As if we needed to alarm the nuclear custodians

India’s risks go up when US media invokes nuclear Rambos

TIME magazine reports:

The prospect of turmoil in Pakistan sends shivers up the spines of those U.S. officials charged with keeping tabs on foreign nuclear weapons. Pakistan is thought to possess about 100 — the U.S. isn’t sure of the total, and may not know where all of them are. Still, if Pakistan collapses, the U.S. military is primed to enter the country and secure as many of those weapons as it can, according to U.S. officials. [TIME]

Well, the prospect of the United States doing that should send shivers up the spines of…all Indians actually. The Americans don’t know how many nuclear weapons Pakistan has, and they don’t know where they are stored and yet, they want to enter the country and secure as many of those weapons as they can. Hey, just one unaccounted coconut is scary enough and here we’re are talking about an unknown margin of error.

Now, Pakistani nuclear weapons can’t quite reach the United States (except in that shipping container, perhaps) but they can reach India. So instead of alarming the good folks whose job it is to keep Pakistan’s crown jewels safe, can the US media do the responsible thing and stop such sensational, speculative reporting.

Related Posts: why the right time to worry about it is also the wrong time to worry about it; and to New Mexico, with love.

Update: Stephen Walt discusses this on his blog, of course, from an American perspective.

21 thoughts on “As if we needed to alarm the nuclear custodians”

  1. On the contrary, Pakistan’s game of nuclear blackmail has to be ended somehow. Your contention is that we can’t slay the minotaur for fear of suffering losses, and that we should instead keep sacrificing innocent villagers to the minotaur every year.

    Sorry, I completely disagree. The sooner Pakistan’s weapons are confiscated, the better. The blame for any casualties suffered in the process should be squarely on the Congress Party, who allowed Pakistan to acquire nuclear weapons right under their noses in the first place. What kind of sane leadership allows a bloodthirsty enemy to acquire the means to exterminate our country? A thoroughly irresponsible kleptocracy that cares little for the people, that’s who.

    For every India who gets killed because Pakistan lobbed a nuke at us, file charges of murder against the Congress Partymen, and then line them up to be shot. Leadership has responsibilities, and abdication of responsibilities must have consequences. The Congress allowed Pakistan to position itself to mass-murder Indians, and the Congress must be held responsible for being asleep at the wheel.

  2. If and when a (few) nuclear bomb(s) gets to the hands of some terror organization, don’t you think Israel will be the first target?

  3. Sanjay,

    Do read my words carefully before disagreeing.

    The merits of an end state should not blind us to the risks of the process of getting there. And whatever the risks might be, they get no better by discussing it in the media.

  4. Sriram,

    Not necessarily. There is a question of matching desire with delivery capacity. It’s all very well to show bravado when you are thousands of miles away. When it’s next door, I think discretion is the better part of valour.

    (During the first Gulf War, Saddam couldn’t hit back against his attackers’ homeland. So he hit the enemy he could reach. Who is the enemy the Pakistan Taliban can reach?)

  5. Nitin, you seem to agree that Israel is their number 1 desire. In this particular case, the itch to achieve the desired objective is extremely high because they will get to use a nuke probably only once. The delivery capacity is not bad either given that the Taliban are not as besieged and constricted as Saddam was.

    How likely is it that they will get a time window from the time they get the nukes to the time intelligence agencies know about it? That could spell all the difference.

  6. Sriram,

    Even trying to lob a nuke at Israel, Pakistan will be committing suicide (a national suicide bombing, if you will.) Israel is not only itself powerful, its big brother is the biggest bully in the block. No, Pakistan knows that Indians don’t retaliate (the most famous Indian of recent times claimed that it is better for every Hindu to be killed by Muslims rather than for any Hindu to raise his hand against Muslims.)

    Pakistanis know that one quite well.

  7. Nitin: how about a read on End Game or not. Surprised you were kinda MIA during all this excitement. I’m tired of trolling for my entertainment 🙂

  8. All this talk of nukes is a little loose. The Talibunnies don’t care as much about the mushroom cloud – that would look great on their resume for sure – as massive destruction. They can achieve plenty with dirty bombs – much easier to assemble, transport and detonate than a regular one.

  9. Nitin,

    The TIME article does not discuss the prospect of the US pre-emptively attacking and destroying Pakistan’s nukes, if that’s what you mean by end state. The article talks about the dangers of Pakistan losing control over its nukes, and that is indeed worth talking about publicly. Certainly, the public everywhere all over the world have a right to know. They have a right to know how dangerously unstable Pakistan is, and why it should have never been permitted to acquire nuclear weapons, as per the Reagan doctrine.

    Certainly, Pakistan is psychologically capable of lobbing a nuke at an India that has made no aggressive moves in the slightest. And this is why India needs to have the kind of government that places a higher priority on national security. This is why India needs a govt with a nationalist outlook, that is suited to the very hostile environment that it actually exists in. To avoid public discussion of these uncomfortable realities is to permit a detachment from reality that would inevitably lead to tragedy for us. We seem to be continually learning from the school of hard knocks, but suffering a nuclear attack is one hard knock I would prefer not to have to go through.

  10. I do agree that the media should not explicitly sensationalize such plans. On the other hand, I do believe that some kind of contingency plan should be in place for going in and getting the nukes if a breakdown occurs. I personally am always worried about a Pak nuke blowing up in India, especially given our sea border security and the ease of sneaking in such an object.

  11. I agree that TIME is being sensational by writing about nightmare scenarios; probably a good way to boost sales during this recession. Unfortunately such coverage along with public hysteria will only make the real job a lot tougher.

