How Will ASEAN And Australia Fare In A Nuclear War? – OpEd


A chilling youtube presentation on what happens when a nuclear war takes place should be played and replayed all over the world, especially in the media of the West but also media worldwide. 

Titled, A Simulation: Nuclear war between the US and Russia, this recent presentation by Future of Life Institute provides a simulation of what happens to life on Earth should a nuclear war between the two countries take place ( 

The prospect of such a war happening – with the current ongoing Ukraine war – is possibly the most advanced since the introduction of the Doomsday Clock. This year, the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the hands of the Doomsday Clock forward mainly because of the war in Ukraine. The Clock was reset to stand at 90 seconds to midnight – the closest to global catastrophe it has been. 

Since the latest Clock resetting in January, Russia’s leaders have repeatedly issued charges against the US and “the collective West” for raising the risks of war. Moscow has also reiterated its willingness to engage in a preemptive strike that may include the use of nuclear weapons. It is quite likely that the next reset of the clock will see the world even closer to midnight and Armageddon. 

The Future of Life video, based on detailed modelling of nuclear targets, missile trajectories, and the effects of blasts, electromagnetic pulse and smoke on the climate and food resources, provides a much more graphic and terrifying depiction of what a nuclear war will bring to life as we know it in a way that text reports cannot. 

Although the simulation is done for the northern hemisphere, the presentation ends with the estimate that over 5 billion people could starve to death including 99 per cent of those in the US, Europe, Russia and China. ASEAN casualties have not been estimated and it is possible that countries in the equatorial region, away from the epicentre of the nuclear blasts and fallout, will suffer lower levels of immediate death.  However, any lower casualty estimate is really no consolation. 

What about the fate of other countries in the region and the latest aspirant, by proxy, of the nuclear club – Australia? 

Australian casualties were not calculated in the Future of Life presentation. But, according to Dr Ryan Heneghan of Queensland University of Technology’s School of Mathematical Sciences, Australia and New Zealand would be the best places in the world to survive a nuclear war. In his paper published in Nature Food in 2022, which examined various nuclear winter scenarios, Australia would be one of the few places where people stay fed after a ‘nuclear winter’ caused by regional nuclear wars. 

His finding perhaps may have influenced defence and national security policymakers and the government in Australia which made the recent decision to conclude an unprecedented trilateral security pact with the US and UK directed at China and the Indo-Pacific region – a pact described by former Prime Minister, Paul Keating as the “worst deal in all history”.  

Since Dr Heneghan and his fellow scientists worked on the paper, the prospect of Australia being directly involved in a nuclear war has become a distinct possibility. With Australia gearing up for a possible war with China and with AUKUS submarines soon prowling around the South China Sea surrounding China and Taiwan, an update on the paper would be of interest and importance to ASEAN countries left out of the Australian-US-UK security intelligence loop on the AUKUS pact. 

ASEAN will certainly be impacted by the spread of nuclear winter as well as the other ripple effects on the economy, agriculture, trade, and practically every aspect of life in the region.     

Dr Heneghen’s food simulation-focused paper does not touch on the life and world that survivors of a nuclear war will have to cope with. Any limited nuclear war – even a regional one in any part of the world – can escalate into a worldwide one with such dire consequences that those who have survived its initial impact will perhaps not consider themselves as the fortunate ones. 

In addition to the need for food, survivors face challenges in all aspects of life. The damage from a nuclear war to cities where populations are concentrated, and the destruction and disruption of critical utilities, services and industries have all not been examined or brought prominently into public knowledge and consciousness.

War game scenarios involving the West and Russia and China and nuclear missile strikes have recently been openly played out, including by the media. But the repercussions and impacts – short and long term – have received minimal attention. In fact, the post-war scenarios – following a nuclear war – developed by the US and Western countries appear to have been deliberately kept out of public sight.

What are the physical and biological aspects and implications of nuclear war? How will survivors cope with the health and other medical effects of radiation? What are the direct and indirect impacts on various socio-economic sectors? How do governments and society reorganise themselves? How will social order and human behaviour, most probably altered, look like? 

These and more questions need to be asked even though there may not be answers to them. 

Australia’s media sees itself as the ‘defenders of democracy, freedom and rules-based order’ for the Indo-Pacific region. Its leading newspapers which state that its core mission “is to break news and shape news” and which recently provided the Australian public and political leaders with the “Red Alert” series urging Australia to prepare for war with China, should use its clout and space to begin asking these questions so as to alert and inform Australians on how to deal with nuclear war in the southern neighbourhood.   

Meanwhile, ASEAN’s media should provide reporting on the developments relating to the AUKUS pact and other militarization moves in the region so that citizens are made aware of the imminent risk of nuclear war and its consequences. 

Lim Teck Ghee

Lim Teck Ghee PhD is a Malaysian economic historian, policy analyst and public intellectual whose career has straddled academia, civil society organisations and international development agencies. He has a regular column, Another Take, in The Sun, a Malaysian daily; and is author of Challenging the Status Quo in Malaysia.

One thought on “How Will ASEAN And Australia Fare In A Nuclear War? – OpEd

  • July 7, 2023 at 3:41 am

    I suspect the effects of radiation from the original blast and immediate fallout, will hardly be noticeable after the kilotons? megatons? of soot and dust from firestorms are introduced into the stratosphere spreads worldwide and nuclear winter sets in for years. While the soot and dust are falling out the CO2 released by the blasts will overtake the effects of nuclear winter and push most everything past their tipping points. This will lead to further CO2 releases and an increase in several degrees in average world temperature and the loss of all land animal life ~5 kg+. After a few millennia the CO2 will brought to normal ranges and the Milankovitch Cycles will again dominate earth’s temperature.


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