Reading Room

Doomsday Clock Remains at 3 Minutes to Midnight

Wednesday, January 27, 2015
Posted by Joseph Rodgers

The Doomsday Clock is a symbolic representation of how close humanity is to global catastrophe. Since 1947, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has changed the time displayed on the clock’s face to reflect annual modifications to the continuous dangers that humanity is faced with. The clock reflects the world’s two largest existential threats: climate change and nuclear weapons.

On the 22nd of January, 2016 the Bulletin decided to leave the clock at three minutes to midnight. While the Bulletin leaders applaud the Iran Deal and the Paris Agreements, they believe that these diplomatic achievements were not enough.

2015 was filled with chilling rhetoric from world leaders considering the use of nuclear weapons, dangerous developments in the North Korean, Indian, Chinese and Pakistani nuclear arsenals, increased spending on Russian and American nuclear weapon modernization programs, and a lack of viable storage options for nuclear waste. The Bulletin report continues the list, noting that Turkey shooting down Russian warplanes, the ongoing conflict in Syria, and the South China Sea all present significant geopolitical threats that place the world at risk.

On top of the Bulletin’s list I would add that with the alleged violations of the intermediate range nuclear forces treaty and congress voting to withhold funds for New START, the likelihood of a new strategic arms reduction agreement in the next few years is diminishing.

But the Doomsday Clock Statement is not all entirely gloomy. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board pushes on citizens to demand that world leaders engage North Korea in serious talks to reduce the risk of nuclear war, reduce the amount of money being spent on nuclear weapons modernization, revitalize the American and Russian nuclear dismantlement process, and fulfil the Paris Agreement pledges. The statement aptly notes that “the maintenance of peace requires that nuclear rhetoric and actions be tamped down.”

The Iran Agreement dismantled Iran’s plutonium enrichment facility at Arak, substantially reduced the number and types of uranium centrifuges Iran is able to maintain, reduced the stockpile of high enriched uranium that Iran can store and implemented what President Barack Obama called the “most comprehensive inspection and verification regime ever negotiated to monitor a nuclear program.” Most importantly, all of this was accomplished without the use of military force.

In 2015 the international community also took a substantial step to confront global warming. Last month 196 countries signed a climate agreement in Paris voluntarily pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The agreement boldly attempts to stop global warming well below an increase of 2 degrees celsius. However, the agreement lacks any enforcement mechanism. Countries must meet their commitments on good faith. With the fate of the world on the line, the Paris agreement will be a dangerous experiment in international politics.

There are currently thousands of nuclear weapons posed on high alert. It would take less than thirty stunned, horrifying minutes for Russian or American nuclear weapons to target each others’ assets. The Bulletin’s decision to keep the clock at 11:57 accurately represents humanities proximity to unparalleled catastrophe.