    To avoid giving ideas, let me briefly say what I think : There is more than one way to ensure that Pakistani nukes are not used in military combat. Also there is more than one country worried about this arsenal – along with the resources to do something about it. Hope you get the point 🙂

  12. Well, I do wish that people would speak more clearly – exactly what are these different marvelous ways to stop Pakistani nukes from being used against India? I’m all ears. Does India have some secret stash of missile defense lasers that I haven’t heard about? I don’t see how keeping quiet about the threat of being nuked by Pakistan’s arsenal, only to wake up one fine day and find that the worst has come to pass, is going to make things turn out well.

    These clever-by-half forms of reasoning seem to be beyond my primitive comprehension. If it walks like an ostrich, talks like an ostrich, and hides its head in the sand like an ostrich, then I’m going to call it that.

  13. If there’s an even 1% chance that those who loaned pak its nukes retain some form of control over these deadly weapons, Dilli should make it clear that a nuke attack on us will be considered an act of war by these nations against us.

    Actually the chances are better than 1% that these powers retain such control to avoid a jihadist blowback on their own lands and to keep the Pak dog well leashed.

  14. @Sanjay

    Well, I do wish that people would speak more clearly – exactly what are these different marvelous ways to stop Pakistani nukes from being used against India?

    Do pay attention to the words “I think” in my comment – so what I said is my opinion. The reason for my belief lies in the professional interest – as evidenced, for example, in several defense journals – in the fate of Pakistani state in general (and its nukes) long before the media whipped up a sensation about them. You should probably take a look at these for more info. Given the clientele of these journals, it is thus quite natural to assume this issue has been studied by military planners as well. Any good student of geopolitics is well aware of the countries that are interested. For obvious reasons, these plans are not made public; nor is it a good idea for us to sensationalize this issue…

    These clever-by-half forms of reasoning seem to be beyond my primitive comprehension.

    I visit this blog because I respect the intellect of both the blogger and the several people who comment on his posts. Please don’t burden your “primitive comprehension” (as you put it) by reading things you don’t understand. There are surely better ways to spend your time…

  15. Look man, I don’t see how “professional interest in the fate of the Pakistani state” amounts to providing a foolproof/reliable deterrent against losing a sizeable portion of our population. I’m saying that a desperate Pakistan could lob a nuke at us under a variety of circumstances, including a Taliban takeover of their country. Those on the Indian side most responsible for getting us into this predicament and positioning our heads under this Sword of Damocles are the Congress Party of India. Hence, my assertion that the self-obsessed navel-gazing kleptocrats of the Congress Party should be lined up and shot if India ever loses any significant number of people a nuclear attack. That won’t bring the dead back to life, but it’ll sure as hell make an impression on the rest of those pigs.

  16. Between a scale of 1 to 10, pakistans chances of survival in case of Israel getting nuked is 0. When it comes to India, it depends on who is presiding at New Delhi. The leadership makes all the difference between a swift, ruthless retaliation or gathering evidence for submission.

    Sanjay is absolutely right. I just hope that we do have an effective counterforce plan to kill as many pakistani weapons on the ground itself.

  17. Congress stance in the wake of a nuclear attack:

    “We lose more people every year to traffic accidents, but we’ve been putting up with that problem for a long time. Why get upset by this now and blow it out of proportion?”

  18. Gentlemen,

    Please drop the “it’s all the Congress’s fault” and “let’s use this to beat the Congress” angle. There are way too many areas you can do that, so please don’t lose objectivity on one issue where objectivity is most required.

    The main issue here is asymmetry between the risks to and the capabilities-willingness of the players who might want to ‘secure’ Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. And because the risks are the greatest for India, we not only have to worry about players who might get hold of Pakistan’s nukes and threaten/use them against us, but also about players who, due to their own self-interested risk-benefit calculations, might cause Pakistani players to threaten/use nukes against us.

    I’m not saying that India should rule out any options. I’m just saying that it is extremely risky.

  19. Nitin,

    I’m really amazed that you can simply think that criticism of the Congress Party’s track record on such fundamental issues is the result of some arbitrary dislike of their party, instead of seeing it the other way around — that the dislike of Congress is due to their fundamental reneging of responsibility in basic areas like national security. Indeed your comments tell me more about your own mindset than anything else. Certainly, a rational person will see that when a party reneges on fundamental civic responsibilities, that it’s an unfit entity to lead the country. Only an irrational person will try and subordinate the recognition of fundamental responsibilities to electoral gamesmanship.

  20. Sanjay,

    No one is asking you not to dislike the Congress. I’m just asking for a party political angles out of the discussion on this post.

    This post is not about Indian politics…it is about India’s national interest. I’m explicitly telling you my mindset, so you don’t need to glean it from my comments.

  21. Nitin,

    I would refer you to my comments under your “Obama is confident…” thread.
    National security is a hell of a thing to try and achieve at the last minute. That’s like trying to stop an 18-wheeler truck at the last minute, or halt an asteroid impact at the last minute. The threat is not something that we should have started only taking serious notice of recently, when it became most acute. We should have taken the threat seriously long, long ago, back when we could have destroyed Pakistan’s nuclear capability before it became the knife at our throat. That would have been the sensible thing to do, but instead we’ve been diddling until the situation becomes intolerable. India’s political leadership have a very low pain threshold, and so complacency and laxity are their preferred posture. This has of course only resulted in worse pain for us, like for the man who delays his visit to the dentist for many years. Will we ever learn? Nah. Will we eventually extinguish ourselves by continuing to refuse to learn? Hey, Darwinism prevails.

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