nuclear Crisis in Asia: The Indian and Pakistani Nuclear Programmes, Working Paper No. 325, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University, Canberra, August 1998, pp. 1–7.
14 ‘ Evolution of India’s Nuclear Policy’, paper tabled in the Lok Sabha, Parliament, New Delhi, 27 May 1998, p. 1. See also Johanna McGeary, ‘Nukes… They’re Back’, Time, 25 May 1998, p. 29.
15 General K. Sundarji, ‘Imperatives of Indian Minimum Nuclear Deterrence’, Agni, vol. 12, no. 1, May 1996, pp. 17–22.
16 David Lague, ‘Beijing Blames New Delhi for Tension’, Sunday Age, 31 May 1998, p. 13.
17 Robert Shuey, Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Weapons and Missiles: The Current Situation and Trends, Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., 10 August 2001, p. 10.
18 Ron Huisken, ‘North Korea: Power Play or Buying Butter with Guns’, Working Paper No. 393, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University, Canberra, October 2004, pp. 2–3.
19 For comprehensive recent assessments of ballistic missile proliferation, see National Intelligence Council (NIC), Foreign Missile Developments and the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States Through 2015, National Intelligence Council, Washington, D.C., September 1999; and National Intelligence Council (NIC), Foreign Missile Developments and the Ballistic Missile Threat Through 2015, National Intelligence Council, Washington, D.C., September 2001.
20 National Intelligence Council (NIC), Foreign Missile Developments and the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States Through 2015, September 1999, p. 11. See also Robert Sae-Liu, ‘Beijing Parade to Show Off Latest Missile Hardware’, Jane’s Defence Weekly, 11 August 1999, p. 11.
21 The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), Strategic Survey 1996/97, Oxford University Press, Oxford, April 1997, pp. 16–31.
22 Duncan Lennox, ‘China’s New Cruise Missile Programme “Racing Ahead”’, Jane’s Defence Weekly, 12 January 2000, p. 12; and Duncan Lennox, ‘More Details on Chinese Cruise Missile Programme’, Jane’s Defence Weekly, 6 September 2000, p. 10.
23 ‘In Brief: USAF Moves Cruise Missiles to Guam’, Jane’s Defence Weekly, 6 September 2000, p. 22.
24 Vivek Raghuvanshi, ‘Secret India-Russia Pact Produces Cruise Missile’, Defense News, 18-24 June 2001, p. 3; and Michael Jasinski, ‘Russia and India Step up Cruise Missile Co-operation’, Jane’s Intelligence Review, March 2002, pp. 34–36.
25 Seymour M. Hersh, ‘Tracking Nuclear Weapons’, The New Yorker, 29 March 1993, pp. 56–73; and Devin T. Hagerty, ‘Nuclear Deterrence in South Asia: The 1990 Indo-Pakistani Crisis’, International Security, vol. 20, no. 3, Winter 1995/96, pp. 79–114.
26 Seymour M. Hersh, ‘Tracking Nuclear Weapons’, pp. 56–73.
27 ‘Pakistan Calls Off Missile “Red Alert”’, Straits Times, 1 June 1998, p. 24; and Umer Farooq, ‘Pakistan warned India of “Massive” Retaliation’, Jane’s Defence Weekly, 15 July 1998, p. 16.
28 Kargil Committee, From Surprise to Reckoning: The Kargil Review Committee Report, December 15, 1999, Sage, New Delhi, 2000.
29 Paul Mann, ‘India vs. Pakistan: South Asian Nuclear War Deemed Unlikely, But…’, Aviation Week & Space Technology, 21 January 2002, pp. 58–61; and Robert Wall, ‘Military Intelligence: India-Pakistan May Go Nuclear, U.S. Fears’, Aviation Week & Space Technology, 18 February 2002, p. 55.
30 ‘India and Pakistan: Dicing with Armageddon’, The Economist, 18 May 2002, pp. 33–34.
31 ‘India Ready for Nuclear War—PM’, Bangkok Post, 18 June 2002, p. 6.
32 Andrew Koch and Duncan Lennox, ‘Pakistan’s Tests: Warning for India’, Jane’s Defence Weekly, 5 June 2002, p. 2.
33 ‘World News Roundup: India and Pakistan, Nuclear-armed Rivals’, Aviation Week & Space Technology, 14 October 2002, p. 18; and ‘South Asia: Missile Tests Not a Signal’, Bangkok Post, 22 January 2003, p. 7.
34 General K. Sundarji, ‘Imperatives of Indian Minimum Nuclear Deterrence’, Agni, vol. 12, no. 1, May 1996, pp. 17–22.
35 ‘The Consequences of Nuclear Conflict between India and Pakistan’, Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC), 4 June 2002, available at http://www.nrdc.org/nuclear/southasia.asp, accessed May 2006.
36 ‘World CW: Munition Stockpiles and Production Facilities’, Arms Control Reporter, July 1989, pp. 704, E.1-5; and Robert Shuey, Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Weapons and Missiles: The Current Situation and Trends, Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., 10 August 2001, p. 8.
37 Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG), ‘Recent Reports of SPDC Use of Chemical Weapons Are Consistent with Past KHRG Reports’, Karen Human Rights Group, KHRG No. 2005-B4, 3 May 2005, available at http://www.ibiblio.org/freeburma/humanrights/khrg/archive2005/khrg05b4.html, accessed May 2005.
38 David E. Kaplan and Andrew Marshall, The Cult at the End of the World: The Incredible Story of Aum, Arrow, London, 1996.
39 M. Hamburg, J. Lederberg and B. Beatty, et. al., Microbial Threats to Health: Emergence, Detection, and Response, Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., March 2003. See also Elinor Levy and Mark Fischetti, The New Killer Diseases, Three Rivers Press, New York, 2003, p. 33.
40 World Health Organisation (WHO), ‘Estimating the Impact of the Next Influenza Pandemic: Enhancing Preparedness’, Geneva, 8 December 2004, available at http://www.who.int/entity/csr/disease/influenza/preparedness2004_ 12_08/en/, accessed May 2005.
41 World Health Organisation (WHO), ‘Estimating the Impact of the Next Influenza Pandemic: Enhancing Preparedness’
42 Elinor Levy and Mark Fischetti, The New Killer Diseases, pp. 71 and 77.