India and Pakistan are quietly making nuclear war more likely

India and Pakistan are quietly making nuclear war more likely, by Tom Hundley.

The Pakistan navy is likely to soon place nuclear-tipped cruise missiles on up to three of its five French-built diesel-electric submarines. It has also reached a deal with China to buy eight more diesel-electric attack submarines that can be equipped with nuclear weapons. … Even more disturbing, Pakistani military authorities say they are considering the possibility of putting nuclear-tipped cruise missiles on surface vessels …

Pakistan says its decision to add nuclear weapons to its navy is a direct response to India’s August 2016 deployment of its first nuclear submarine, the Arihant. A second, even more advanced Indian nuclear submarine, the Arighat, began sea trials last November, and four more boats are scheduled to join the fleet by 2025.

India and Pakistan have gone to war four times since 1947, when Britain partitioned what had been a single colony into Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. They have been in a state of constant hostility ever since, and for the past two decades, they have been locked in a frightening nuclear arms race on land. Pushing the contest into the Indian Ocean makes the situation even more dangerous by loosening the chain of command and control over the weapons, increasing the number of weapons, and placing them in an environment where things tend to go wrong. …

Both India and Pakistan have kept their warheads and delivery systems “de-mated” — that is, the nuclear warhead is stored far away from the missile that would deliver it. Or in the case of India’s bombs, the trigger or detonator is kept far from the fissile core.

But at sea — and especially when you go beneath the sea — this is pretty much impossible. The warheads and missiles have already been assembled and stored in the same place, and individual submarine captains have significant freedom to decide whether to launch their nukes. …

The other big worry, especially with regard to Pakistan, is that nuclear weapons will somehow fall into the hands of terrorists. With Pakistan’s existing land-based arsenal, the warheads and missiles are stored separately in a series of heavily guarded secret locations. That can’t be done with ships and submarines. … Terrorists will know exactly where they have to go to get what they want, and al-Qaeda has already shown a willingness and capability to hit those facilities. …

Experts who have modeled an India-Pakistan nuclear exchange say that once the first nuke is launched, it would be nearly impossible for either side to deescalate.

That means each side would likely attempt to unleash its entire arsenal of 100 or more nuclear weapons on the other side’s population centers. The ensuing firestorm would release a cloud of radioactive ash that would darken skies, cool temperatures, and disrupt agriculture around the globe for a decade or more. Millions would die, and millions more would be faced with displacement and starvation as we enter what scientists have termed nuclear winter.

hat-tip Bob