India vs. Pakistan: the nuclear option is dangerously close, and nobody seems to want to prevent it

75 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 8:15 AM
New Comment
Some comments are truncated due to high volume. (⌘F to expand all)Change truncation settings

"A “pink flamingo” is a term recently coined by Frank Hoffman to describe predictable but ignored events that can yield disastrous results. Hoffman argues that these situations are fully visible, but almost entirely ignored by policymakers. "

Why are they ignoring this?

For the good reason that it's very difficult to do something about it.
The Snowden / Manning leaks (from what I've heard) suggest this issue is the third or forth priority of US intelligence organizations. One presumes that the US intelligence organizations do not consider it in their interests to advertise this fact.
Because it's been basically stable for so long it's easy to believe it won't blow up.
So we are back to the Black Swan event.
Nobody can get a promotion by focusing his attention on the topic?
These people are being paid to make these kinds of difficult decisions for the good of "their people" and not just to avoid demotion. Anyone can make easy decisions. And they don't have to be right, they just have to meet The Reasonable Person standard. But, there was a Dilbert cartoon that said you shouldn't even be in the same room when a decision is made. I guess a world court would charge these 'leaders' with Dereliction of Duty, fraud, incompetence, negligence, etc.. Not that a solution would ever be implemented or that politicians would ever evolve into better people, but how would a Game Theorist approach this nasty problem? This could be added to Dr. Miller's videos. As far as dropping bombs on your own guys, see Carpenter's Crispy Critters.
So, can you give some global politics examples where it's entirely obvious that a Reasonable Person would do X and yet "world leaders" (that means Putin and Obama, right?) do nothing?
The war on drugs is pointless, yet U.S. administrations stubbornly persist with it.
What do you mean, pointless? The War on Drugs has enormous benefits for certain kinds of people. Let me list you some. It keeps the restless natives in check. It's a good excuse for expanding all kinds of the power of the state. It's an excellent excuse for just confiscating people's wealth and as such it funds a large portion of the prison-industrial complex. It provides lots of prisoners for the said prison-industrial complex. How can you keep civilization running without keeping everyone fearful of the Holy... err.. Evil Trinity of drug lords, child pornographers, and international terrorists? X-/ Maybe you want to talk about the agency problem with your elected officials -- in that case try down the corridor, Mr. Barnard; room 12.
You are straw-manning. The war on drugs almost certainly reduces drug consumption and has almost certainly stopped lots of people from having their lives ruined by drugs.
I'm strawmanning whom? Notice that I'm actually objecting to polymathwannabe's claim that the War on Drugs is "pointless".
I thought (perhaps mistakenly) that you were strawmanning the social benefits of the war on drugs.
I consider these benefits to be much lesser than the costs. But, as I pointed out, it depends on the point of view. It's an ill wind...
I thought he was being sarcastic. But my sarcasm meter is terribly miscalibrated.
The US public wants politician who are tough on crime and as a result over a long time no politican opposed the war on drugs. I don't see why that means the politicians aren't reasonable even if I personally don't support the war on drugs.
For a very good reason. When soft on crime politicians took power in the 70s, crime proceeded to increase to unacceptable levels.
Having a high number of policemen seems to be good for having lower crime rates. Giving those policemen the task to go after drugs on the other hand isn't. The Portuguese model of dealing with drugs is much better. The tough on crime model also doesn't lead to lower recidivism rates. It would make more sense to incentive prisons to produces lower recidivism rates.
Why? Are you saying all currently illegal drugs should be legalized? In which case you might what to look at what caused them to become illegal in the first place.
That line of argument isn't going to go well for you, see e.g. marijuana [].
But also at whether the problems that their prohibition has caused are bigger or smaller than those it solved.
Moral panic, mostly. A very hypocritical one, considering how tobacco and alcohol, two very dangerous drugs, are still perfectly acceptable in the Western world.
Certainly not by allowing a specific court to judge politicians for every political decision that it doesn't like. That would be a good recipe for civil war.
Thanks for all answers. I still have notes from Durant's "The Lessons of History" so I should comb through these replies using this source, looking for contradictions. This thread is perhaps an outlier as to the Level of Nesting.

Much discussion in this SSC thread ( of what "nuclear war" would really mean. Mostly focused on a total US/USSR type situation, but still made a big change in how I thought about the subject in general.

Pakistan’s arsenal of short-range tactical nuclear weapons is a game changer in other ways. Pakistan clearly intends to use these weapons—on its own soil if necessary to counter [an Indian tank invasion.]

Using nuclear weapons on your own soil probably wouldn't cause anywhere near as much retaliation from your enemies and the international community then if your nuclear weapons hit enemy soil.

[-][anonymous]7y 5

Isn't pink flamingo just a new name for "the elephant in the room?"

