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A billion people at risk is just the beginning

Posted by Ashish Sinha on April 24, 2012

Earlier today, Dr. Ira Helfand released a PSR / IPPNW report that describes the global impacts of a limited nuclear exchange in South Asia. A purpose of the report is to show that there is no such thing as a “regional nuclear war.” A conflict between nuclear weapon states would cause profound and significant impacts to the survivability of a billion people around the planet.

In recent weeks, we have all been reminded why the conclusions of this report are a real and present danger. North Korea announced today that it would reduce South Korea “to ashes” in less than four minutes - 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 develop technology to increase the range of their missiles with a recent (failed) test coming just weeks ago.

Last week, 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 lead many national security experts to feel this is one of the most dangerous regions in the world. 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 the country a major exporter of nuclear technology once again.

If a limited nuclear exchange occurred in South Asia - one of the outcomes that the report mentions is the potential of wars between countries struggling for resources. Dr. Helfand references a few situations in the past decade that provide the basis for this argument:

  1. In September 2002, Canada, faced with a sharp decline in wheat production because of drought conditions, suspended wheat exports for a year. The next year, the European Union took similar action, as did Russia.
  1. In August 2004, Vietnam indicated it would not export rice until the following spring.
  1. India banned rice exports in NOvember 2007 which, followed by export rice restrictions in Vietnam, Egypt, and China in January 2008, contributed to historic increases in world rice prices.
  1. In 2010, Russia, responding to the severe drought conditions that year, suspended grain exports.

These resource wars would exacerbate food production disruptions and would lead to a situation of extreme instability around the world. Financially, investors would likely flee from international markets and, with the capital flight, both developed and developing worlds would experience severe recessions. While the study does not base its conclusions on any of these scenarios, one can easily see that a billion people at risk is a baseline for what really would occur.


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