Back to the Future? Battlefield Nuclear Weapons in South Asia

Jan 5, 2016

In this information-filled talk, Jeff McCausland, a retired U.S. Army colonel, explains why the India/Pakistan border may be the most dangerous place on the planet. With nuclear weapons, a contentious history, and world powers vying for influence, a crisis could easily escalate to a "catastrophic" level. Are there lessons to be learned from the Cold War?


DAVID SPEEDIE: Good evening, everyone. Welcome to this final event at the Council before the holiday season kicks in. We are delighted to have you all with us.

By way of introduction of this remarkable friend and colleague of ours, in July of this year, the P5, EU, and Iran, as you probably know, reached an agreement called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), designed to ensure that Iran's nuclear program will be for purely peaceful purposes. The tortuous route of JCPOA received literally months of daily front-page coverage in the U.S. and global media.

But in contrast to this kerfuffle over Iran's alleged nuclear weapons ambitions, a volatile situation involving weapons of mass destruction goes largely unnoticed in the media or apparently, for that matter, in the corridors of power in Washington. Correct me if I'm wrong about this, Jeff.

The situation, of course, is the one that we're here to speak about this evening, that of the two South Asian rivals, India and Pakistan. These neighbors have had some 70 years of tense relations. Neither is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). According to a recent New York Times editorial, Pakistan, with over 100 strategic warheads, has the fastest growing arsenal in the world and may soon become third in the global table behind only the United States and Russia.

In that context, it is with great enthusiasm that I welcome our guest this evening, Jeff McCausland. Dr. McCausland is a visiting professor of international security policy at Dickinson College. He has taught previously at the U.S. Army War College, the U.S. Naval Academy, the U.S. Military Academy, the George C. Marshall Center for Security Studies in Garmisch, Germany, and the University of Ankara in Turkey.

He served previously as director for defense policy and arms control in the National Security Council and as staff officer for strategic planning in the Office of Operations and Plans in the Department of Defense. He is a retired U.S. Army officer with the rank of colonel. His publications, civilian honors and fellowships, and military awards are far too numerous to mention. He is a military analyst for CBS Radio and TV and, last and most, he is a senior fellow here at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs.

Jeff, as always, it is a great pleasure to welcome you, my friend.


JEFFREY McCAUSLAND: David, thank you for that very kind introduction. My mother would have appreciated it more than you can possibly imagine.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is a great honor and pleasure to be here at the Carnegie Council, a place that I hold very dearly. I want to thank Joel Rosenthal, my good friend and president of the Carnegie Council, for not only inviting me to come but for all the great work he does, as well as my good friend and colleague to my left.

The first thing I want to say is I am speaking on behalf of myself tonight. This is not any kind of formal presentation on behalf certainly of the Carnegie Council or some of the things that I am involved with. We are going to talk about this issue of so-called battlefield nuclear weapons in South Asia and the nexus between really how one thinks about conventional forces as well as nuclear forces.

This is a derivative of a series of Track 2 discussions that I have been involved with. For those of you not familiar with Track 2, Track 1, think formal negotiations. The negotiations with the Iranians, government to government, would have been Track 1 negotiations. Track 2 negotiations are negotiations or discussions, rather, that occur between countries. Usually the participants are in some cases government officials, but interspersed with government officials will be other experts who may or may not be in any official capacity. It is really a conversation about ideas. Oftentimes Track 2 discussions are done to set up, then, the possibility of a more formal negotiation and a more formal settlement.

That is what I have been involved with. We have been involved in those discussions on behalf of the National Nuclear Security Administration, which is part of the Department of Energy, talking about both nuclear states, India and Pakistan, about nuclear weapons and stability in South Asia, as David so well spelled out.

What I would like to ask you to do is to help me as well as listen to what I have to say in that we are going to continue to have these discussions—a project I am going to continue on—so I am looking for brilliant insight as well as trying to provide you some degree of analysis based on what we have in fact been doing.

Why do we call this "Back to the Future"? One reason why I was brought back into this was because the base decision—and it has changed the equation—was Pakistan's decision to begin producing so-called tactical or battlefield nuclear weapons: shorter-range nuclear weapons, smaller-yield weapons. They have begun doing that in an effort to deter what they see to be a growing conventional superiority on behalf of the Indians, a conventional superiority they do not believe they can match force to force.

Why is that Back to the Future? I will talk about it in a moment. If you remember with the United States during the Cold War, that's exactly what we did. Having participated in that at the operational level as well as in the Pentagon and elsewhere, that is how I was asked to be part of this particular process for the United States.

What is my thesis? You've got to have a thesis. So the thesis up front is that the acquisition of these particular weapons has a very serious potential escalatory effect upon any crisis between India and Pakistan. As you are probably well familiar, India and Pakistan, having fought three wars since independence, still maintain huge conventional military forces across the line of control in Kashmir. On any given day, if the news were not covering Donald Trump, you might actually hear that there has been some kind of a minor skirmish or gunfight involving Indian and Pakistani forces. Unfortunately, that happens all too frequently.

