Nuclear powers build capabilities while Doomsday Clock time has reduced tenfold over the past 30 years
Twenty-five years have passed since the opening of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty for signature. In this regard, UN Secretary General António Guterres published a post on Twitter, in which he expressed concern: humanity remains unacceptably close to nuclear annihilation. “Now is the time to lift the cloud of nuclear conflict for good, eliminate nuclear weapons from our world and usher in a new era of trust and peace,” wrote the UN Secretary General. At the same time, the nuclear powers continue to build up their capabilities, and the time on the Doomsday Clock has decreased tenfold over the past thirty years. For the second year in a row, the finger is closest to nuclear midnight — 100 seconds...
Reminder of inevitability
The symbolic Doomsday Clock first appeared on the cover of the University of Chicago magazine Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in 1947. The magazine itself has been published since 1945, covering the issues of the danger of weapons of mass destruction, climate change and new technologies.
It was founded by members of the Manhattan Project — a US nuclear weapons programme, in which scientists created the first three atomic bombs in human history: the Gadget, and the Little Boy and Fat Man — dropped on Japanese Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The founder and first editor-in-chief of the Bulletin was Dr. Eugene Rabinowitch, a native of the Russian Empire, a student of Einstein, graduate of the University of Berlin, scientist and poet.
In the first years, the clock — which symbolises the tension in the international situation and progress in the development of nuclear weapons — was ‘tuned’ by Eugene Rabinowitch himself, in consultation with his colleagues. After his death in 1973, the decision to transfer the clock hands was made by the magazine’s board of directors, together with experts, including 18 Nobel laureates.
The clock has existed for 74 years already, and during this time its hands have changed their position 25 times (including the initial setting of 7 minutes in 1947). During the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962), the world was on the verge of a nuclear war. However, since the crisis was resolved very quickly (within 38 days), the clock did not have time to react, and its readings did not change. From 1960 to 1963, the clock showed 7 minutes, in 1963 this time was increased to 12 minutes.
The farthest — 17 minutes from midnight — the clock hands were pushed back 30 years ago. This happened in 1991 on a wave of optimism that arose after the end of the Cold War and the conclusion between the USSR and the United States of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. In all subsequent years, the arrows moved only forward. In 2020, the clock began to show 23:58:20 — closer to nuclear midnight than ever before. Midnight itself symbolises the moment of a nuclear cataclysm.
The authors of the project emphasise that the clock does not predict anything and, moreover, does not show the exact time, but serves as a reminder that the end of the world is inevitable if people do not think about the consequences of their actions.
In a state of readiness
In mid-June, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) published its annual report assessing the current state of arms, disarmament and international security. According to the data, in early 2021, the number of ready-to-use nuclear warheads increased, but the total number of nuclear weapons that countries possess decreased.
In January 2021, nine nuclear powers — the United States, Russia, Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea — collectively had 13,080 nuclear warheads. This is 320 units less than at the beginning of 2020.
More than 90 percent of the reserves are in the United States and Russia, while the rest is shared by Great Britain, Israel, India, China, Pakistan, North Korea and France.
The total number of nuclear weapons includes ready-to-use and reserve charges. Thus, the number of nuclear weapons ready for use increased from 3,720 to 3,825 units. About two thousand of them (almost all belong to Russia or the United States) are on high alert.
Experts point out that the number of ready-to-use warheads in Russia and the United States remains within the framework of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START-3 or New Start), which was signed in 2010 and continued until 2026. In the United States, 1,800 ready-to-use warheads have been deployed at bases, and in Russia — 1,625.
The other seven states are also improving their nuclear weapons. For example, the UK plans to increase the limit on the number of such weapons from 180 to 260. China, India and Pakistan are also expanding their nuclear arsenal while North Korea is working on its nuclear programme. Due to the closed nature of this country, the number of warheads is not known exactly. According to experts, we are talking about 40-50 working missiles.
In 2020, the nine nuclear powers spent $72.6bn on building up their arsenal. This is $1.4bn more than in 2019. The data is cited in the annual report of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). The authors note that in terms of time, these countries spent $137,666 every minute on nuclear weapons.