Friday, December 26, 2008

I know where the WMDs are ...

... and who's most ready to use them.

That would be Pakistan, of course, with an estimated 60-120 nukes of up to 35 KT throw weight, and India, with an estimated 45-100 warheads deliverable by ballistic missles, cruise missiles, and/or nuclear submarine-launched missiles.

Latest reports have Pakistan moving troops away from the Afghani border toward India, and the Indian Air Force probing for gaps in the Paki radar net.

In case anybody has missed this, here's the abstract of a 2007 study published in New Scientist regarding a limited nuclear exchange between the two countries:

A nuclear war between India and Pakistan could cause one billion people to starve to death around the world, and hundreds of millions more to die from disease and conflicts over food....

Earlier studies have suggested that such a conflict would throw five million tonnes of black soot into the atmosphere, triggering a reduction of 1.25°C in the average temperature at the earth's surface for several years. As a result, the annual growing season in the world's most important grain-producing areas would shrink by between 10 and 20 days.

Helfand points out that the world is ill-prepared to cope with such a disaster. "Global grain stocks stand at 49 days, lower than at any point in the past five decades," he says. "These stocks would not provide any significant reserve in the event of a sharp decline in production. We would see hoarding on a global scale."

Countries which import more than half of their grain, such as Malaysia, South Korea and Taiwan, would be particularly vulnerable, Helfand argues. So, too, would 150 million people in north Africa, which imports 45% of its food. Many of the 800 million around the world who are already officially malnourished would also suffer.


Weapons of Mass Destruction (nuclear, chemical, biological, or radiological) are not a chimera invented by Dubya and his boys, even though they never managed to find any in Iraq. The real threat of WMDs is also less that of a terrorist strike than of an unmanageable regional conflict in which one or both combatants employs them.

Cold, hard truth: if Al Qaeda detonated a nuke or dirty radiological device in, say, New York or Los Angeles tomorrow, we'd be talking a death toll of at least 10-12 million, but...

...and it is a fairly big but...

...we would not be talking about the same global impact as if India/Pakistan, Israel/Iran, China/Taiwan, North Korea/anybody start tossing them around.

What's amazing is that we have well-developed doctrines for fighting limited nuclear wars, even for deterring them, but the US does not have a set doctrine for limiting the damage of one started by third parties.

You have to wonder why this is.

The fact of the matter is this: modern military technology (developed primarily by the US, UK, France, Russia, China, and India) has made such wonderful advances that crude WMDs are within practical reach of most any nation with a decent tech infrastructure and even large sub-national groups like Al Qaeda or--something we really don't like to think of--a good thirty to forty international corporations.

Proliferation has occurred. Management and threat reduction is the new order of the day, and--surprise, surprise--unilateral US military intervention is unlikely to be the most effective tool for such over the next several decades.

15 comments:

Brian Miller said...

Minor detail in your otherwise excellent post -- a dirty bomb would have few, if any, immediate deaths (and then only equivalent to those of a conventional bomb) and only a small uptick in long-term mortality due to cancer. They're mostly weapons of fear, not destruction.

Hube said...

Indeed -- I find that 10-12 million way too high (deaths in NYC). Even with what Brian said, it is highly unlikely that that # of people would be exposed to radiation lethal enough to kill them, even long term.

That being said, if a nuke war between India and Pakistan did happen, it should placate the global warming alarmists, eh? ;-)

Steve Newton said...

Guys,
I hate to tell you this, but a dirty radiological device--correctly designed [which, I admit, is a stretch for most subnational groups] has an immediate direct/indirect 72 hour kill projection of roughly 4.5-5.5 million people in a New York style environment, and a follow-on lethality of that figure again. This presumes a decent plutonium dust dispersal mechanism (a 200lb conventional bomb on a windy day during one of the rush hours would do). The studies on this one are not up on the net.

As for a 5-15 KT tactical nuke, that's been pretty thoroughly studied and gamed out. With overpressure, blast effect, radiation, and distruction of emergency service infrastructure you're easily looking at 10-12 million dead inside of five days.

The original studies start with the old 1960s era The Effects of Nuclear Weapons and have been updated repeatedly.

Hube said...

But that's just it, Steve. The dirty bomb which is the most likely avenue for al Qaeda-style terrorists, will not be "correctly designed." It most probably will not have the "correct" amount of plutonium needed for the #s you state. Most probably, it'll be something a lot less lethal, like raw yellowcake or something similar because that's a lot easier to get a hold of.

Steve Newton said...

Hube
I'll grant you that point; I was merely trying to make a worst-case scenario for a comparative.

Steve Newton said...

Hube
I'll grant you that point; I was merely trying to make a worst-case scenario for a comparative.

Hube said...

Steve. Your figures bothered me ('cause I've read a LOT of nuclear armageddon scifi and fact), and like I thought, your figures don't hold up. You say a 5-15 KT weapon could kill 10-12 million people? That's not even close, my friend. This site details how the numbers would be far less ... and this is with a 150 KT weapon, substantially smaller than you hypothesize. The dead PLUS injuries total less than two million. Keep in mind that residual fallout depends greatly on the wind pattern, therefore additional dead within a week depends on that. Even granting upwards of two million additional deaths from fallout, that is substantially lower than the numbers you cite (w/o reference, if I might add).

Hube said...

and this is with a 150 KT weapon, substantially smaller

I meant BIGGER!

Steve Newton said...

Hube
I'm stuck and have to admit defeat here because...

...I cannot link to the study on a ground blast 15 kt tac nuke vs an air blast 15 kt nuke over/on Manhattan at 400pm on a weekday...

...because it's not on the net and I really should not have mentioned it.

However, my original point, I think, stands: use whatever casualty figure you like for an terror incident in the US, it doesn't match the impact of a "small" regional nuclear exchange.

Hube said...

Oh, not at all, Steve. Just 'cause it ain't on that 'net doesn't mean you can't mention it! I'd be curious to read about it even in hard copy! It's just that the figures you cite go against everything I've ever read about the subject. For example Warday (which I highly recommend) which was supposedly meticulously researched, had a near-miss of a couple 20 MT bombs killing less than the #s you state in and around NYC.

Nevertheless, you are right -- the casualty figures in such an incident would pale to those in a nuke exchange between India and Pakistan.

UNRR said...

This post has been linked for the HOT5 Daily 12/28/2008, at The Unreligious Right

Eric Dondero said...

Excuse me Newton, but WMDs WERE FOUND, on at least 3 separate occasions, the most recent, the 500,000 tons of yellow cake that was shipped out of Iraq.

Of course, it was only a one-day story in the MSM. They relegated it to page B-12 in the Sports section, with a tiny little sub-headline.

This underplaying of the story, of course, allows liberal Anti-American types like you, get to continue to claim that "there were no WMD found." You can just claim ignorance.

And the word Ignorant does most aptly fit you on so many levels.

Anonymous said...

I find it amusing when hard line conservatives call libertarians anti american liberals and hard line liberals call libertarians right wing nut jobs.

I guess its a happy medium.

Hube said...

Sounds about right to me, anon!

Eric: Steve ... "anti-American??" Um, how, precisely?

Steve Newton said...

Sorry Eric, but that Tuwaith yellowcake "WMD" story was debunked long before you even "broke" it

http://delawarelibertarian.blogspot.com/2008/07/tuwiatha-yellowcake-or-manufacturing.html

When you've actually got facts, you're certainly welcome, but if all you can do is run with falsified stories you'll get called out here....