If we talk about so-called tactical nuclear weapons or battlefield nuclear weapons, what are we talking about? They are weapons that we created during the Cold War in an effort to make up for our perceived inferiority vis-à-vis the Soviet Union. My favorite is the Davy Crockett, which was fired off the back of a jeep. The problem with the Davy Crockett, it was discovered that the blast and radiation pattern of the weapon was probably greater than the range, which makes it a little bit difficult for the crew. [Laughter]

But there is no really precise definition of tactical or battlefield weapons—in essence, weapons that are going to be employed in conjunction with ground maneuver forces to either forestall an enemy advance conventionally or prepare yourself to do some kind of conventional counteroffensive. Some weapons were created with unique characteristics. Think of so-called enhanced radiation weapons. We can talk about that if you wish later, which were part and parcel of developments by the United States during the Carter administration.

A little history for the metaphor Back to the Future: If you look from 1954 to about 1992-1993, we deployed at the height about 7,000 battlefield nuclear weapons to Europe, most of which were in Germany, again to deter and, if the deterrence failed, to defeat an advance by the Warsaw Pact.

When you get to about 1990, it precipitously drops off. At the end of the Soviet Union, the end of the Cold War, two initiatives which were parallel decisions by both the United States and the Soviet Union dramatically reduced our tactical nuclear stockpile. The final comment on that is that the residual stockpile for the United States and Russia now is we have about 250 or so, still, tactical weapons in Europe. Those are gravity bombs for aircraft. Russians—we don't really know—estimates are 1,500 to 2,000 tactical weapons that they have. A lot of them are actually maintained by the Russian Navy, particularly torpedoes and cruise missiles, because of their concern particularly of U.S. carrier battle groups. That is a different discussion.

One has to think about how these things fit into this particular equation. How do you think about deterrence? The only reason you have nuclear weapons is not to fight wars—hopefully, nobody would be crazy enough to do that—but to actually deter war.

I have always firmly believed this equation applies: deterrence being a function of capability, a particular weapon, in this case a battlefield weapon, multiplied by credibility. What is credibility? Well, credibility is that you actually do exercises in which you demonstrate your ability to do this; you talk about this in your doctrinal publications; it is reflected in your organization of military formations; white papers, those kinds of things. If you can see that we are actually thinking about this, it actually enhances the credibility. It is a multiplier and not a sum because if either of those particular sides of that is zero, then there is no deterrence. If you don't have any weapons, you can talk all you want to. There is not a whole lot of deterrent effect. If you have a weapon but you don't actually talk about how you might employ it or don't plan for your employment, that is not much as well.

One classic example is the 280-millimeter Howitzer fielded by the United States during the Cold War in the 1950s only to fire a nuclear projectile, so big it actually required two trucks, one to push and one to pull. These were deployed to Germany.

Another example is a 420-millimeter self-propelled Howitzer that the Soviet Union deployed in the 1960s to keep up with the Joneses. If you want to examine Nikita Khrushchev's autobiography, he actually said in his autobiography, "This weapon actually proves the smallness of the military mind." To the best of our knowledge, the Soviets only fired these things once or twice. Once when they fired it, it blew up, killed half the crew. They decided that wasn't a great thing, but they maintained these cannons in some very well-preserved storage barns outside of Moscow, and they would roll them out for May Day parades. So it still has some deterrent effect. You're demonstrating that you still have this thing, albeit somewhat ludicrously, as it turned out.

But there is no deterrence without understanding and perceptions colored by the past. As we apply this metaphor of the Cold War to South Asia, one has to admit—and we do this with our colleagues from India and Pakistan—that it is an imperfect metaphor. All metaphors are imperfect. Our situation was similar but not the same, the biggest difference being, of course, what? We never fought a war with the Soviet Union. India and Pakistan have fought three. That makes the conversation very, very different and something you have to effect. Again I would argue—we can have a discussion about this—that you cannot have weapons and simply say, "Well, they are for deterrence only," without some discussion about what is the war-fighting capability associated with this particular system.

So what is Pakistan doing? Quickly, what they are doing right now, as David said at the onset, we believe they have about 100 to 110 weapons currently, expanding their delivery systems both in terms of very short-range systems—and I put this in there just last night. In the last few days they've done tests. On the 15th of December they tested this new Shaheen-1A, which has about a 900-kilometer range. They have also tested a cruise missile, we believe, that could also deliver a nuclear weapon. So they are testing new systems.

The current rate of production, most estimates are that Pakistan could have over 200 weapons by the year 2020. David is quite right. They will tell you, in my discussions with Pakistani officials, that their goal is to be the third-largest in terms of total warheads nuclear-powered on the planet, only exceeded in numbers by the United States and the Russian Federation. They have had, thanks to the Chinese, some expansion of their ability to produce plutonium.

The whole idea of moving—when you talk about battlefield weapons, the engineering trick—I barely survived physics at West Point, but I am told by engineers that the real trick is miniaturization of the warhead to fit into a rather small nose cone. The mastery of that is what is important here.

There is an open question, then, once you master that, do you have to actually conduct the field tests? The history of testing in South Asia is every time India has tested, Pakistan tests, back and forth. Neither side has conducted a test for a great period of time. There is a concern, if this is the direction you are moving, does it then put pressure on your research and development community at least to advocate for a test?

