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Nuclear doomsday – 5 mins to midnight! January 23, 2007

Posted by genchan in General, Globalization, Nuclear, Security, World.
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Though my focus is on events in the East Asian region, I found this extremely interesting and decided to blog about it since it has ramification for both the region of my interest and the world at large.

To begin, how much of us are even aware of such a thing called a doomsday clock (pic above)? I for one was unaware of it until I read about it recently. Just a few days ago, Japanese TV made a documentary in line with this clock timeline to highlight the dangers of nuclear weapons and how close we have come to a nuclear doomsday.

Certainly, Japan would know best as it is the only victim of nuclear weapons in the world. Every year, Hiroshima and Nagasaki reminds us of the destruction caused to mankind that has continued to reverberate decades later.

The doomsday clock is an indicator of how close our world is to a nuclear catastrophe. Created and ‘maintained’ by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists(BAS), it “evoked both the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero)”. BAS was founded by University of Chicago scientists who were directly involved in the Manhattan Project (that gave birth to the world’s first atomic weapon) and therefore realized the consequences associated with nuclear force. Because of the organization’s reputation and the fact that its board of sponsors include 18 Nobel laureates, the clock plays an important role in ‘assessing’ the vulnerability of our world to nuclear threats, health epidemic and global warming.

Since the US rained two bombs on Japan, the former Soviet Union have tested theirs and until late 1980s, the world were divided into two blocs – the West vs the East, with each trying to outperform the other under what we have come to accept as the Cold War period. The end of the Cold War marked a new beginning as it effectively stopped the nuclear arms race between the two poles. If the minute hand was at 6 mins to midnight in 1988, it was at 17 mins (11:43) in 1991 (the furthest ever).

The future was supposed to be bright as the US and SU agreed to dismantle their large stockpile of nuclear warheads and as the world move from bipolarity to multipolarity and militarization to economic development.

Yet today, we are nearer to doomsday than ever before. The world did change after the collapse of the Berlin Wall but it did not change for the better. BAS justify their decision to shift the minute hand this year as below:

The world stands at the brink of a second nuclear age. The United States and Russia remain ready to stage a nuclear attack within minutes, North Korea conducts a nuclear test, and many in the international community worry that Iran plans to acquire the Bomb. Climate change also presents a dire challenge to humanity. Damage to ecosystems is already taking place; flooding, destructive storms, increased drought, and polar ice melt are causing loss of life and property.

Currently, both the US and Russia still hold large quantities of nuclear arsenals. Russia has 15,000 nuclear weapons and the US still has about 10,000, with each side having more than 1000 on high alert that can be deployed in minutes. “Both countries would need to dismantle one weapon a day for the next 25 years to even approach the stockpile size of any of the other nuclear weapon states” (BAS website).

Countries possessing nuclear weapons have also grown in number. At present, there are nine countries possessing nuclear weapons: the United States, Russia, France, Britain, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea. Libya would have been the tenth if not for their decision to abort and dismantle their’s. If Iran succeeds and joins in, it would not only increase the number but contribute to more complication especially when the US considers Iran as a rogue state and part of the axis of evil. Terrorism is another fear of weapons falling into the wrong hands. This is not to mention the possibility of accidents coming from a misfiring due to miscommunication, malfunction or system deterioration.

If nuclear proliferation starts spliting up the world again, dismantling of nuclear stockpiles (one of the recommendations of BAS) would be the least thinkable. Already, various moves have been taken in furthering ballistic missile defense system that could lead to an unending cycle of arms race.

This is the ugly side of the rise of globalization and the use of high-tech such as nano-technology. Information is shared easily and weapons are shrunk down but yet packed with more force. As our world become ever more connected in time and space, we become even more vulnerable to desolation.  

We might need to ponder what will happen when the hand strikes twelve. It would certainly be worse than the Cinderella story of the chariot turning into a pumpkin. While Cinderella does not have the power to turn back the clock, we do. The doomsday clock has been adjusted 18 times since 1947 and its time for us to adjust it as far back as we can for the 19th time or else….

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