SYDNEY - At the most recent annual Doomsday Clock press-conference, held in Washington, the Nobel-prize-winner-heavy advisers of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, itself founded by Einstein and Oppenhiemer in the 1940s, revealed that it had been decided to keep the hands of its iconic and symbolic 'Doomsday Clock' at three minutes to midnight. This is bad news for civilisation and humans as a species.
The 'Doomsday Clock' has been used since 1947 as a symbol of the closeness or otherwise of civilisation to self-destruction. It has been at three minutes to midnight only during the most terrifying parts of the cold – war, notably in 1983, a year in which the world nearly ended not once but twice, on September 26, 1983 when Colonel Stanislav Petrov saved the world from destruction amid wailing sirens at Serpukhov-15, and a month later in the more prolonged Able Archer crisis bought about by U.S. and NATO nuclear exercises which were thought by the Soviet leadership to be a cover for a first – strike against the USSR.
Former U.S. secretary of defence Bill Perry, at the Doomsday clock press conference, repeatedly stated that in his view, the current situation is actually more dangerous than it was in 1983. This is extraordinary and frightening.
The only reasons, it seems, that the clock was not advanced to, say, two-and-a-half minutes to midnight was because of the 'relative bright spots' of the Paris agreement on Climate Change, and the Iran nuclear deal.
PND has suggested that two-and-a-half minutes to midnight might have been an appropriate move for the Doomsday Clock hands. However, the ONLY time the Doomsday Clock-hands have been closer than three minutes to midnight was in 1953, in the immediate wake of the first H-Bomb tests.
However, in the Doomsday Clock sponsors own words:
“Three minutes is too close. Far too close. We, the members of the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, want to be clear about our decision not to move the hands of the Doomsday Clock in 2016: That decision is not good news, but an expression of dismay that world leaders continue to fail to focus their efforts and the world’s attention on reducing the extreme danger posed by nuclear weapons and climate change. When we call these dangers existential, that is exactly what we mean: They threaten the very existence of civilization and therefore should be the first order of business for leaders who care about their constituents and their countries.”
And they concluded: “Last year, the Science and Security Board moved the Doomsday Clock forward to three minutes to midnight, noting: 'The probability of global catastrophe is very high, and the actions needed to reduce the risks of disaster must be taken very soon.' That probability has not been reduced. The Clock ticks. Global danger looms. Wise leaders should act – immediately.”
In the meantime, a new study conducted and released January 26 by the British-American Security Council (BASIC) has concluded, with other similar studies, that a new generation has grown up since the Cold War, 'blissfully unaware' of the dangers posed by nuclear weapons. Their minds, unlike those of us who were young in the '80s and who demonstrated in our hundreds of thousands against nuclear weapons, could not be further from the grave warnings of the Doomsday Clock.
According to Tariq Rauf of SIPRI: “This new generation is blissfully unaware and thus unconcerned about nuclear weapon arsenals – as nuclear weapons have no relevance to their make-believe worlds of Twitter or Facebook – but they will be in for a rude awakening, should unfortunately, a nuclear detonation occur whether by accident or by non-State actor actions .”
It is clear from the warnings of the scientific and research community that nuclear weapons continue to pose the single most urgent threat to civilisation and to humans as a species. Nuclear war is far from a forgotten apocalypse: It can happen now or yesterday, and the risks of it doing so are as great as they have ever been. Yet one of the deepest concerns of the Doomsday Clock sponsors is the complete absence of the subject of nuclear weapons and nuclear disarmament from political debate, particularly in the U.S.
The governments of the world must therefore regard the elimination of nuclear weapons as per the oft-repeated requirements of article VI of the NPT as a security priority of absolutely existential importance. The continued existence of civilisation and humans as a species depends on it.
*John Hallam is a United Nations Nuclear Disarmament Campaigner at the People for Nuclear Disarmament (PND) NSW, Australia. [International Press Syndicate – 28 January 2016]
Photo: Castle Romeo Nuclear Test | Credit: PND