In terms of credibility, Pakistan released a new military doctrine for their forces. It struck me as interesting, having looked at that, that there is little discussion of nuclear weapons or nuclear operation in that particular manual.

Their organization is somewhat different than ours in that we integrated nuclear weapons in all our services during the Cold War—Army, Navy, as well as the Air Force. Pakistan maintains these somewhat separately in what is called the Strategic Plans Division (SPD), so in some ways they are almost more analogous to how the Soviet Union organized with the Strategic Rocket Forces, keeping nuclear weapons in almost a separate service.

But it does bespeak to something we saw in the Cold War that oftentimes weapons would arrive in the inventory, particularly the tactical weapons, before the services had really thought through how in the world are we going to integrate this into our span of operations. In many ways they are reading our doctrine back to us. They talk about what we said during the Cold War.

They have always talked about a minimum credible deterrent, so the question then is: Are you changing that thinking by going to tactical weapons? Are they in competition with India? Well, to some degree they are, and they've decided the competition forces them in this direction because of their inability on the conventional side. And are you moving perhaps, even thinking about war-fighting options?

The weapon of most concern is the Nasr, which they tried out two or three years ago. It is a rocket in a box. If you are into how these things are constructed, there would be two of them on each of those erector launchers. It only has a range of about 60 kilometers, which is about 35 miles. As an old soldier, I would say that is pretty significant because that means, if you're going to employ this effectively and you want to hit the enemy, then you have to move these things pretty far up to where those guys are going to have bayonets on the ends of the muskets if you're going to have much range across to the enemy side. So the short range certainly suggests it is for tactical effect but also limits some of the capabilities that you might be able to do.

Why are they doing that? India, though they would decry this now nor talk about this by using the phrase "proactive defense," used a phrase called "Cold Start"—and this was following the Kargil Crisis several years ago—and I talked to some very senior Indian officers about this, about their inability to rapidly deploy forces in response in a crisis—it took them several weeks—the Indians now trying to position forces, change doctrine, change structure, so that in time of crisis we could actually deploy conventional forces, large-scale forces, on the frontier in a matter of a couple of days.

That concerned Pakistan. Ergo, the move towards tactical weapons. The phrase that many Pakistanis like is "throw cold water on Cold Start."

Rebalance the nuclear conventional and subconventional balance: What do I mean by that? Again, arguments I have heard are "We believe we have basically balanced the threat posed by India at the strategic level; we can hold their cities at risk. The conventional place is where we have a problem. These weapons will allow us to rebalance that problem." I have had—and I don't mean to be offensive to anybody from Pakistan here—but I have had Pakistani colleagues say to me, "And that allows us to take advantage of one thing we have, so-called subconventional forces."

You have to say, "What do you mean by subconventional forces?" Then you get into all kinds of discussions about, "Well, you know, people fighting for their freedom and liberty." Okay, Kashmir, I got it.

You can see the distances which make these things kind of difficult. If you start a war and you cross the border, Islamabad is only 270 kilometers from the border. So as soon as the border is crossed, the capital is in fairly close range. There is a belief that if you procure weapons, that does encourage deterrence.

The Pakistanis worry about a so-called three-front war. What is that? "Afghanistan is not doing well right now; the line of control, India/Pakistan; and a belief, in a time of crisis, that India might well foment problems for us, particularly in Baluchistan, so we could have actually a three-front problem."

What are some of the assumptions? I am going to try to go through these fast so we can spend more time on questions. In all these things there are certain assumptions one has to challenge:

  • One assumption is in what I do in a crisis, I send signals. Are those signals being clearly understood by my potential adversary?
  • Can I control escalation?
  • Might there be third-party involvement? The third party in this case might well be the Chinese because they have an interest and they have their own problems vis-à-vis India.
  • How do you secure weapons in peacetime as well as war? More about that in a second.
  • How do you maintain command and control? You want centralized command of nuclear weapons, but if I'm talking about a weapon that is going to be used tactically, can I credibly believe that the president can maintain full authority over the use of a weapon that only has a range of 60 kilometers in time of crisis or war?
  • How do you balance out your minimal credible deterrence?
  • What is your adversary going to do? The enemy gets a vote about this as well.

What does it all mean? It affects all the aspects of a crisis. This phrase was actually from a Pakistani friend of mine: "Both sides will move towards greater brinkmanship based on the presence of these weapons' potential on the battlefield." It certainly could create an arms race in South Asia. So far we have not seen the Indians moving in this direction. They certainly could. Their stockpile is somewhat smaller, around 80 or so weapons but at longer ranges. That affects, of course, transition to war and actual conflict.

What do I mean by that? Again, I am going to go kind of fast. Think about any crisis. At any given time, you begin—time being the horizontal axis, degree of tension being the vertical axis—to get a certain conflict of interest. We have problems with you. Something happens and we have a crisis and now we get escalatory promenades. At some point in time you hit a resolution point. So, in a crisis, do we transition to war or does this transition back to being peace talks?

Let's talk about peacetime real quickly. What are some of the challenges?

