With Donald Trump no longer having the authority to launch US nuclear weapons and the entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons one might have thought that, when it comes to the risk of nuclear war, we could breathe a collective sigh of relief. Surely the hands of the Doomsday Clock were about to move back a notch or two.
But the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists have spoken today, and for many good reasons, have kept the iconic clock at 100 Seconds to midnight, the closest this symbol of the threat of armageddon has ever been to midnight in its 75 year history.
The Bulletin statement says that our collective global lack of preparedness for the COVID 19 pandemic should be a wake up call. “Accelerating nuclear programs in multiple countries moved the world into less stable and manageable territory last year. Development of hypersonic glide vehicles, ballistic missile defenses, and weapons-delivery systems that can flexibly use conventional or nuclear warheads may raise the probability of miscalculation in times of tension.”
The Bulletin acknowledge that new US President Joe Biden’s inaugural day Executive Order rejoining the Paris Accord along with his lesser noticed overture toward Russia in offering to extend the START 2 agreement that was due to lapse represent significant signs of hope.
But, “in the past year”, the statement continues “countries with nuclear weapons continued to spend vast sums on nuclear modernization programs, even as they allowed proven risk-reduction achievements in arms control and diplomacy to wither or die. Nuclear weapons and weapons-delivery platforms capable of carrying either nuclear or conventional warheads continued to proliferate, while destabilizing ‘advances’ in the space and cyber realms, in hypersonic missiles, and in missile defenses continued. Governments in the United States, Russia, and other countries appear to consider nuclear weapons more-and-more usable, increasing the risks of their actual use.”
Governments, they point out, have “failed to sufficiently address climate change. A pandemic-related economic slowdown temporarily reduced the carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming. But over the coming decade fossil fuel use needs to decline precipitously if the worst effects of climate change are to be avoided. Instead, fossil fuel development and production are projected to increase. Atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations hit a record high in 2020, one of the two warmest years on record. The massive wildfires and catastrophic cyclones of 2020 are illustrations of the major devastation that will only increase if governments do not significantly and quickly amplify their efforts to bring greenhouse gas emissions essentially to zero.”
Peace & Justice and other peace movement campaign groups have been making the argument for some time now that the threats posed by the climate and ecological emergency and nuclear weapons are twin threats to humanity and the planet. We must heed this wake up call and continue to use every available opportunity to advocate for governments not only declare a climate emergency but to follow the science. Governments must enact far more ambitious programmes to bring GHG emissions down to net zero by the end of this decade. In its role as host of COP 26 this year, the UK has an unmissable opportunity to lead the world back from the brink by massively scaling up its emissions targets; and the UK and other nuclear weapons states should join the nuclear weapons ban treaty and start the process of disarming our nuclear weapons before its too late to pull back from the brink.
Read the full Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists statement here.