Worst Doomsday Clock since the Cold War

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Doomsday Clock Moving Forward

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Today, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ “doomsday clock” moved 30 seconds forward to 2 and a half minutes to midnight. The closer the minute hand gets to midnight, the closer the bulletin predicts humankind is to destroying itself. The symbolic clock was created in 1947 when Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer (the father of the U.S. nuclear program) founded the publication.

The following experts from the Center for International Security and Cooperation and the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies offered these perspectives:

William J. Perry, a former U.S. Secretary of Defense and senior fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC), said: “Last year the Doomsday clock was set at 3 minutes to midnight, the closest it has been to global ‘midnight’ since the iciest days of the Cold War. This ominous pronouncement reflected my own fears that we were now in greater danger of nuclear catastrophe than we were during the Cold War, with the growing threat of nuclear terrorism, the continued risk of accidents and miscalculation, and the possibility of regional nuclear war and continued nuclear proliferation around the world.”

He added, “Today the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists announced that we have moved closer to global catastrophe, for the first time setting the clock 30 seconds ahead to 2 and a half minutes to midnight, approaching a time not seen since the United States and Soviet Russia first developed the H-bomb. We must heed this dire warning as a call to action. There are concrete steps that we can take to reduce the risk of nuclear annihilation, but we must start today.”

Siegfried Hecker, the former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory and senior fellow at CISAC, said, “The bulletin’s keepers of the clock made the correct call to move the clock 30 seconds closer to midnight. The disregard for fact-based analysis of issues such as global climate change during the recent presidential campaign is truly alarming. However, my immediate concerns focus on the world having become a more dangerous nuclear place.”

He said, “Developments in North Korea top the list: 2016 was a very bad year as Pyongyang greatly expanded its nuclear complex to increase the size of its arsenal to perhaps as many as 20 to 25 weapons, conducted two more nuclear tests to enhance the sophistication of its weapons, and launched two dozen missile tests. All of this while Washington cut all communications with a regime about which we know so little, while continuing the failed policies of sanctions and leaning on China to solve the problem.”

“Confrontation,” Hecker said, “has replaced cooperation between Russia and the United States. For the first time since the end of the Cold War the specter of a nuclear arms race was raised in 2016. President Putin put the finishing touches on suspending or terminating most of the cooperative nuclear threat reduction programs with the United States. Nuclear safety and security concerns appear to have taken a back seat to nuclear saber rattling and cyber attacks.”

He noted, “Tensions between China and the United States have increased substantially over Beijing’s more muscular role in international affairs, particularly with its actions in the South China Sea. Moreover, tensions over Taiwan prompted by President Trump’s comments about the One-China policy renew the possibility of conflict.”

“South Asia has inched closer to potential nuclear confrontation between India and Pakistan. India’s expanding economy and its concerns about Chinese military expansion has prompted it to strengthening its nuclear arsenal by moving toward a full triad – land, air and sea-based nuclear weapons. Pakistan, its much smaller and weaker neighbor, feels increasingly threatened by India’s expanding military. It has moved to what is called a posture of full-spectrum nuclear deterrence, which includes very dangerous tactical battlefield nuclear weapons that lower the nuclear threshold,” Hecker said.

“Preventing and responding to potential acts of nuclear terrorism require close international cooperation. Unfortunately, all signs point in the opposite direction at a time when the atrocities perpetrated by terrorists are increasing. Greatest among these pullbacks was President Putin’s decision not to participate in the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit held in Washington, DC. With President Obama’s tenure having ended, this very effective collaborative international effort is now in limbo,” he said.


Clifton B. Parker, Center for International Security and Cooperation: (650) 725-6488, [email protected]

Chaney Kourouniotis, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Relations: (6650) 724-9842, [email protected]

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