MUD, not MAD

A metaphor the the India-Pakistan nuclear deterrence relationship

It is not unusual for commentators to use the term “mutually assured destruction” or MAD while discussing nuclear weapons in the India-Pakistan context. This is a direct reuse of a Cold War-era metaphor to describe the nuclear game in the subcontinent. It is also an inaccurate and inappropriate description.

What’s MAD? According to Wikipedia:

MAD is a “Poison Pill” strategy. The doctrine assumes that each side has enough nuclear weaponry to destroy the other side and that either side, if attacked for any reason by the other, would retaliate with equal or greater force. The expected result is an immediate escalation resulting in both combatants’ total and assured destruction. It is now generally hypothesized that the nuclear fallout or nuclear winter resulting from a large scale nuclear war would bring about worldwide devastation, though this was not a critical assumption to the theory of MAD.
The doctrine further assumes that neither side will dare to launch a first strike because the other side will launch on warning (also called fail-deadly) or with secondary forces (second strike) resulting in the destruction of both parties. The payoff of this doctrine is expected to be a tense but stable peace. [Wikipedia]

In other words, both the United States and the Soviet Union had enough warheads and delivery mechanisms to completely destroy each other. Just how big was the stockpile? In 1986, the global stockpile peaked at 65,056 warheads, with the United States having 23,254 and the Soviet Union 40,723. The total number of warheads has been over 10,000 since 1958. Yields, delivery mechanisms and targeting apart, the arsenal was enough to cause total annihilation—in Churchill’s words, “to make rubble bounce.”

Despite Pakistan being the nuclear hare of the last two decades (and India the nuclear tortoise) the stockpile in the subcontinent—both actual warheads and those that can be assembled at short notice—is not greater than a hundred each. As INI co-blogger Dhruva Jaishankar notes, the actual numbers in India’s case at least might be much smaller. At such levels the impact of a nuclear exchange—even a total one—will no doubt cause widespread destruction and unprecedented misery. It is, however, highly unlikely to completely destroy India. It might not even completely destroy Pakistan.

Gregory S Jones, an analyst at RAND Corporation, estimates that Pakistan will need as many as twenty 10 kT warheads to destroy New Delhi alone, killing 1.5 million people and injuring another 3 million. (New Delhi has a population of around 12 million). You can read Mr Jones’s article for how the destruction would change under various conditions, but the general point is that Indian cities have huge populations and geographical spreads, and it is unlikely that Pakistan can completely annihilate India. Similarly, the Indian arsenal is likely to be sufficient to severely damage half-dozen Pakistani cities. If both countries empty their nuclear arsenal on each other, then the net result will be a badly damaged India, and an almost totally crippled Pakistan.

This is not to say that India should increase its stockpile to even the levels deployed by United States and Russia today. Far from it. Even these levels of destruction are unacceptable to India, and in all likelihood should be unacceptable to Pakistan too. In fact, as The Acorn has argued, even a single nuclear explosion is unacceptable destruction, and as such, rightly forms the bedrock of deterrence in the India-Pakistan context. While such a scenario is certainly not MAD, it is mutually unacceptable. It might, therefore, be more appropriate to characterise it as Mutually Unacceptable Destruction (MUD).

14 thoughts on “MUD, not MAD”

  1. Tolerance level in India and Pak is lot higher than say US-Soviet. Surely a Mumbai style attack on New York by Soviet commie jihadis would have meant an all out war between them in the middle 60s. So why didn’t MUD work for cold warriors? Also what does it mean with a no first use policy – proportional or disproportional. If disproportional, why stop with only one, thinks the first user. It’s back to mad old game theory.

    Frankly, I don’t think neither we nor Pak think through the whole thing rationally as to what the response would be and communicated properly so that things don’t happen to begin with. That’s where the danger lies and nonchalance attitude of Pakis and, apparently, the Chinese. In fact, Chinese may be moving, beyond stale pork and brinjal, before our thinking, and capabilities, may be more clarified (to ourselves).