How do you secure a stockpile of 200-plus weapons? In time of peace, one thing you have to do is disperse the stockpile because you don't store them all in one spot. You store them all in one spot and you're sort of like lining all the battleships up at Pearl Harbor waiting for your adversary to take them all out at one time. So you have to disperse them at several sites.

Does that set up the possibility of so-called third parties then wanting to get their hands on them? There have been recorded attempts by several groups in Pakistan to break into some of these sites. At least one of the groups, Lashkar-e-Taiba, has actually described themselves as "the ultimate guardian of nuclear weapons for the state of Pakistan." That will keep you awake at night.

This is something all states have to consider. I will tell you, even during the Cold War, those 7,000 weapons we had, there was an incident in the 1970s that I know of, in fact, where the Red Army Faction tried to break into one of our sites at Giessen, Germany. It is a little unclear to this day whether they just wanted to break in to make a statement or they wanted to blow the thing up or they wanted to get their hands on nuclear weapons. But the attempt certainly was made.

Pakistan has some unique problems internally, but that problem is not necessarily solely one for Pakistan. Any state has that security problem.

Then there is the transition-to-war problem. I call this the Sarajevo moment. What do I mean by that? Again, if you talk escalation vertically, number of weapons horizontally, if we are confronting each other, two nuclear powers, both of us have strategic weapons, if I get one more nuclear weapon, it is not going to affect escalation that much. At some point in time that curve flattens out.

When I go to battlefield weapons, then potentially this curve starts to rebound. What is the real problem? The problem in a transition to war is at what point—that's where those two curves intersect—do I make the decision to move weapons from where I have them stored in peacetime, to move them out, at least for their survivability, disperse them if not move them in the direction where I'm going to be putting in forces to reinforce a particular border area.

That decision is a crucial decision. We worried about that a lot in the Cold War. That is a clear signal to your adversary—war has not started, but it is a clear signal in a crisis that things are pretty doggone serious because we are now dispersing the stockpile. If you don't disperse the stockpile, then your adversary potentially has incentives to preempt because he has a higher probability of destroying your nuclear stockpile because it is all consolidated. So in time of crisis it puts a lot of pressure on decision-makers.

During crisis, what problems are there? What kinds of messages are you trying to send by the use of a weapon?

During the Cold War, one thing that NATO talked about was we're just trying to send signals. So we're losing conventionally so now we're going to fire a nuclear weapon.

This was discussed in what was called the General Political Guidelines during the Cold War at NATO. The basic conclusion was that the problem with doing that is if you wait until you are totally losing conventionally and you actually fire a nuclear weapon, all you are really doing is you are telling your adversary—in this case the Soviet Union—"We are very upset with you, but we are losing, and by the way, we know we are losing." There was a real belief that that necessarily wasn't the greatest thing.

Does it put pressure on you to use it or lose it because it may be overrun or you need to use it early enough if it's part of your conventional defense? Do we need to still use it at a point where it operationally could have some effect on this conventional fight, albeit we still have sufficient forces where we can employ one of these weapons and then use the remaining forces to reassert the status quo ante, such as push India back to the border?

Timing: Do we have enough forces left to do that?

Lastly, we've got to still have a command and control network that can orchestrate this nuclear tango within the constraints of what has happened chaotically in conventional fora. And oh, by the way, that has got to occur on a battlefield in which your command and control network has been degraded by conventional destruction, electromagnetic pulse (EMP) from potential nuclear weapons, electronic warfare, and cyber attacks. Through all that, you've got to have this command and control network that can orchestrate this thing.

During conflict as well you've got to have enough aircraft so you can maintain control of the battle area which enables you to move these weapons from someplace in the rear forward, remembering a range of only 60 kilometers. In talking with Pakistani Air Force guys, they told me, "To do that, because we believe we have a terrible air inferiority, we would basically have to strip most of the aircraft we have planned to defend the capital in order to trek the battle area to move weapons"—kind of a Hobson's choice. "Do we protect the capital or do we protect this particular area here?"

How do you manage battle space management between ground forces and nukes? They don't have much understanding of so-called target analysis, so I will skip over that.

What does this mean? Well, if you talk about time, conventional to nuclear, spectrum of escalation; let's say you've got a proxy war going on. Terrorist problem, Kashmir, those kinds of normal things that happen. Sometimes a trigger event occurs. What could a trigger event look like? Think the Mumbai attack. That might be a good example.

Both sides mobilize. The Indians are able to mobilize more quickly because of Cold Start. Hostilities then commence. There is an operational space where the conventional fighting occurs. We get to points where red lines are now being crossed, where decisions may be made whether or not we escalate to nuclear forces. That would be the normal course of things right now.

Let's plug in "and things go haywire." Let's plug in battlefield weapons for a second. We've shortened the mobilization time now because of Cold Start. We decided to use TNW (tactical nuclear weapons) early on, short-range weapons to be part of our overall defense. What did that do? That just lowered the red lines whereby we have to make these decisions when to employ. You have to make that decision earlier. Of course, that causes the whole thing to go haywire a lot more early in the process, schematically.

What do we do about all of this? The first thing we have to do in this particular world—this is where the metaphor breaks down—is you have to understand relationships in South Asia.

