South Asia's nuclear crisis begins to look like a parody of the four decades of Soviet-American nuclear standoff.
One hears no nostalgic language like "mutual deterrent," "scorpions in the bottle," "testing moratorium," and the stability of nuclear standoff. By loose analogy, if the Soviet-American deadlock survived the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, then maybe an Indian-Pakistani stalemate can survive the bitter contest over Kashmir.
Unfortunately, the parallel doesn't work.
The South Asia crisis lacks the principle elements that made superpower stalemate feasible.
There was, first of all, geography - two countries, half a world apart, with elaborate radar systems, allowing a half-hour for retaliatory launch on warning. In the case of contiguous India and Pakistan, the margin is reduced to three minutes or less.
Furthermore, India and Pakistan lack the infrastructure of controls, the double keys, the elaborate procedure for ensuring against unintended or trigger-happy launch. There are hotlines between New Delhi and Islamabad, installed on American urging in 1990 after one of the recurrent Kashmir crises, but as far as is known, they have yet to be used.
During most of the cold war, nuclear holocaust never seemed more than a remote possibility. In South Asia, we start with a situation that looks inherently unstable and may grow more so.
On the day before its first explosion, according to The Washington Times, Pakistan advised the United States and the United Nations that it expected an attack at dawn by Israeli and Indian warplanes operating from India. Pakistan declared a state of emergency.
Where that report came from, whether inspired by memory of the Israeli attack on the Baghdad nuclear reactor in 1981, or whether simply a hoax, is hard to guess. But it suggests the heated atmosphere in which South Asia enters the nuclear age.
There is no easy way to bring India and Pakistan back from the brink. Sanctions, especially unilateral sanctions, are not likely to have much effect.
A stern declaration from the five nuclear powers in Geneva doesn't promise much.
What might have some effect would be for the major powers to guarantee the security of both countries against attack.
But an American diplomat who's working on the problem says, "With this Congress? Not a chance."
* Daniel Schorr is senior news analyst at National Public Radio.