A war between the US and Russia could produce 150 Tg (millions of tonnes) of smoke, leading to “a nuclear winter”, said Alan Robock, the co-author of a recent study on the potential impact of the rapidly expanding nuclear arsenals in Pakistan and India, in an interview with HuffPost India.
The study, which was published in the journal Science Advances and received widespread coverage in Indian media, had said that over 100 million people were likely to die if a war took place between the two countries in 2025.
In the interview, conducted over email, Robock said that a potential war between India and China “could produce more smoke than the India-Pakistan case we studied”.
The report had noted that both India and Pakistan may have 400-500 nuclear weapons by 2025 and that nuclear-ignited fires could release 16-36 million tonnes of soot.
The smoke, the researchers said, would rise into the upper troposphere, be self-lofted into the stratosphere, and spread globally within weeks.
“Surface sunlight will decline by 20 to 35%, cooling the global surface by 2° to 5°C and reducing precipitation by 15 to 30%, with larger regional impacts,” the report said.
Robock, who works at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, said in the interview that the researchers first looked at the consequences of a potential nuclear war between India and Pakistan more than 10 years ago.
1. You were quoted in another report as saying that continuing unrest between India and Pakistan, particularly over Kashmir, made it important to understand the consequences of a nuclear war. What exactly prompted you to undertake the study? How long did it take to complete?
We first addressed the consequences of a nuclear war between India and Pakistan more than 10 years ago. Please see the papers 12 and 13 here.
Now, India and Pakistan have more weapons, and the weapons are larger, and the potential targets are larger, and there are still disputes over Kashmir, so we decided to revisit this problem with an improved climate model (see paper 25 in the link provided above).
The actual computer runs only took a couple weeks, but designing the experiments and analysing them and writing the paper took 6 months or so.
2. While the paper says that India and Pakistan are of special concern because of a history of military clashes and other reasons, would a nuclear war between any other two countries be as devastating?
It depends on the number of weapons, the size of the weapons, and the targets. A war between the US and Russia could produce 150 Tg (millions of tonnes) of smoke, and would produce a nuclear winter, with temperatures below freezing over land in the summer.
India and China could produce more smoke than the India-Pakistan case we studied. We wanted the world to understand the consequences for global climate and food production for various amounts of smoke injected into the upper atmosphere from city and industrial fires.
3. Why did you choose the year 2025 for your study?
It is the near future. We want India and Pakistan to understand that their ongoing arms race has no purpose.
4. Considering the tensions between India and Pakistan have escalated since the Pulwama attack in February, what would be the consequences if the nuclear war happens before 2025?
It depends on the number of weapons, the size of the weapons, and the targets. There could still be terrible consequences for global climate. We have already analyzed the agricultural response to 5 Tg of smoke. See papers 23, 24, and 26 at the website above.
5. The study notes that India and Pakistan are rapidly increasing their arsenals. Neither countries has signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Is it not incumbent on United States, Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom (the permanent members of the UN Security Council) to prevent the possibility of a war between India and Pakistan?
Of course, that is an opinion. My expertise is in climate change. But I don’t see how those other nations can prevent a nuclear war between India and Pakistan except by setting an example by getting rid of their nuclear weapons. My opinion is that all nine nuclear nations should sign and ratify the 2017 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
(The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was adopted at the United Nations on 7 July 2017 by over 120 countries. The nine countries which possess nuclear weapons did not take part in the negotiations. The treaty prohibits the signatory countries from developing, testing, producing, acquiring, possessing, using or threatening to use nuclear weapons. Read more about the treaty here.
India had, in 2017, said that the treaty in no way constitutes or contributes to the development of any customary international law. In July 2019, the MEA had reiterated that India would not be a party to the treaty and shall not be bound by any of the obligations that may arise from it.
Pakistan had also said that it was not bound by the treaty because it failed to take into account the interests of all stakeholders—Ed)