The best way I can summarize this is the following: My belief from dealing with Indian officers—I always say if you have a drink with an Indian officer, for the first drink he'll talk to you about his concerns about Pakistan. If you have a second drink with him and a third drink, he'll talk about China; he'll forget Pakistan. The second, third, fourth, fifth drink, he will talk about China.

As a Pakistani friend said to me, "You have to understand how this works. We have close ties, we Pakistanis have good ties with the Chinese. The Chinese, for all their bluster, still look upon the United States as a military superpower. For all their bluster, they still worry about you Americans. So you Americans will do something which causes the Chinese concern, which will cause the Chinese to do something, which causes the Indians some concern, which causes the Indians to do something, which causes the Pakistanis to get concerned, and then we start this game all over again."

In this case, back to my metaphor, one has to keep in mind in South Asia it is not just a bilateral relationship between two countries who have a difficult history. There are these third-party effects, the United States, the Chinese, etc., that can be both helpful and less than helpful.

What else can you do about this? I always tell my Pakistani friends and my Indian friends that if they look through this history of the Cold War and try to draw conclusions for themselves, they only read half the history. They read the half where we did this and they did that. The Soviets came up with operational maneuver groups and we deployed 7,000 nuclear weapons. So I say they only read half the history.

The other half of the history is we, the United States and our NATO allies, conducted a whole series of arms control and other discussions with the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, some that were successful and resulted in treaties, some that did not. But they still provided a forum where we could talk about military force and what forces meant and what forces were being deployed, etc. It gives a forum of conversation.

To have that particular dialogue like we had with the Soviet military liaison missions and our liaison missions in Eastern Europe, mutual balance force reduction talks. Some discussions that we've had with Pakistan in particular: If your concern is defense, one might consider making investments in precision-guided munitions as opposed to tactical nuclear weapons, which in essence is what the United States did following the Yom Kippur War in 1973. We, the United States, discovered these precision-guided munitions were pretty doggone good. The Egyptians were pretty effective with that. That technology has only improved. So, potentially, one can make investments there which portray a more robust defense at lower cost but keep the nuclear threshold at a higher level. That's sort of crudely what we did in the 1980s when we created things called air-land battle as U.S. military doctrine for the European theater.

Promote discussion on transparency measures, so-called confidence-building measures: In Europe we came up with a whole bunch called the Vienna Document, Open Skies, just to provide greater transparency on both sides.

Last but not least—and it takes an awful lot of trust and confidence, and we are nowhere close to that in South Asia: more formal arms control agreements such as the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe.

The odd thing when you talk to my friends in South Asia about this—truthfully, this happened to me about a month ago—I would talk to a Pakistani delegation and they would say, "Yes, we are very interested in more mechanisms for crisis management." We would say, "Great!" And then they would say, "But the Indians will never talk to us. We've tried it. The Indians never talk to us."

Then I met with an Indian delegation and I said to the Indians, "What do you think?" The Indians would say, "Yes, we would really like more mechanisms to control crisis escalation." We go, "Great!" "But the Pakistanis, they've never talked to us." "Well, maybe you guys ought to give it a try."

There have been efforts. I am heartened but I am an optimist. In recent days there was a discussion by senior Pakistani and Indian leaders on trying to improve relations. We'll see. There have been numerous examples of that in the past, all of which have gone nowhere. But to draw from a metaphor that David suggested, if we invested an awful lot of time and energy—and we certainly did—in the Iranian deal, whether you like that deal or not, it was an effort to prevent one state from going nuclear and the impact that might have on crisis escalation. We put all our effort in that one. We might want to now think about a little bit of effort on this one.

Last but not least, ladies and gentlemen, I firmly believe this is the most dangerous—this is a quote by somebody else, an expert on the region actually, "This is the most dangerous place on Planet Earth." Without a doubt this is the most dangerous place on Planet Earth. The line of control you see there between India and Pakistan is where, as we sit here tonight, massive conventional military forces of India and Pakistan are staring at each other, as they have for years, a very precise piece of territory, routinely if not daily engaged in gunfights, been through three wars, been through several crises. The possibility of any one of those things spinning out of control and becoming a major crisis cannot be discounted.

I would further add in the current vein, I don't want this talk to end up being, particularly for our friends from Pakistan, a critique of Pakistan. I don't mean that at all, because certainly this is something that the two countries both have responsibility for. On the Indian side, to me it is frankly troubling that the current Modi government certainly seems, I think, the most nationalistic—I think that would be a fair statement—Indian government that has existed in my lifetime.

President Modi during the campaign—I was in India during the campaign when he ran for election and was elected—criticized the preceding government of President Singh for not responding vigorously to the Mumbai attack and made it very clear that if there was a similar attack, his government would respond immediately against Pakistan. Within a few early weeks of his administration, he made a special visit to Kashmir, which no Indian president had done in an awfully long period of time.

One can say all those things are justified, and I am not saying they are not. I am just saying that we are in a situation where both sides are becoming uneasy. You put in the middle of that such weapons as I described in the last few minutes, the chance of a crisis—and from that crisis, escalation becomes significant. That is something that I think is worthy of address.

