IN 1947 members of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (BAS) developed the symbolic Doomsday Clock after the horrific US nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — which remain the greatest single acts of terror in human history. The US has never apologised. If the Doomsday Clock strikes midnight nobody will be there to record it. Human history will have ended.
The clock was first set at seven minutes to midnight. The closest it came to midnight was in 1953 after the US and the USSR conducted hydrogen bomb tests. It was two minutes to midnight! Another close encounter was during the Cuban missile crisis. Since then, the most dangerous moment has been the election of an ignorant, belligerent and unstable person as president of the US. The clock today shows two-and-a-half minutes to midnight. And the countdown continues.
The two greatest threats to the survival of mankind are climate change and the threat of nuclear war. Trump says human-generated climate change is a liberal hoax. He is de-funding and dismantling the Environment Protection Agency (EPA). He has effectively withdrawn from the Paris Agreement. Scientists are in almost unanimously agreement that if the global temperature rises more than two degrees Celsius above what it was at the beginning of the industrial revolution irreversible developments would cause irreparable damage to life systems on Earth.
The clock today shows two-and-a-half minutes to midnight. And the countdown continues.
These include the melting of the polar caps and mountain glaciers; extensive floods followed by extensive drought; unprecedented shifts in weather patterns; massive losses of cultivable land with disastrous consequences for agriculture, food production, agro-industries etc; massive increases in the numbers of internally displaced persons and global refugees; accelerating bacterial and viral mutations spreading pestilence and diseases of unknown varieties at rates that overwhelm medical countermeasures; and a quantum jump in the likelihood of continuous and catastrophic conflict.
Current reports of the US developing a global first-strike nuclear capability could herald the end of the world. Trump says he will go to war to prevent Iran or North Korea developing nuclear weapons while abetting Israel’s illegal nuclear arsenal. He talks of keeping “all options on the table” including the threat of nuclear strikes against non-nuclear countries. Iran negotiated a nuclear deal that Trump threatens to tear up. He also threatens Iran because of its alleged ‘terrorism’ ie opposing US-Israeli-Saudi hegemony in the Middle East.
The US supports Israel’s rejection of a nuclear weapons free zone (NWFZ) in the Middle East. This would eliminate any Iranian plans to develop nuclear weapons. Iran supports the proposal. But the US wants Israel to retain its monopoly of nuclear weapons in the Middle East. This ensures no Middle East settlement will ever happen. It also ensures future wars and nuclear proliferation. The Doomsday Clock continues to approximate midnight.
The same logic informs US policies towards South Asia. It prefers India to have a regional monopoly on nuclear weapons, despite its refusal to allow a peaceful settlement of the Kashmir dispute in accordance with UN resolutions and the human and political rights of the people of Kashmir. This precludes any lasting improvement in a dangerously hostile bilateral relationship between two neighbouring nuclear weapons states. In the event of a perceived ‘enemy’ launch of missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, the available ‘verification time’ would be too short for any nuclear risk-reduction measures to work.
This increases the probability of a pre-emptive nuclear strike by either side, even though neither has a first-strike capability against the other ie a first strike that ensures against a devastating retaliatory second strike. ABMs are expensive and can be overwhelmed. The only way to deal with such irreducible risks is movement on the core political and security concerns of both countries. However, the discriminatory policies of the US and its refusal to forcefully insist on a dialogue that effectively addresses the root causes of a very dangerous situation merely exacerbate the danger. The moving minute-hand moves on!
In Syria, Trump has attacked a joint Syrian/Russian airbase on the basis of unproven allegations. Together with provocative US-led military exercises on Russia’s borders in the Baltic, these developments have compelled Moscow to anticipate and prepare for war. The US also dropped a 21,000 kilogramme ‘mother of all bombs’ in Afghanistan as a warning to Russia and China. It damaged homes inside Pakistan! This ‘overkill’ was outright state terror. It expressed the contempt of Trump and his ‘mad dogs’ for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The most immediately dangerous situation, however, is North Korea. Trump has sent an ‘armada’ and is threatening a devastating military assault if North Korea continues to test nuclear-capable missiles. In turn, North Korea threatens a pre-emptive war including an all-out artillery assault on greater Seoul which is just 22 kilometres from the border and has a population of 25 million people. The US has previously rejected credible diplomatic solutions accepted by North Korea, just as it has done with Iran. It prefers to threaten war if China cannot stop Pyongyang.
China is willing to cooperate and has taken measures against North Korea. But, despite American military supremacy, China has made clear it will resist an American military assault and/or engineered regime change in North Korea. Nor will China countenance North Korea’s absorption into South Korea as long as South Korea and Japan remain militarily allied to a belligerent US. This iron Chinese resolve has made Trump blink.
China is ready to be a strategic partner of the US for global and regional peace. But the US must decide whether or not it accepts China as an equal strategic partner, especially in East Asia and the Western Pacific. Trump cannot bully and threaten if the world is to move away from midnight on the Doomsday Clock.
Pakistan is among the countries most exposed to climate change, unmanageable population growth, leadership corruption, criminally irresponsible governance, economic collapse and nuclear catastrophe. With a prime minister temporarily reprieved but permanently discredited by the supreme judiciary, ask not for whom the doomsday clock shall toll. Tick-tock.
The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.
Published in Dawn, May 1st, 2017