If a nuclear war were to start today there will be no victor, no vanquished.
On August 6, 1945, the first atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, creating a new war paradigm — destroying an entire city. On August 9, the second atom bomb destroyed the city of Nagasaki. Tens of thousands of unarmed citizens, irrespective of gender, region and religion, were killed instantly. The law of warfare was thus violated by a technically advanced democratic state that swore “In God We Trust.”
Japan is the only country that has witnessed the nuclear holocaust. Hospitals, schools, factories, offices, nursing homes, police stations, post offices, railway stations, fire engines, ambulances, tram cars, moving and stationary vehicles, homes, temples, churches and parks — everything was obliterated. A new word, “Hibakusha,” was added to the Japanese language to describe the 1945 atom bomb victims and their yet-to-be-born children. Today, there are about 300,000 registered “Hibakushas” under free medical care but marriage with a “Hibakusha” is taboo in the Japanese society.
Today's weapons of mass destruction are far more advanced than the atom bombs dropped over Japan. Yet the mad nuclear arms race is high on the political agenda of most neo-cons, super-patriots, religious fanatics and arms dealers. David Krieger of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation rightly said: “One bomb could destroy one city. A few bombs could destroy a country and a few dozen nuclear bombs could reduce [the entire] civilisation to total ruins.” If a nuclear war were to start today, by mistake or intentionally, there will be no victor, no vanquished. And with Space Age planning, it is most likely to spread into outer space.
Notwithstanding the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, there are about 22,000 nuclear warheads mostly in the arsenal of the U.S. and Russia. Eight thousand are in the operational ready mode and 2,000 are on high alert. Also, there are 14,000 Plutonium cores (pits) and 5000 Canned Assemblies in the storages of Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU). Moreover, 28 countries have the capacity to build at least one bomb and 12 countries can make 20 bombs. Besides, all “peaceful” nuclear power reactors provide rich spent fuel which is reprocessed to produce weapons-grade plutonium.
According to the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, some 500,000 kg of plutonium are in stockpiles, which could be available to sub-nationalist “freedom fighters” of any race or religion. Once a nuclear war begins, there will be no struggle between good and evil, the jihadis and the infidels, dharma and adharma. “Survivors will envy the dead,” as Nikhita Khrushchev warned.
Following the SAARC conference in Bhutan, ministerial meetings between Islamabad and New Delhi have rightly focussed on terrorism. But Islamabad's nuclear programme is India-specific. Its 70-80 nuclear bombs are aimed at Indian strategic locations. In contrast, New Delhi has strategically stockpiled 80-90 nuclear warheads but is committed to the no-first-use doctrine. Nonetheless, India has a Credible Nuclear Deterrence policy.
The question, however, is how far can the deterrence policy deter a jihadi? Would a rapid deployment n-force pre-empt a suicide bomber who might carry a nuclear device in a laptop cover?
During the Kargil conflict, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee realised the futility of a nuclear war. However, we do not find enough debate on the issue in political circles. While the scientific community appears meek and docile, a whistleblower risks being called unpatriotic. In the U.S., Robert Oppenheimer was penalised for opposing the nuclear arms race. In the Soviet Union, Andrey Sakharov, “the father of Hydrogen bomb,” paid the price for opposing nuclear weapons. But it was his campaign against the WMDs that eventually guided Mikhail Gorbachev to bring the Cold War to an end. The history of science recorded Sakharov's courageous role.
The Concerned Scientists established the Nuclear Nights and Nuclear Winter paradigm in 1985, declaring that a nuclear war cannot be fought, nor can it be won. Moscow and Washington, having signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, nevertheless face the costly problem of keeping thousands of decommissioned nuclear warheads safe. New Delhi and Islamabad can still stay off the nuclear abyss. The problem, however, is how to overcome the outdated jingoism prevailing on both sides of the divide.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev have signed a MoU to further reduce the stockpiles of nuclear warheads. The Concerned Scientists have appealed to political leaders and governments to give up WMDs before it is too late. However, it is a sad reality that the most civilised citizens around the globe still support the nuclear arms race.
During the Cold War years, the U.S. and the Soviet Union developed elaborate civil defence and underground survival system. There was also an early warning system in place. But due to the proximity of major population centres in India and Pakistan, there is no scope for an early warning system. In less then 30 seconds, short-range missiles, the most advanced bombers, can cover all strategic locations and major civic centres, including New Delhi and Islamabad.
The nuclear path will lead us to a point of no return from the nuclear night and nuclear winter lasting a thousand years. We may be divided. But peace and friendship are the only alternative for the survival of the civilisation. We call upon the leaders of India and Pakistan to “remember your humanity and forget the rest,” as pointed out by the Russell-Einstein Manifesto. We appeal to Parliament to declare the South Asian sub-continent a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone. If India takes the step, Pakistan will have no choice.
(Professor Dhirendra Sharma is convenor, Committee for Sane Nuclear Policy.)