DAVID SPEEDIE: I was just going to say the two missing things from my introduction of this gentleman were, first of all, that he is obviously a bona fide national expert on arms control and nuclear proliferation. Secondly, he has spent a lot of time in the South Asia subcontinent. Those I think are extremely important things here.

Jeff, I know you condensed about an hour's presentation into slightly more than half. That was my fault. My apologies. But that leaves all the more opportunity for questions.


Editor's note: The Q&A section has been edited to protect the identity of the questioners.

QUESTION: I just wanted to know the geography of this border area that you're talking about. Pakistan borders Afghanistan, and that is the horror place to get to. I mean it's mountains all along. Is the border between India and Pakistan the same or is that an—

JEFFREY McCAUSLAND: One of the problems in military terms, the northern part, Kashmir, you are right, is very mountainous. What has been identified is—and any military guy can do this with a map, so I am not exactly telling you anything particularly brilliant—if you were an Indian military planner and you were planning on conducting ground offensive operations against Pakistan, there are about six or eight avenues of advance that you would conduct. This is just a geography lesson; that's all it is.

The northern portion, where you see Jammu and Kashmir and that area up in there, is probably the least likely because, as you say, it is very, very mountainous and glacier-like in some places. As you move down and you get south of Lahore—and Lahore is right on the border.

When you go to Pakistan, which I recommend—it is great and I've enjoyed it—but if you want to understand the whole problem, just Google the Lahore-Pakistan gate closing and you will get this video. I don't know if you've ever seen this, but this is every day at 5 o'clock there is this gate between India and Pakistan in Lahore and these huge soldiers—they pick the biggest soldiers they can find—have this formal ceremony at the end of the day to go up and close the gate and take down the flag. It is like watching a Sumo wrestling match, because everybody marches up, so they are right at the border and I am staring right at you. It is done in a fascinating environment because on both sides there is like a football stadium half-shell on both sides. On this side is Team Pakistan and on this side is Team India.

When you go to these things, you have to get there about an hour in advance because we have a kind of pep rally to begin with, and guys are beating drums and singing songs and waving the flag and both sides are getting themselves all spun up. It tells you everything you want to know about this.

My point is you've got major cities like Lahore which are right on the border. But as you go south of Lahore, then it becomes actually desert. If you're a military guy and you're into heavy armored advances, it is ideal. So you would move through there.

Furthermore, there is a series of road networks, one in particular that goes a little bit to the west of Lahore, which basically goes from the upper right-hand corner of Pakistan down to the lower left-hand corner. It kind of parallels the border. Again, in military terms, one thing you want to do is seize those highways, and in essence by doing that and cutting those highway networks, you've kind of cut the country in half.

There are about seven or eight different avenues of advance, but the one in the north is probably the least likely. You would have to then, if you were defending that, figure out how am I going to defend that and therefore how do these particular systems fit into that defense. If I can conjure a defense, then hopefully that defense also will deter the attack from occurring.

QUESTION: I have a very boring technical question. When I think of battlefield nuclear weapons, I think of Starship Troopers. I am just curious about the actual yield and the range of battlefield nuclear weapons versus tactical nuclear weapons and if those are or are not the same thing and what we are actually talking about.

JEFFREY McCAUSLAND: Yield is normally less than a strategic weapon system.

Having said that, for example, a 155 Howitzer shell—I can tell you, this is not classified—we had actually nuclear artillery, and the Pakistanis have talked about going in that direction—a 155 artillery shell would have a 0.1 kilotons yield. That is still a pretty good bang and a pretty good radiation pattern.

The nuclear weapon that hit Hiroshima and Nagasaki I think was about 13 kilotons. Some of the 8-inch Howitzer shells we have would get to be about 10 kilotons. Fit 10,000 tons of high explosive, not to mention—the radiation pattern is a function—now I am being technical; forgive me—how much radiation you end up with? The range of the radiation is actually the height of burst. Most of these are designed to explode in the air. If you bang it in the ground you get perhaps less range in terms of the range pattern is not as wide, but it is more intense because you kick up all the dirt and whatever, and all of that gets to be radioactive.

The point is the yields are smaller than strategic weapons, which are usually in the hundreds if not thousands of kilotons. But in comparison with what we've seen in the past, we would talk now about Hiroshima and Nagasaki as being tactical weapons. This is the only effect we can measure because it's the only one we ever used.

The Soviets detonated one they called Tsar Bomba. I think it was like 100 megatons. We actually banged one off that was equivalent roughly of the Krakatoa eruption in terms of the blast. So those are strategic weapons.

In terms of range—again, this is where the definitions get a little bit imprecise. I would say the definition is more of what you use it against as opposed to the range. In other words, if I employ a large weapon to destroy a tank battalion, I am using it in a tactical sense. If I use a large weapon to destroy a city, I am using it in a strategic sense. So it is really more the use than the range. In general, usually the range of the Shaheen again is about 500 miles or less; it would be considered tactical.

One of the things we created during the Cold War—and I've heard Pakistanis talk about this—is the development of so-called atomic demolition munitions, colloquially referred to as nuclear landmines, which is actually not true, because you're not going to step on it and it's going to detonate. We created a whole bunch of these things. They were designed to be strapped—ready for this?—you would strap it on your parachute as a Special Forces guy. We take you behind enemy lines. You would parachute out. There would be a pre-designated location where—the accuracy was great because you knew exactly where the guy dug the hole. He would put it in there and put a timer on it, and then I guess he would basically run like hell.

