RE: Da Bomb

Ian Andrew Bell (
Thu, 14 May 1998 19:18:43 -0700

At 04:22 PM 5/14/98 -0700, Joe Barrera wrote:
>> > > Well maybe not, but the possible scenarios are scary.
>> > Don't see it that way. India pops one into Pakistan. China fearing their
>> No, no, no. You had right until the part about Iran nuking Pakistan.
>Steve, I think we need your help. I know that Robert and Tim and David &c
>are trying their best, but I suspect you can do better.

All of you cats are forgetting probably the single most significant factor
in the Nuclear poker match: they've never been fired in anger. No weapons
system has been in existence for as long as 50 years without being
deployed. Here's a particularly poignant quote from a paper written in
India in 1997:


"Ships, submarines, tanks and combat aircraft cannot alone
ensure defence in today's age. The nascent but growing
nuclear threat from Pakistan and the unsaid but ever-present
nuclear threat from China, require an offensive capability.
A country's potential to cause massive and unacceptable
damage on any adversary is the real measure of its military
power. That is also the best insurance against war. Today,
India cannot contemplate waging war against China, but China
can consider military action against India. It is this kind
of asymmetry in a dangerous neighbourhood that has the
greatest potential for bringing about fundamental disequil-
ibrium. Therefore the need to spend crores on nuclear
weapons and an array of strategic weapons."

This is not unconventional thinking (pardon the pun). The primary
strategic purpose of atomic weapons is as an insurance policy against
incursion of the battlefield onto the home soil of said atomic weapons
possessor. The entire cold war saw the US/NATO and USSR/China fighting
each other in skirmishes on other peoples' territory, but never once did
they engage in full-on combat on each others' soil. The insurance policy
that prevented these camps from engaging each other directly, or on their
home soil, was most definitely The Bomb.

When India flexes its nuclear might in an underground test they are
effectively declaring their own land as off-limits to combatants. It's
merely their coming out party, to show the world that they have what it
takes to ante up. In reality India has no clear incentive to deploy their
atomic weapons (tactical yield, at best) since their ability to wage a
full-scale conventional assault on any of their neighbours is particularly
strong for that region. Since 1974 they've been modernizing and buying new
equipment at an alarming rate.

The lease or purchase of several Krivak-class missile frigates from the
former Soviet Union, the upgrading of their hybrid Soviet- and NATO- built
combat aircraft, and their other purchases such as older British VSTOL
aircraft carriers and Kilo-class hunter-killer submarines, all position
them well to be very aggressive at holding the main control points in the
IOPG region. India has one of the largest and most modern navies in the
world and some of the best surveillance, reconnaisance, and forward air
control hardware money can buy, in particular 4 IL-76 AWACS aircraft.

With the current state of atomic weapons in the region, apart from China's,
you couldn't really deploy them practically as a battlefield system. SCUDs
(the only really credible delivery candidate) are notoriously inaccurate
and unreliable, deviating wildly from targets (they're only a few steps
down the path from the German V-2 rocket of WWII fame) and the KT yield of
the nukes that India set off was really low. But some wisenheimer could
launch a SCUD and take a fairly big dent out of the civilian population in
the region as a last resort.

Pakistan isn't clearly ready to play nuke yet, and it's my belief that they
could be annexed, or at least have their claws clipped, not long before
that happens. This year could see a full-scale military campaign being
waged in that region, UNLESS China clearly states support of Pakistan in
any prospective military action. China clearly has nothing to fear from
India as their atomic insurance policy kicked into high gear in 1959, so
it's unclear to me whether or not they even take an interest in the
Pakistani/Indian squabble.

Idle threats of US intervention will do little to dissuade the Indian
government unless they packed a huge whallop. The Indian navy could
fairly effectively take on US forces currently in or near the region and,
while they'd take heavy losses, it's clear that they would inflict severe
damage -- possibly even taking out a US carrier or other capital unit.
Take out one carrier and the US would most definitely fold up their cards,
and I don't think that good ol' SureHands Bill wants to put a carrier group
or two into that region without effective land-based coverage and risk
getting it and 5,000 fresh-faced young Americans blown to smithereens.

I believe that the US has one major achilles heel. As Saddam Hussein
correctly asserted, "The American People have no appetite for blood" and
the US tends to want to fight clean wars. That's what they got in Desert
Storm, and the Nintendo Holocaust, as I once called Desert Storm in a paper
for PoliSci, was hand-delivered by massive and overwhelming air power.

Unfortunately, the only effective "friendly" land-based deployment platform
for a US air assault is Diego Garcia, which still requires lots of airborne
refuelling. Even with tankers lined up like gas stations on Sunset strip
the Americans could still only project air superiority to about 30% of the
Indian land mass.

It's clear that the US will take this reeeal slow. You'll see them trying
to get the British and French (#3 and #2 in terms of seaborne air power)
involved in this to contribute a multilateral air force to project into the
hives of Bombay, New Delhi and Goa. I doubt the British would participate,
though the French might. The risk is too high, even with their
participation, that shots would be fired in anger.

Getting back to Pakistan: in 1971, despite the fact that they had better
hardware and technology, the Pakistanis had their asses kicked in a two
week (primarily air) campaign, losing Bangladesh and a whole lot of shiny
new aircraft in the process (not to mention 93,000 POWs). The economics of
the two countries also play India out as the clear winner. If there was a
war then it'd be Bye-Bye Pakistan, but not due to any nuclear assault,
which would clearly be redundant.

India has since the early 80s been nominated the chief powderkeg of the
year in the US Intelligence game. The fact that the CIA completely missed
the whole lead-up to the Nuclear tests is evidence of the fact that,
although US paranoia about India is high, they really are quite clueless
about India's intentions and developments. In recent years India has
procured hardware from Russia and the CIS, but they have encouraged
flirtations from the West in the past -- evidenced by all the sleek modern
Western weaponry they've got standing on the landing field. They played
out both sides throughout the Cold War and, if you ask me, they were one of
the only players that truly benefitted from it all.

The Chinese, then, are the only remaining military presence that has the
means to project massive conventional and nuclear might into India's entire
land mass. While India is fairly secure that China won't attack them
unprovoked, their desire to keep the Chinese out of any regional skirmish
will be high. Indian paranoia about China has always been a very
compelling part of their military and political doctrine.

So in short, the India question is interesting because it's quite possibly
the only geopolitical situation in the World where the US does not have an
effective unilateral move to make. Whether or not there's a war, in my
view, is really up to the Chinese. Clinton should cancel his lunch date
with Cherac and head to Shanghai, because I think that they could stabilize
the entire region with something as simple as a press release.. the
question is, why should they want to?


Ian Andrew Bell
BC TEL Interactive (604) 482-5708

"Make it idiot proof and someone will make a better idiot."