Tick tock, tick tock

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

It was al­ways a sym­bol and no more, but a pow­er­ful one. The keep­ers of the so-called Dooms­day Clock, which first be­gan tick­ing in 1947, are ex­pected to turn the clock’s stark hands ahead this morn­ing to re­flect the in­creas­ing risk of nu­clear Ar­maged­don.

The Bul­letin of the Atomic Sci­en­tists cites Iran’s nu­clear am­bi­tions, North Korea, un­se­cured Rus­sian ma­te­ri­als, the con­tin­ued ex­is­tence of 2,000 “launchready” U.S. and Rus­sian nukes, ter­ror­ism and the cli­mate-in­duced turn to civil­ian nu­clear power to ex­plain the move. It’s worth not­ing that the clock will now be closer to mid­night than at any point since the end of the Cold War — which is as trou­bling as it is fit­ting and jus­ti­fied.

Since 1945, the Bul­letin of Atomic Sci­en­tists has as­sessed and pub­li­cized the ma­jor nu­clear is­sues of the day, not al­ways per­fectly, as it turned out, but al­ways to the end of bet­ter­ing pub­lic aware­ness of the nu­clear peril. There can be no sec­ondguess­ing the turn­ing of the clock now. Not with the mor­tal dan­gers of the present mo­ment in world his­tory.

We face Ira­nian nu­clear am­bi­tions that are, as far as Western­ers can sur­mise, lack­ing in peace­able in­tent what they have in de­ter­mi­na­tion and cou­ple with vows to wipe Is­rael off the map — all while Iran sup­ports the type of rad­i­cal ter­ror­ists who are them­selves most likely suit­ors of nu­clear weaponry. We face an in­scrutable North Korea, which proudly an­nounces the Korean bomb, fires mis­siles over sov- ereign neigh­bors’ ter­ri­tory and deals in the world’s worst nu­clear-pro­lif­er­a­tion rings. We face the on­go­ing pos­si­bil­ity that fis­sile ma­te­rial and crit­i­cal nu­clear tech- nol­ogy could leak from old Soviet mis­sile sites — in­clud­ing the pos­si­bil­ity that such leak­age has al­ready taken place.

Amer­i­can and Rus­sian ar­se­nals, though surely less dan­ger­ous than they once were, are still per­ilous in the event of ac­ci­dent or un­fore­see­able calamity, and the Rus­sian arse­nal faces its own unique set of cir­cum­stances. Its ruler’s soul may have been seen by Pres­i­dent Bush, fa­mously, but to no end but trou­ble. Vladimir Putin’s in­creas­ingly au­to­cratic rule is sug­ges­tive of, if not out­right bor­rowed from, the bad old days of Soviet Com­mu­nism. There is the po­ten­tial, too, for a nu­clear arse­nal to fall into the hands of a col­laps­ing or post-coup gov­ern­ment.

Lastly there is re­newed in­ter­est in civil­ian nu­clear tech­nol­ogy in­spired in part by hopes that its use could stem global warm­ing. We heartily sup­port the ex­pan­sion of civil­ian ap­pli­ca­tions of nu­clear tech­nol­ogy but have no doubt that, all else be­ing equal, this in­creases to some de­bat­able de­gree the vul­ner­a­bil­ity and ex­po­sure of nu­clear ma­te­ri­als to the wider pop­u­la­tion, in­clud­ing to those ter­ror­ists and per­sons who aim to use them wrongly — es­pe­cially in the de­vel­op­ing world.

The clock is tick­ing, and no ob­server can pos­si­bly be po­si­tioned to claim that the warn­ings were in­suf­fi­cient. We can hear the tick­ing, loud and clear.

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