I was wondering about the state of the deterrence in place against nuclear weapons usage, having always assumed it to be massive, and I can't tell if there's actually any formal international treaty about the use of nuclear weapons in war. has arms-reduction, non-proliferation, and test ban treaties, but apparently nothing about who you actually nuke. I think Geneva says you can't target civilians with any weapon, but does anything prohibit nuking your enemy's army?

If things escalate to the point where nuclear weapons get used, that probably implies enough of a breakdown of order that it doesn't matter what any treaty says.
Also, a country's use of nuclear weapons is a powerful signal that it's willing to use them again, giving it a powerful negotiating advantage.

Estimates of nuclear weapons being deployed in a conflict between the 2 states in the next 10 years?

Poll is a probability poll as described here:

values from 0 to 1


Could you specify whether you want answers as percentage probability, probabilities, odds, or expected number of launches? My answer was intended as a percentage
Yeah, I was fortunate enough to enter a percent sign after my estimate which resulted in an explicit warning, but an open-ended text box is not a great way to structure this poll.
I just used the standard less-wrong probability poll. [] edited the comment to include the description.
If people want to lock in their predictions they can do so on Prediction Book here [].
Ugh, I screwed up the mean by entering "1" as a probability where I meant 1%. Now I know why Yvain has all those funny "are you reading the directions?" questions on his LW surveys.
I failed to notice the "the" and entered my estimate for the probability of nuclear weapons being used in some state conflict, not necessarily between India and Pakistan.
Would't it be more accurate to use a geometric mean here, instead of an arithmic one? An arithmic mean really obscures low predictions.
I count deployments for power-demonstration like in the cold war too (it is more difficult what counts as a conflict though)..

Isn't this an "elephant in the living room"?

No, an elephant in the living room is an elephant that is in the living room. A pink flamingo just brings you notice that an elephant will be delivered to your living room shortly :-D

So, this is exactly the sort of thing prediction markets should do well at, right? People without structural incentives to ignore a problem can make accurate predictions and make money. People who care about it can point to the market prices when making their point.

In the black swan case, I think prediction markets will do only somewhat better than alternatives, but here they should do vastly better. Right?

Thanks heaps. I love hearing about new, memorable terms like this.

The article makes a good point: USA can lose very much in case of such war. If the world sees that nukes can destroy enemy army without turning whole country into a blasted radioctive wasteland like scaremongers say, then non-proliferation is a lost cause and US military might suddenly turns into a heap of useless expensive toys.

That's pretty obvious to anyone with a couple of functioning brain cells. The whole idea of tactical nuclear weapons is limited strikes against military targets. During the Cold War, the NATO doctrine explicitly relied on tactical nukes to stop Russian armored thrusts into Western Europe. Non-proliferation isn't based on some third-world politicians being afraid of a nuclear holocaust. It's based on the empirical fact that if you try to develop nukes, Uncle Sam will be very very mean to you.
First, it is not. Idea that this Cold War doctrine was suicidal (for the Europeans) madness is rather popular, I think more than the opposite. Second, given that exactly zero states were attacked by US for trying to make nukes, I wouldn't call this the most important reason. As for third-world politicians, they adopt the first-word attitude to nukes as thing you can only threaten with but can't really use.
Is popular? I am not sure today people spend a lot of effort in evaluating an obsolete military doctrine from quarter century ago. And is there an alternative proposed? Notice that I didn't say "invaded", though Iraq is an interesting case. But why did Iran make a deal with the US, then? You can't really use them offensively. I doubt the politicians would taboo the use of tactical nukes in the last stand situation. That's effectively what they are for: insurance. Funny how everyone is tiptoeing around North Korea... By the way, you know what didn't help non-proliferation at all? The way the Budapest Memorandum [] turned out to be a meaningless piece of paper.
In my opinion the opposite is likely to happen if there is an actual war of this kind between India and Pakistan: once Pakistan uses nukes, India will be mostly ok as a whole, as you imply, but India will turn Pakistan into such a "blasted radioactive wasteland" in comparison, which will make anyone else terrified of such a war with the US. Apparently the Indian defense minister in 2003 said something like this publicly, saying something like "After we respond, there will be no more Pakistan."
India can target the Indus, pretty much gutting Pakistan. As long as they disrupt/poison the river enough they wouldn't have to target any settlements directly. If Pakistan developed the capacity to effectively target the Ganges (no small feat, and probably something best done with chemical weapons, not nuclear weapons), it would be possible to cause the displacement of a billion people over a couple of years. That would not be a good time to live in China, Europe, or Africa. Of course, neither India nor Pakistan would want either of these things to happen. While India would survive an unilateral strike, Pakistan would not -- regardless of who struck the strike.