Tick, tock: Doomsday Clock moves closer to midnight

January 26, 2018

Citing growing nuclear risks and unchecked climate dangers, the iconic Doomsday Clock has now been moved 30 seconds closer to midnight—that  is, to  two and one-half minutes before midnight—the closest to the symbolic point of annihilation that the clock has been since 1953 at the height of the Cold War, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board announced on January 25.

The decision to move the second hand was made after polling the bulletin’s Board of Scientists, which includes 15 Nobel Laureates.

The bulletin was created in 1945 by Manhattan Project scientists who “could not remain aloof to the consequences of their work”—the atomic bomb.

In announcing the decision, board CEO Rachel Bronson stated, “The year just past proved perilous and chaotic, a year in which many of the risks foreshadowed in our last clock statement came into full relief. In 2017, we saw reckless language in the nuclear realm heat up already dangerous situations and re-learned that minimizing evidence-based assessments regarding climate and other global challenges does not lead to better public policies.”

The greatest risk of the year was identified as North Korea’s nuclear program—and the response to it by President Donald Trump of the United States. The group stated, “North Korea’s nuclear weapons program made remarkable progress in 2017, increasing risks to North Korea, itself; other countries in the region and the United States. Hyperbolic rhetoric and provocative actions by both sides have increased the possibility of nuclear war by accident or miscalculation.

Indeed, the scientists highlighted the danger that President Donald Trump represents to the rest of the world, saying “The decline of U.S. leadership and a related demise of diplomacy under the Trump Administration. “… [T]here has also been a breakdown in the international order that has been dangerously exacerbated by recent U.S. actions. In 2017, the United States backed away from its longstanding leadership role in the world, reducing its commitment to seek common ground and undermining the overall effort toward solving pressing global governance challenges. Neither allies nor adversaries have been able to reliably predict U.S. actions or understand when U.S. pronouncements are real, and when they are mere rhetoric. International diplomacy has been reduced to name-calling, giving it a surrealistic sense of unreality that makes the world security situation ever more threatening

On the climate change front, the scientists said, the danger may seem less immediate, “but avoiding catastrophic temperature increases in the long run requires urgent attention now …. The nations of the world will have to significantly decrease their greenhouse gas emissions to keep climate risks manageable, and so far, the global response has fallen far short of meeting this challenge.”

How can this situation be addressed? #RewindtheDoomsdayClock is a major message of the 2018 statement, with the following action steps among those recommended:

  • U.S. President Donald Trump should refrain from provocative rhetoric regarding North Korea, recognizing the impossibility of predicting North Korean reactions. The U.S. and North Korean governments should open multiple channels of communication.
  • The world community should pursue, as a short-term goal, the cessation of North Korea’s nuclear weapon and ballistic missile tests. North Korea is the only country to violate the norm against nuclear testing in 20 years.
  • The Trump administration should abide by the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action for Iran’s nuclear program, unless credible evidence emerges that Iran is not complying with the agreement or Iran agrees to an alternative approach that meets U.S. national security needs.
  • The United States and Russia should discuss and adopt measures to prevent peacetime military incidents along the borders of NATO.
  • U.S. and Russian leaders should return to the negotiating table to resolve differences over the INF treaty, to seek further reductions in nuclear arms, to discuss a lowering of the alert status of the nuclear arsenals of both countries, to limit nuclear modernization programs that threaten to create a new nuclear arms race; and to ensure that new tactical or low-yield nuclear weapons are not built, and existing tactical weapons are never used on the battlefield.
  • U.S. citizens should demand, in all legal ways, climate action from their government.
  • Governments around the world should redouble their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions so they go well beyond the initial, inadequate pledges under the Paris Agreement.
  • The international community should establish new protocols to discourage and penalize the misuse of information technology to undermine public trust in political institutions, in the media, in science, and in the existence of objective reality itself.

Research contact: pmitchell@hastingsgroup.com

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