So the range on that is a function of how far the airplane could go, where as the yield and the employment was for a tactical advantage, to take out a bridge, take out a road network, take out something that was going to forestall the advance of the second or third echelon of the Soviet army coming westward.

DAVID SPEEDIE: Thank you. A point also is that given the geography and the relatively short distances, the definition between tactical and strategic becomes somewhat blurred, right?

JEFFREY McCAUSLAND: It's how you use it.

DAVID SPEEDIE: How you use it is the issue.

JEFFREY McCAUSLAND: One other point that I think is worthy of note is in terms of stockpile reliability, how safe are the weapons in peacetime is a question we would all like to know about. What Pakistan has argued for years, as has India, is, well, they are safe because we "de-mate." In other words, the warhead is separate from the launch vehicle. The warhead and the rocket are kept separately. So that enhances safety. It certainly contributes to that.

When you talk about tactical weapons and you're talking about smaller warheads, then I am a little bit more concerned about this. Why do I say that? Well, if you are concerned about a third-party group, a terrorist group getting their hands on a nuclear weapon, an ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) warhead, you need a tractor-trailer and a derrick to pick this thing up.

I used to drive a Volvo station wagon. The 155 nuclear weapons that I commanded when I was in command in Germany, if I left them in the containers, I could put two in the back of my Volvo. If I took them out of their containers, I could put six or eight. So the fact that they are separated from the launch vehicle is less interesting because a terrorist group is probably not going to fire an ICBM.

What they are going to do is take a nuclear weapon, stick it in a truck—think of the Murrah center down in Oklahoma City—fill that truck full of explosives or fertilizers. They're going to drive to fill-in-the-blanks, the center of New Delhi, Red Square, the Washington Monument, Trafalgar Square—pick a spot—and they're going to touch it off. You're not going to get a nuclear detonation, you're going to get a nuclear explosion, which means you're going to have radiation pattern but the weapon will not detonate maximally, but you're still going to have a hell of a mess. That's really how a terrorist group would probably pull it off—a dirty bomb being the colloquial summary.

QUESTION: You ended with a very provocative statement: the world's most dangerous border. Now, the American public doesn't have perhaps enough imagination with all the crises going on. But these days our attention has been on the Middle East and on China and the Far East. You're coming along and saying to us, no, South Asia is even more important. Then there's Russia and Ukraine and so forth.

Could you please explain why you consider this the world's most dangerous border?

JEFFREY McCAUSLAND: Sure, because a crisis that goes out of control here is catastrophic, with international reverberations that will affect almost every country. A war between India and Pakistan that goes nuclear, start counting the dead as a million and go up from there in terms of the nuclear exchange.

Talk about the effect on the climate. Talk about the effect on the international economy. I don't want to sound less than kind. I do a lot of work for CBS News, and I have to tell you I am asked frequently about, "Oh my god, ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria)." I have to tell you, I talk to people on the radio who are damn near hysterical that they're going to come across the Brooklyn Bridge.

The tragedies that were suffered, for example, in San Bernardino, were a tragedy. There is no doubt about it. The tragedy that was suffered at the Boston Marathon was a tragedy. No doubt about it. But ISIS, to use that as an example because it seemed to be the one that was most talked about last night, under no circumstances, it is my belief, poses an existential threat to the United States of America, not close.

Could they do us some harm? They already have. But that's what it would look like. San Bernardino, Boston Marathon, were all horrific. But the probability of anybody in this room being killed by a terrorist in the United States is still exceeded by you being shot by a member of your family. Look up the statistics. Being killed messing around with your toaster, you actually have a higher probability than being killed by a terrorist. Again, I am not saying what happened wasn't horrific. It's just a matter of what we're dealing with.

This situation here, if it gets out of control, goes catastrophic and has unbelievable implications around the world. The only other place that I can think of that gets even close to that, of course, is North Korea.

So while we're worrying ourselves silly about ISIS, and we should worry about them somewhat, there's no doubt about it—I am not trying to say don't worry about that. The fact that we don't worry very much about this at all troubles me. I am not doing a good job of answering your question, but that's how I would respond.

QUESTION: Jeff, could you just say a little bit more about the Track 2 process? My understanding, if I heard you correctly, is that what we are trying to do is share the experience of the Cold War with the Pakistanis. And if I understood you correctly, the argument is that the weapons that we developed were not effective, counterproductive, not important to the outcome.

So what is the argument that we are trying to put forward with the Pakistanis? I would assume the argument is to not go down this road. I just want to make sure I am understanding correctly.

JEFFREY McCAUSLAND: The basic argument that we're trying to say is over time we determined, frankly, that these weapons were just unusable.

Furthermore, the effect of such weapons in your arsenal in time of crisis puts unbelievable pressure on escalation and crisis management.

Thirdly, advances in technology may offer you the alternative to do such things as precision-guided missions that would afford you a more robust conventional defense and, therefore, a conventional deterrent.

