Five Minutes to Midnight

… and Cinderella is near catastrophe.

5 Minutes to Midnight

Board Statement – Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

01/17/07 “BAS” — — We stand at the brink of a second nuclear age. Not since the first atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki has the world faced such perilous choices. North Korea’s recent test of a nuclear weapon, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, a renewed U.S. emphasis on the military utility of nuclear weapons, the failure to adequately secure nuclear materials, and the continued presence of some 26,000 nuclear weapons in the United States and Russia are symptomatic of a larger failure to solve the problems posed by the most destructive technology on Earth.

As in past deliberations, we have examined other human-made threats to civilization. We have concluded that the dangers posed by climate change are nearly as dire as those posed by nuclear weapons. The effects may be less dramatic in the short term than the destruction that could be wrought by nuclear explosions, but over the next three to four decades climate change could cause drastic harm to the habitats upon which human societies depend for survival.

This deteriorating state of global affairs leads the Board of Directors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists–in consultation with a Board of Sponsors that includes 18 Nobel laureates–to move the minute hand of the “Doomsday Clock” from seven to five minutes to midnight.

Nuclear weapons present the most grave challenge to humanity, enabling genocide with the press of a button. In 1945, scientists warned the world about the nearly unimaginable destructive power of the atomic bombs they had created. As Eugene Rabinowitch, one of the cofounders of the Bulletin, wrote, “The Bulletin’s Clock is not a gauge to register the ups and downs of the international power struggle; it is intended to reflect basic changes in the level of continuous danger in which mankind lives in the nuclear age, and will continue living, until society adjusts its basic attitudes and institutions.” As inheritors and trustees of the Clock, we seek to warn the world that this level of danger has escalated precipitously.

The second nuclear era, unlike the dawn of the first nuclear age in 1945, is characterized by a world of porous national borders, rapid communications that facilitate the spread of technical knowledge, and expanded commerce in potentially dangerous dual-use technologies and materials. The Pakistan-based network that provided nuclear technologies to Libya, North Korea, and Iran is an example of the new challenges confronting the international community.

The current period of globalization coincides with an erosion of the global agreements and norms that have constrained the spread of nuclear weapons since 1970 when the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) came into force. The NPT provided standards, set up protocols for inspections and regulation through the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and held out a promise of disarmament by the nuclear powers in exchange for restraint by those countries that did not have nuclear weapons. Compliance has always been voluntary, and until the last five years, nearly all governments felt that their interests were served by adhering to the NPT provisions. The 2005 NPT Review Conference, however, ended in failure, without any consensus on the core issues of verification of safeguards on national nuclear programs, the peaceful use of nuclear power, and disarmament.

Read the entire statement here.

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