  2. The situation does not look good. New reports indicate the pakistanis are ramping up bomb productions and also keeping nuclear weapons in a ready state. When the enemy can take out fifteen to twenty of your cities with a first strike – then it becomes very vital to destroy its arsenel before they can hit you. The time factor is making this islamic enemy more and more lethal as both its kill rate and the area of devastation it can inflict is increasing. The thinking of Indian strategists should now change decisively taking into fact the new scenario.

  3. The situation prevailing during the cold war was much worse. But both the adversaries there were rational actors.

    In the South Asian region – the islamic thinking dominates which is more driven by zeal and has irrationality in built into it. The islamist is prepared to live with his own destruction provided he has managed to kill you. This islamic element is a very important separation between the cold war and the south asian region.

  4. Nitin: OT but sort of related – what’s your thinking on Pakistan renaming Northern Areas to Gilgit-Baltistan and effectively folding it into that benighted republic. By effectively laying claim to this disputed area there should be much legal fallout. Their case for a plebiscite/referendum is effectively done. And the MEA should be protesting in the shrillest terms no?

  5. @Nitin

    Despite Pakistan being the nuclear hare of the last two decades (and India the nuclear tortoise) the stockpile in the subcontinent…

    Is there evidence to suggest that this analogy is accurate?

    This is not to say that India should increase its stockpile to even the levels deployed by United States and Russia today.

    Why not? It is not clear why, if the current level arsenal is enough to severely cripple Pakistan, a larger, more effectively-delivered arsenal should not annihilate them. Unless of course, there are “costs” India needs to pay (economic, environmental, geopolitical etc.)

  6. The US has other devious reasons for pushing the claim about Pakistan building bigger and better bombs. what I want to know is where is Pakistan getting its engineers and scientists from?

    The headline is: “KARACHI: Zero pass percentage for 45 institutions in HSC exams”

    Karachi is a city as large as Mumbai (or larger) and no one has passed board exams in the entire city. If the Chinese are not proliferating nuclear weapons to Pakistan, where is Pakistan acquiring this knowledge when we know that there are close to zero indigenous Pakistani scientists and engineers. As we all know, without institutions like BARC and a whole army of scientists and engineers, India would be unable to field nuclear weapons. All the “USA experts” like to Claim pakistan is as powerful and more than a match to India…. how is that possible given the dismal state of education and scientific training in Pakistan?

  7. The “devious reason” I mention is known as “balance of power” — a well-known concept. Notice how US supports Taiwan against China, Pakistan against India and Iran, Georgia against Russia, etc. Arming both sides so that they are locked in eternal conflict is a surefire way of ensuring that neither party will become strong enough to challenge the USA down the line.

  8. Alagu Periaswamy: how is that possible given the dismal state of education and scientific training in Pakistan?

    Social engineering? This video shows how it can be done. Have fun 🙂

  9. Alagu P, why exactly do you think anything of value is made in Pakiland? The vast industrial complex is to the west and north. By exchanging a few western toys for reverse engineering, access to which is extremely hard otherwise, it’s easy to get a few modified anything in return.

  10. Chandra:
    “Alagu P, why exactly do you think anything of value is made in Pakiland? ”

    Chandra, it is not me that is making that claim. The stalwarts at the Indian Express just published an article yesterday that Pakistan was “ramping up its nuclear weapons production” and this was based on the USA “south asian experts” like Stephen Cohen who usually speak out of their rear orifice when it comes to matters Indian — this claim was also made by Bruce Riedel, current head of the NSA in the obama administration.

    I would consider claims that Pakistan is making advanced nuclear weapons as an “item of value and interest” to India, but as we can see there is no earthly way that Pakistan has the requisite man power to increase its nuclear capability……..and yet, strangely, the americans and their “international community” buddies like to pretend that Pakistan has the capability to build high-tech weapons and missiles…and in fact, Pakistan seems to be magically acquiring such capabilities (clearly from our devious and dangerous “flied lice” chinese friends to the north who are the world’s foremost nuclear weapons proliferators, in addition to being one of the P-5).

Comments are closed.