A billion people at risk?

The following is a guest post from Ashish Sinha, Program Manager at Physicians for Social Responsibility.

In recent weeks, nuclear-capable missile tests by North Korea, India, and Pakistan have reminded all of us why national security experts continue to feel South Asia and the Korean Peninsula represent among the highest risks to international peace and stability.

Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) and the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War recently released a report that describes what the global impacts of a limited nuclear exchange would be in South Asia. This report has implications for current discussions on nuclear disarmament and, should, compel us to pursue nuclear abolition with a renewed sense of urgency.

On the heels of their failed long-range missile test, North Korea announced it would reduce South Korea “to ashes” in less than four minutes if provoked - a reference to their nuclear arsenal and willingness to use them. While we have gotten used to North Korea’s bellicose rhetoric, there is no question that they continue to attempt to develop technology to increase the range of their missiles.

Soon after North Korea’s test, India successfully tested Agni-5 which is a long-range nuclear-capable missile that is intended to demonstrate their ability to hit major cities in China. India, Pakistan, and China’s close proximity and past wars continue to create an unstable and dangerous environment. Pakistan faces its own internal challenges and, while the United States is able to monitor their nuclear facilities currently, domestic political changes could easily make Pakistan a major exporter of nuclear technology once again.

While this report focuses on the science behind what would happen with even a limited release of nuclear weapons in South Asia, the conclusions apply to all nuclear weapon states - most especially the United States and Russia who account for 95% of the world’s arsenal of nuclear weapons.

This year, a leak alleged that the Administration was asking the Pentagon to game out scenarios where the United States went to significantly lower numbers of nuclear weapons. The backlash from congressional lawmakers came quickly. Regardless of the accuracy of the leak, some accused the administration of seriously degrading our nuclear deterrent and made a case against any reductions to our nuclear arsenal. As an organization that views these key security issues through a health perspective, PSR feels the question of what a minimum nuclear deterrent looks like has escaped any attachment to reality.

The United States nuclear arsenal is a powerful image of complete and utter irrationality. One Ohio-class nuclear submarine can create nuclear detonations in excess of 1,000 times the yield analyzed in the Nuclear Famine report. That is a multiple of 1,000 over the yield required to put a billion people at risk of famine and death. That is only one nuclear submarine. We have 14 Ohio-class nuclear submarines. In addition, the U.S. has strategic ICBMs, a nuclear bomber fleet, and tactical nuclear weapons.

We have an opportunity to take a different path. This report’s findings should force a fundamental rethinking of our nuclear policy before we waste billions of dollars on modernizing an arsenal that makes us less secure. It is incumbent on us to act and educate our elected representatives and the public on the only sane national security policy - the pursuit of nuclear weapons abolition.

Join PSR and the author of the report, Dr. Ira Helfand, on Thursday, May 10th at 8:30 PM Eastern, for an online webinar (click here to RSVP) to discuss the findings.

Photo courtesy of Ashish Sinha