Braden: Doomsday Clock Ticks 30 Seconds Down to Nuclear War


By Paul Braden

Measures that increase national defense capabilities have evolved in both strength and scale since the birth of borders and the wars that aim to maintain them. The power of a country’s people has historically been gauged by the size of its army or the capacity of its naval fleet. This once-pragmatic line of thinking inspired the invention of bigger, faster and stronger methods of defense and destruction among nations with the financial luxury to fund the necessary research. The resulting race among rival countries came to an abrupt halt with the nuclear weapon discovery and the eventual Cold War. Luckily, the threat of a global, nuclear apocalypse proved to be a sufficient incentive to not push the button on either side during that uncertain time.

Because of the unavoidable stalemate and the potential for indiscriminate destruction, nuclear standoffs of the past should be regarded as important lessons for the human race and motivation to halt future production. In an attempt to acknowledge the transgressions of the past and avoid repetition, many countries with nuclear weapons have opted to sign a recent United Nations treaty affirming their immediate efforts to dispose of existing stockpiles and guarantee the termination of nuclear development, testing and production. Of the 122 countries that signed, the United States was not one. In fact, most nuclear-armed states declined to vote on the treaty, claiming that they do not intend to “sign, ratify or ever become party to it.”

This refusal to cooperate with the U.N.’s terms should come as no surprise. Countries holding current stockpiles of nuclear weapons display an uncooperative attitude towards dismantling warhead programs, largely because ownership entitles them to a sense of security not provided by any other means. Keeping enemies at bay requires only that you have weaponry, even if you are hesitant about using it. A power play among those who hold the cards is ineffective, but tremendously potent against those who don’t.

Activists realize how lofty an appeal to a complete disarmament might be and have taken steps to educate the public on the real dangers of nuclear threats.

One especially convincing application of this effort is the Doomsday Clock. Created by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a group of accomplished scientists, policymakers and security experts responsible for changing the clock in 1947, the Doomsday Clock represents the likelihood of nuclear war, with every move of the minute hand towards midnight symbolizing increasing levels of nuclear war probability. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists come together once a year to discuss what they perceive to be the emerging dangers to humanity. While imminence of nuclear war continues to be the largest determinate in changing the time, recently other threats have been added to the list, climate change being the most prominent.

While many Americans might scoff at a contemporary foreboding of a nuclear crisis, 2017 has already proven to concern theorganization charged with making these predictions. In January of 2017, the clock was moved to two and a half minutes from midnight. This move forward from 11:57 p.m. signals an alarming prediction for humanity’s future — surpassed only by the Bulletin’s assessment in 1953 following hydrogen bomb testing.

Members of the Bulletin expressed their interpretation of some declarations made by the newly elected president of the U.S. as being cause for the drastic move of the clock. Along with his denial of climate change and rejections to implement corrective policies, President Donald Trump’s reckless attitude towards and seemingly misguided understanding of nuclear weapons, along with his “cavalier” demeanor towards the topic, have made many panel experts understandably uneasy.

Laurence Krauss, physicist and chair member of the Bulletin, commented during the unveiling of this year’s prediction that the Doomsday Clock offers the scientific community the opportunity to reach out to people on a global level to help them understand potential threats and urge them to vote for policies that address them.

“Facts are stubborn things,” Krauss said, “and they must be taken into account if the future of humanity is to be preserved.”

We might not be able to convince the world that individual disarmament is the best route forward, but we can’t deny the need for better global policies concerning these weapons.

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