This morning at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists held its annual unveiling of the famed Doomsday Clock, which has, since its inception in 1947, served as a warning to the world about the perilous state we all live in thanks to the creation and deployment of nuclear weapons. In the years since its foundation, the Bulletin has also sounded the alarm over the climate crisis and the grave threat to global stability that is posed by cyber warfare.
It’s been 30 years since the end of the Cold War, when, at its peak, the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics together possessed roughly 70,000 nuclear weapons.
But are we safer now than we were then? The answer, according to the Bulletin, is a resounding “no.”
Reflecting the heedlessness with which the current administration has treated the global arms control and nuclear non-proliferation regimes, the Doomsday Clock, as of today, is now closer to midnight than at any time since its creation: We are now 100 seconds away.
According to the Bulletin, the “international security situation is dire” owing to the threats posed by nuclear weapons, climate change, and what it refers to as “cyber based disinformation,” which acts as a kind of “threat multiplier” that hamstrings society’s ability to respond effectively to the existential challenges we face as a global community.
Still worse, “over the last two years, we have seen influential leaders denigrate and discard the most effective methods for addressing these complex threats—international agreements with strong verification regimes—in favor of their own narrow interests and domestic political gain.”
To drive home the gravity of the situation in which we now find ourselves, members of the Bulletin and its executive board, which is chaired by former California governor Jerry Brown, were joined by the Elders, a group of high-ranking former statesmen founded by Nelson Mandela in 2007 to promote human rights around the world.
The Elders’ chairwoman, Mary Robinson, a former president of Ireland, expressed her organization’s view that the strengthening of the nuclear non-proliferation regime “must begin with the United States and the Russian Federation in negotiating the extension of New START—the only remaining bilateral nuclear agreement between those two nuclear superpowers—without delay.” Putin, according to Robinson, has expressed his desire to do so and it is her hope that President Trump “respond in kind so both men can get down to business.”
Robinson urged both men to recall that their respective predecessors, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, believed that “a nuclear war can never be won and should never be fought.”
The Bulletin has identified a number of steps that countries—particularly the United States, given that in the years since Trump took office we have become an egregious violator of international agreements and norms—should take in order to stall the Clock’s seemingly inexorable slide toward Doomsday.
First, the United States and Russia should work to reinstate the landmark 1987 INF Treaty, as well as work to extend the New START treaty which is set to expire a year from now. These are particularly urgent priorities given, as Jerry Brown has noted, “rivalry and hostility among the superpowers increases the likelihood of nuclear blunder.”
The Bulletin further urges the United States and Russia to begin without delay talks over a range of non-nuclear issues including cyber warfare, missile defense, hypersonic technology, and the militarization of space.
The Bulletin continues to ring the alarm with regard to climate change, and urges the countries of the world to “rededicate themselves to the temperature goal of the Paris climate accord.”
“Speaking of danger and destruction is never very easy, because if you speak the truth, people will not want to listen because it’s too awful,” Jerry Brown said at the Bulletin press conference this morning. But to be what Brown calls “a prophet of doom” today, when, in his words, “we live in a world of vast, deep and pervasive mass complacency,” is now more necessary than ever.