Do you want to live with the threat of nuclear war?
I would guess that most people would answer with a rousing “NO!” And yet, humanity has been living under the threat of nuclear annihilation for most of the decades following World War II during the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. Even now, nearly three decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the United States and Russia still stand poised to destroy each other’s nations (many times over), and take the rest of the world with them.
What’s more, the two Superpowers, through their mad pursuit of nuclear weapons and the rampant militarism associated with that race, led the way to the proliferation of nuclear weapons that has further increased the risk of nuclear war and the end of civilization. India and Pakistan are at each others figurative throats, each having amassed considerable nuclear arsenals. And now, there is a huge focus on (and fear of) a nuclear-armed North Korea. Where will all this end?
Earlier today the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the hands of the Doomsday Clock 30 seconds closer to global catastrophe – two minutes to midnight – the closest the Doomsday Clock has ever been to the “destruction of civilization.” The hands of the Clock were set at two minutes to midnight only once before – in 1953 after the U.S. tested its first thermonuclear device and the Soviets followed with their own H-bomb test.
Since 1947, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has used the Doomsday Clock to symbolically indicate how close humankind currently is to “the end of the world,” represented by midnight. To set the clock, the Bulletin factors in the threats of nuclear war, climate change, and (most recently) artificial intelligence run amok.
The opening paragraph of today’s announcement, addressed to “leaders and citizens of the world,” says: “In 2017, world leaders failed to respond effectively to the looming threats of nuclear war and climate change, making the world security situation more dangerous than it was a year ago—and as dangerous as it has been since World War II.”
When the clock was set a half-minute closer to midnight just one year ago, we were warned: “Wise public officials should act immediately, guiding humanity away from the brink. If they do not, wise citizens must step forward and lead the way.” Our “public officials” have not only failed to lead humanity away from the brink; their lack of wisdom has led us further toward that dangerous precipice. It is absolutely time for “wise citizens” to step up and demand action.
In 1991, thanks to the end of the Cold War and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the hands of the Clock were set back to 17 minutes to midnight, providing a huge sigh of relief. Since then, all but one announcement have resulted in the hands inching ever closer to midnight.
How much closer to midnight do we have to come before we accept the urgency of our situation – that we must remove the threat of nuclear weapons before the clock, and humanity’s luck, run out of time?
Even the most limited use of nuclear weapons would have catastrophic global consequences. The horrific loss of human life; the long-term effects on the environment, climate, and human health; and the destabilization of the global economy and international relations are difficult to imagine. Nuclear war would mean the end of civilization as we know it. Prevention is the only reasonable choice!
There is only one way to ensure that nuclear weapons are never used again – eliminate them worldwide. It is up to the United States, the only nation to have ever used nuclear weapons, and the nation that led the world to this moment, to lead the way. And that work needs to begin with a paradigm shift and the initiation of a sincere dialogue with Russia.
What can (and should) we, as “wise citizens” do to lead the way to help move humanity back from the brink? Here are a few steps each of us can take (for starters):
- Support, and get directly involved with, at least one organization directly working on nuclear abolition.
- Senator Ed Markey, Co-President of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament has introduced legislation into the Senate (with companion legislation in the House introduced by Ted Lieu) to restrict the authority of the U.S. President to launch a nuclear attack without first consulting congress. Call on your members of Congress to support this legislation.
- Tell Congress: Detente, not Escalation with Russia!
- Urge your members of Congress to call for direct diplomacy (without preconditions) with North Korea, and against further threats of war.
- You can also support legislation that reduces the risk of war with North Korea. Call your Representative and urge her/him to cosponsor HR 4837, the “No Unconstitutional First strike on North Korea Act.” Click here for a directory of U.S. Representatives. You can also call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121
- Call on the United States to attend the UN High-Level Conference on Nuclear Disarmament (coming up in May 2018) at the highest level and to make sincere efforts at the conference to reduce nuclear risks and advance the abolition of nuclear weapons. Click here to find your members of Congress.
- Introduce the Back from the Brink resolution at your professional association, faith community, civic group, educational institution, town hall or municipality. Click here to download the text of Back from the Brink:A Call to Prevent Nuclear War and see a list of endorsing organizations.
Historian Lawrence Wittner, in his book Confronting the Bomb, says that it is not the conventional explanation of “deterrence” that has saved the world from nuclear annihilation over the past 72 years, but a “massive nuclear disarmament movement.” Wittner documents how real, grassroots citizen activism brought very real pressure to bear, not only only on the U.S. government, but many other governments as well, to control the arms race and prevent nuclear war.
The question now is whether we can revitalize that citizen-led movement and create a groundswell that no nation, particularly those with nuclear weapons, can ignore. Here’s to that hope!
***Click here to read the full 2018 Doomsday Clock Announcement.***