By Ira Helfand
This Thursday, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists will update their famous Doomsday Clock. Since 1947 the Bulletin has used the clock to illustrate the severity of the threat of nuclear war. During the worst years of the Cold War in the early 1980’s, the clock stood at 3 minutes to midnight. When the Cold War ended the clock was set back to 17 minutes to midnight. Despite the widespread inattention to the ongoing threat of nuclear war, the experts at the Bulletin feel the danger has grown substantially since that hopeful moment and the clock now stands at 5 minutes to midnight.
A war involving the current nuclear forces of the US and Russia would kill hundreds of millions of people in the first 30 minutes and cause a full blown nuclear winter. The soot from the fires started by more than a thousand nuclear explosions would blot out the sun dropping temperatures around the globe to Ice Age levels. Ecosystems would collapse, food production would plummet, and the vast majority of the human race would starve.
But even a much smaller war would have catastrophic global consequences, and the possibility of limited nuclear war also grew this past year. There was a significant increase in fighting between India and Pakistan along their tense border in Kashmir. A war between India and Pakistan, involving just 100 small nuclear weapons, would not cause a full nuclear winter, but it would disrupt climate and food production enough to put 2 billion people across the globe at risk of starvation.
Incredibly, In the face of these terrible threats, the nuclear weapons states are all planning major upgrades of their nuclear forces. Here in the US the administration is considering a modernization plan that will cost over 300 billion dollars in the next 10 years, and nearly a trillion dollars over the next three decades.
In the realm of civil society, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons now involves more than 350 organizations around the world working to ban nuclear weapons.
Whatever the Bulletin decides to do about the time on the Doomsday Clock, we are clearly much too close to midnight.
For decades the nuclear weapons states have said that they are wise enough, and their technology perfect enough, for us to trust them with weapons that can destroy the world. When we say that they are wrong we are only stating the obvious: no human is wise enough, no human technology perfect enough to hold this power. The time has come to eliminate these weapons once and for all.