In view of the escalating tensions in the Indian occupied Kashmir (IoK) between India and Pakistan, experts from around the world are now focusing on the consequences of a war between the two nuclear powers.
A recent research paper published in the International Science Journal ‘Science Advances’ reviewed the impact of a nuclear war between the neighboring countries and its result in the loss of lives and climate.
The article states that there is a particular concern about India and Pakistan compared to other countries equipped with nuclear weapons, as both countries have a long history of wars.
Recent reports of rising tension between the two countries and the lack of progress in resolving border conflicts further increase the risks of nuclear war.
Number of Pakistan and India’s Nuclear Weapons
The article states that there are currently about 13,900 nuclear weapons worldwide, of which 93% are with the US and Russia. The remaining seven nuclear powers have about 1,200 nuclear weapons.
It is estimated that both India and Pakistan currently have 140 to 150 nuclear warheads and by year 2025, their numbers will reach 200 to 250.
The number of warheads possessed by both countries is estimated on the basis of their delivery system capability that can be examined by remote sensing rather than the amount of enriched uranium.
Pakistan possesses nuclear-capable air crafts (F-16A/B and Mirage III/V) with a range of up to 2,100 km and eight types of ballistic missiles with a maximum range of 2,750 km. With this capability, Pakistan can easily target any location in India.
There are 400 cities in India, each of them having a population of over one hundred thousand people, and according to the research Pakistan can target one-third of India’s densely populated cities.
India, on the other hand, possesses Mirage 2000H and Jaguar IS/IB air crafts capable of carrying nuclear weapons at a range of 1,850 km and four types of ballistic missiles with a maximum range of 1,850 km.
With this ability India has the potential to target the whole of Pakistan. There are 60 cities in Pakistan with a population of over one hundred thousand people and India has the potential to target all these cities.
The Scenario for War
The research article states that neither India nor Pakistan will start a nuclear war unless one party is subjected to severe provocation by the other.
India’s policy in this regard is that it will not take the initiative in the use of nuclear weapons unless it is attacked by chemical or biological weapons.
On the other hand, Pakistan has also declared that it would only use nuclear weapons if it fails to stop an invasion by conventional means or if it were attacked by nuclear weapons.
According to the research, the two countries have fought four conventional wars so far (1947, 1965, 1971, 1999), and a large number of skirmishes have been going on since the partition of the subcontinent.
In view of these capabilities, the research presents a hypothetical nuclear war scenario that will occur in 2025 between the two countries. In this war, urban areas will be targeted by ‘airburst’ techniques, while military and strategic locations in rural areas will be targeted.
‘We assume that India will keep 100 nuclear weapons in its arsenal to deter China from entering the war,’ as per stated in the research article.
The research claims that out of 150 nuclear weapons that are likely to be used by India, 15% of them will fail to explode.
The report suggests that around 125 weapons will actually explode. According to further assumptions made by the researchers, around 25 targets in Pakistan are isolated military bases or regions with low population and little combustible material.
Therefore, the above-mentioned targets are also excluded in computing fatalities or environmental damage. Due to which India is left with only 100 nuclear weapons to use in urban areas or locations that can cause a high amount of destruction such as oil refineries, nuclear weapons facilities, airports or industrial facilities.
Pakistan has one of the best as well as the largest armies in the world, with about half as many active duty personnel as India has. According to assumptions, in 2025, Pakistan will possess around 50 tactical weapons (with yields of 5 KT) to use against the invading Indian army, 50% of which are believed to fail or be overrun by the Indian army.
When computing fatalities or environmental damage, 200 nuclear weapons are considered to be used by Pakistan out of which 15% of them will fail to be delivered but the the remaining 170 will be detonated exactly on their marked targets.
Further assuming that out of these remaining nuclear weapons, around 20 targets in India are isolated military bases or regions with low population and little combustible material. As a result, Pakistan will be left with 150 weapons (as compared to India’s 100) that will hit the urban areas and areas causing huge level of destruction.
How many casualties are expected?
Given the number of nuclear weapons and their strength in this hypothetical war in 2025, it is said that the number of casualties in the two countries will range from 50 to 125 million.
The total number of casualties in World War II (WWII) was 50 million.
The research states that cities in India and Pakistan are densely populated, and even if the least powerful nuclear weapon (i.e. 15 KT) is used, the combined number of casualties will higher than that of WWII within a week’s time.
India will face two to three times more fatalities and casualties than that of Pakistan because, in this scenario, it is assumed that Pakistan will use comparatively larger number of nuclear weapons than their opponent. The second reason is that India has a higher population and more densely populated cities.
Impact of War on Global Climate
As a result to these explosions, nuclear-ignited fires could release 16-36 Tg of black carbon in smoke, depending on yield, which will cool Earth’s climate due to which agriculture would fail globally, leading to mass starvation.
The smoke will rise into the upper troposphere gradually reaching the stratosphere, and spread globally within weeks. Sunlight reaching the Earth will decrease by 20-35%, cooling the planet surface by 2-5°C and reducing precipitation by 15-30%.
As a result to that, the growth of vegetation will decline by 15-30% on land and 5-15% in oceans threatening mass starvation and additional worldwide collateral fatalities.
Overall, the study noted that it will take ten years to recover from all these climatic impacts.