WASHINGTON, D.C. (IDN-INPS) – Citing growing nuclear risks and unchecked climate dangers, the iconic Doomsday Clock is now 30 seconds closer to midnight, the closest to the symbolic point of annihilation that the Clock has been since 1953 at the height of the Cold War.
The decision announced on January 25 to move the Doomsday Clock to two minutes before midnight was made by the 'Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists' Science and Security Board in consultation with the Board of Sponsors, which includes 15 Nobel Laureates.
The statement explaining the resetting of the time of the Doomsday Clock notes: "In 2017, world leaders failed to respond effectively to the looming threats of nuclear war and climate change, making the world security situation more dangerous than it was a year ago – and as dangerous as it has been since World War II."
The greatest risks last year arose in the nuclear realm, according to the statement. "North Korea's nuclear weapons program appeared to make remarkable progress in 2017, increasing risks for itself, other countries in the region, and the United States. Hyperbolic rhetoric and provocative actions on both sides have increased the possibility of nuclear war by accident or miscalculation …."
On the climate change front, adds the statement, the danger may seem less immediate, but avoiding catastrophic temperature increases in the long run requires urgent attention now …."
The statement warns: "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."
Fueling concerns about the potential of a nuclear holocaust are a range of U.S.-Russian military entanglements, South China Sea tensions, escalating rhetoric between Pakistan and India, and uncertainty about continued U.S. support for the Iran nuclear deal. Contributing to the risks of nuclear and non-nuclear clashes around the globe are the rise of nation-state information technology and internet-based campaigns attacking infrastructure and free elections, according to the statement.
Also highlighted as an overarching global concern: 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."
In January 2017, the Doomsday Clock’s minute hand edged forward by 30 seconds, to two and half minutes before midnight. For the first time, the Doomsday Clock was influenced by statements from an incoming U.S. President, Donald Trump, regarding the proliferation and the prospect of actually using nuclear weapons, as well as statements made in opposition to U.S. commitments regarding climate change.
Rachel Bronson, president and CEO, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, said: "Because of the extraordinary danger of the current moment, the Science and Security Board today moves the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock 30 seconds closer to catastrophe. It is now two minutes to midnight – the closest the Clock has ever been to Doomsday, and as close as it was in 1953, at the height of the Cold War.”"
Lawrence Krauss, director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University, Foundation Professor at School of Earth and Space Exploration and Physics Department, Arizona State University, and chair, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Board of Sponsors, said: "The current, extremely dangerous state of world affairs need not be permanent. The means for managing dangerous technology and reducing global-scale risk exist; indeed, many of them are well-known and within society’s reach, if leaders pay reasonable attention to preserving the long-term prospects of humanity, and if citizens demand that they do so."
Krauss added: "This is a dangerous time, but the danger is of our own making. Humankind has invented the implements of apocalypse; so can it invent the methods of controlling and eventually eliminating them. This year, leaders and citizens of the world can move the Doomsday Clock and the world away from the metaphorical midnight of global catastrophe by taking common-sense action.”"
Robert Rosner, William E. Wrather Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics and Physics at the University of Chicago, and chair, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board, expressed the hope that "this resetting of the Clock will be interpreted exactly as it is meant – as an urgent warning of global danger."
They added: "The time for world leaders to address looming nuclear danger and the continuing march of climate change is long past. The time for the citizens of the world to demand such action is now: #RewindtheDoomsdayClock."
Sharon Squassoni, research professor of practice at the Institute for International Science and Technology Policy, Elliott School of International Affairs, The George Washington University, and Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board, said: "In the past year, U.S. allies have needed reassurance about American intentions more than ever.
"Instead, they have been forced to negotiate a thicket of conflicting policy statements from a U.S. administration weakened in its cadre of foreign policy professionals, suffering from turnover in senior leadership, led by an undisciplined and disruptive president, and unable to develop, coordinate, and clearly communicate a coherent nuclear policy.
"This inconsistency constitutes a major challenge for deterrence, alliance management, and global stability. It has made the existing nuclear risks greater than necessary and added to their complexity."
Sivan Kartha, senior scientist at the Stockholm Environmental Institute and co-leader of SEI’s Gender and Social Equity Program, and Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board, said: "2017 just clocked in as the hottest year on record that wasn't boosted by an El Nino. And that matches what we’ve witnessed on the ground: the Caribbean suffered a season of historic damage from exceedingly powerful hurricanes, extreme heat waves struck across the globe, the Arctic ice cap hit its lowest winter peak on record, and the U.S. suffered devastating wildfires.
"And while this was happening, the Trump administration dutifully carried through on the campaign promise of derailing U.S. climate policy, putting avowed climate denialists in top cabinet positions, and announcing plans to withdraw from the Paris climate Agreement. Thankfully, this didn’t cause global cooperation to unravel, and other countries have reaffirmed their commitment to take action against climate change."
#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. Climate change is a real and serious threat to humanity.
- 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.
The original statement is available at https://thebulletin.org/press-release-it-now-2-minutes-midnight [IDN-InDepthNews - 25 January 2018]
Image credit: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
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