Then last but not least is as you are studying this and using our history as an example, please also note that we did these other things, none of which were a panacea. Of all the different things about transparency measures and arms control, none of those were a panacea. None of those was a solution to every problem. Each of them was meant to dampen down problems of escalation in time of crisis, if you will, a bleeder valve that hopefully could bring off some pressure during that particular time. That is in essence the argument.

The final two things is just to acquaint them with all the things we learned about this that caused us disquiet. I will mention two.

First, the assumption up front that this is somehow cheaper in terms of your investment of resources for defense is spurious. When you run the whole systemic cost of what it takes you to secure them, develop them, etc., etc.—and I have threatened my Pakistani and Indian friends to buy them all an old book by Alian Enthoven called How Much Is Enough? which would probably put them to sleep. But Enthoven basically argues in the 1970s and 1980s that you can't get there from here.

Second of all, you have to think about the problem from your enemy's side. Example: I have said to them on a couple of occasions that as soon as you disperse your stockpile in time of crisis, what is your plan or your thinking about pre-delegation of authority to use weapons, to pre-delegate authority down to maneuver commanders, because it is a maneuverable weapon when you decide to use it.

"Oh no, no, we're going to maintain control at the national command authority."

"Okay, so this thing has a range of 60 kilometers. We're going to use it in time of chaos but we're going to have all these great lines of communication from the president to make that decision?"


I say, "Even if that's true, and I hope you're right, it doesn't matter." They say, "Why?"

I say, "Because your opponent is going to automatically assume, as soon as you disperse that stockpile, that you have pre-delegated authority down to maneuver commanders. And oh, by the way, here are the Soviet war plans that we got from the East Germans and all the analysis by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. That's exactly what the Soviets assumed from the beginning. Despite all our protestations that we would maintain full control of our weapons, the Soviet Union assumed from the very beginning, as soon as the war starts, the Americans will pre-delegate authority to use weapons in that case not only down to perhaps American maneuver commanders but also German, British, and other folks."

QUESTION: Just one short question, which is when did this Lahore Gate closing start? Was this at partition?

JEFFREY McCAUSLAND: That is a good question. They've been doing that ever since independence. So it has been going on for about 50 years or so.

QUESTIONER: You mean close to partition?


QUESTIONER: The other thing is just how influential is the international community, the United States, Britain, in keeping this under control? And what are our current treaty obligations and how does that play out?

JEFFREY McCAUSLAND: That's a good question. The second one is easy. What are our treaty obligations? I don't believe we have any. Somebody can correct me if I'm wrong. We have no treaty obligations, like in a NATO obligation or the obligation we have to Israel or the obligation we have to Japan, if one country is attacked by another, that we will intervene on one side or the other.

The United States has traditionally walked this almost diplomatic tightrope of trying to have good relations with both countries and frankly, in the last decade, has made a real strong attempt, some on the Pakistan side certainly being upset by that, of trying to improve our relations with India. There has been some suggestion that we may have done more of that than we should.

So we don't have any particular treaty obligations.

On the influence side or almost the expectation side, there is an expectation or a belief, again when I talk to Pakistanis and Indians, that if there is a crisis the international community is going to rush in and keep them from going off the rails.

In the early part of the second Bush administration, Secretary Powell and Dick Armitage, his deputy, were very heavily involved when there was a crisis going on—and, of course, you had the 2008 event—encouraging India not to escalate, so they were very influential.

That being said, it worries me that there is an expectation on both sides, Pakistan and India, that the international community will become quickly involved to prevent things from getting out of control. That is what has happened in the past. But as a questioner said a minute ago, it is kind of a busy world out there. I am not sure that banking on the assumption that the international community will always be involved is one that I want to bet the farm on.

Finally, what worries me a little bit is one could think of this using a very bad metaphor—and I will be very provocative, but again that's the way to end, right, be provocative at the end?—during the NATO days I remember talking to my friends in France who had a nuclear program. The French would always say to me, "You know, we maintain a nuclear program of our own because we're France and we want to be able to have our own deterrent. But never forget there is a French finger on the NATO nuclear trigger."

I said, "What do you mean by that?"

They said, "You know, if there was a conflict or a crisis with the Soviet Union, if France decides to escalate, we doubt very seriously that the Russians are going to say, 'Was that an American nuclear weapon or was that a French nuclear weapon that just hit Moscow?'" So there was that sort of third party, can you potentially bring in a third party?

A conflict such as this one where there are very close ties between Pakistan and China . . . after the Abbottabad raid, senior leaders in Pakistan immediately went to China and proclaimed China, if not the greatest, one of the greatest allies of Pakistan. So I always worry, in time of crisis, not only the international community coming in to try to dampen things down, one could argue strategically one thing I might want to do is pull some of those big parties in, in an effort either to forestall a crisis going into hostility or in terms of trying to reinforce or provide greater military assistance if things were going pear-shaped.

DAVID SPEEDIE: Jeff, you've done a masterful job.

You spoke at one point about sleepless nights. I think the takeaway that I have that will cause me at least a sleepless night or two is the Sarajevo moment of nuclear weapons. If that isn't a troubling thought, I don't know what is.

Thank you very much.


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