Doomsday Clock stays at 100 seconds to midnight, says Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

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Doomsday Clock stays at 100 seconds to midnight, says Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

NEW DELHI: The influential Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS) on Thursday retained its “Doomsday Clock” at 100 seconds to midnight, pointing to the continuing and dangerous threats posed by nuclear weapons, climate change, disruptive technologies and Covid-19.

BAS said leaders across the world “must immediately commit themselves to renewed cooperation in the many ways and venues available for reducing existential risk”.

It added: “Citizens of the world can and should organise to demand that their leaders do so – and quickly. The doorstep of doom is no place to loiter.”

BAS was founded in 1945 by Albert Einstein, J Robert Oppenheimer, Eugene Rabinowitch and scientists from the University of Chicago who helped develop the first atomic weapons, and the organisation created the Doomsday Clock two years later. According to the organisation’s website, the clock uses the “imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero) to convey threats to humanity”.

Every year, BAS’s Science and Security Board, in consultation with its board of sponsors that includes 11 Nobel laureates, makes the decision to move, or to leave in place, the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock. BAS has reset the minute hand on the Doomsday Clock 24 times since its debut in 1947.

The last movement was in 2020, when the minute hand was moved from two minutes to midnight to 100 seconds from midnight because of an “unprecedentedly high risk” of a nuclear exchange. This brought the minute hand closer to midnight than ever in the Doomsday Clock’s history.

BAS said factors such as nuclear weapons, climate change, disruptive technologies and the pandemic were exacerbated by “a corrupted information ecosphere that undermines rational decision making”.

Rachel Bronson, president and CEO of BAS, said: “The Doomsday Clock continues to hover dangerously, reminding us about how much work is needed to be done to ensure a safer and healthier planet. We must continue to push the hands of the clock away from midnight.”

Sharon Squassoni, co-chair of the Science and Security Board of BAS, said: “One hundred seconds to midnight reflects the board’s judgment that we are stuck in a perilous moment – one that brings neither stability nor security. Positive developments in 2021 failed to counteract negative, long-term trends.”

BAS said the leadership change in the US last year had provided hope that “what seemed like a global race toward catastrophe might be halted and – with renewed US engagement – even reversed”. The Biden administration changed policies in some ways that made the world safer, such as agreeing to an extension of the New START arms control agreement and beginning strategic stability talks with Russia, announcing the US would seek to return to the Iran nuclear deal, and rejoining the Paris climate accord.

Science and evidence also returned to US policy-making, especially regarding the pandemic, but these changes were not enough to reverse negative international security trends, the organisation said.

US relations with Russia and China remain tense and all three countries are engaged in nuclear modernisation and expansion efforts, including Beijing’s large-scale programme to increase its deployment of silo-based long-range nuclear missiles. “If not restrained, these efforts could mark the start of a dangerous new nuclear arms race,” BAS said.

“Ukraine remains a potential flashpoint, and Russian troop deployments to the Ukrainian border heighten day-to-day tensions,” it noted.

BAS listed steps that should be taken to address current threats and to reverse the hands of the Doomsday Clock.

It said the Russian and US presidents should identify “more ambitious and comprehensive limits on nuclear weapons and delivery systems by the end of 2022”, and agree to “reduce reliance on nuclear weapons by limiting their roles, missions and platforms”.

The US should persuade allies and rivals that no-first-use of nuclear weapons is a step toward security and stability, and then declare such a policy in concert with Russia and China.

The US and other countries should accelerate decarbonisation, and China should set an example by pursuing sustainable development pathways in the One Belt One Road initiative. The US and other leaders should work through World Health Organisation (WHO) and other international institutions to reduce biological risks of all kinds through better monitoring of animal-human interactions, improvements in international disease surveillance and reporting, increased production and distribution of medical supplies, and expanded hospital capacity, it added.

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