By Karl Grossman, Independent Australia, 31 January 2024
(Images: The Official CTBTO Photostream | Flickr / PxHere)
Nuclear experts are warning that we are dangerously close to annihilation as wars escalate around the world, writes Karl Grossman.
THE “DOOMSDAY CLOCK” of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was kept at 90 seconds to midnight this week — the closest to midnight that the clock has been set since it was created in 1947. Midnight is defined by the Bulletin as “nuclear annihilation”.
The hands of the clock were initially moved forward to 90 seconds to midnight last year. In moving the clock forward in 2023, the Bulletin, founded by Albert Einstein and scientists who helped develop the first atomic weapons in the Manhattan Project, issued a statement declaring it was: ‘A time of unprecedented danger.’
‘Largely’ but ‘not exclusively’ said the Bulletin in 2023, the clock was moved ‘to 90 seconds to midnight — the closest to global catastrophe it has ever been’ because of the war in Ukraine.
It went on:
‘Russia’s thinly veiled threats to use nuclear weapons remind the world that escalation of the conflict – by accident, intention, or miscalculation – is a terrible risk. The possibility that the conflict could spin out of anyone’s control remains high.’
On 23 January, the Bulletin, in keeping the clock at 90 seconds to midnight issued a statement that said: ‘Ominous trends continue to point the world toward global catastrophe.’
“Make no mistake: resetting the clock at 90 seconds to midnight is not an indication that the world is stable. Quite the opposite. It’s urgent for governments and communities around the world to act.”
The hands of the Doomsday Clock are set every year by the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board which includes ten Nobel laureates.
Since then, there have been additions to that nuclear danger.
Take North Korea.
Said a Newsweek headline this month: ‘North Korea issues ominous warning about nuclear strike this year.’ The subhead: ‘North Korea ramps up preparations for war with U.S.’
A headline of an Associated Press story read: ‘North Korea’s Kim says military should “thoroughly annihilate” U.S., South Korea if provoked.’
AP’s piece on 1 January included:
‘In a meeting yesterday with commanding army officers, Kim said it is urgent to sharpen “the treasured sword” to safeguard national security, an apparent reference to the country’s nuclear weapons program.’
The Agence France-Presse article the day earlier began:
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wrapped the year with fresh threats of a nuclear attack on Seoul and orders for a military arsenal build-up to prepare for a war that can “break out any time”… [North Korean] state media reported…
Kim lambasted the United States during a lengthy speech.
And in Newsweek last week, the article was headlined: ‘Kim Jong Un has decided to “go to war,” North Korea watchers warn.’ It quoted researchers at the Stimson Centre saying Kim ‘has made a strategic decision to go to war’ and the story said they regarded ‘the situation on the Korean Peninsula is now more dangerous than it has been at any point since the Korean War’.
But now, unlike during the Korean War 70 years ago, North Korea has nuclear weapons and rockets to deliver them.
Consider Iran. The headline on 18 January in the Daily Express read: ‘Iran “one week” away from nuclear bomb, warns ex-UN inspector as West braces for a showdown.’
The article quoted nuclear weapons expert David Albright saying:
“Iran can quickly make enough weapon-grade uranium for many nuclear weapons, something it could not do in 2003. Today, it would need only about a week to produce enough for its first nuclear weapon.”
The New York Times this month reported, ‘the Iranian nuclear program has suddenly been put on steroids’. The headline of its article read: ‘From Lebanon to the Red Sea, a broader conflict with Iran looms.’
‘With its proxies attacking from many vantage points and its nuclear program suddenly revived, Iran is posing a new challenge to the West — this time with Russia and China on its side.’
What if a break-out of nuclear weaponry and use by Iran occurs in its conflict with Israel, which itself has nuclear weapons?
Consider China and Taiwan. This month, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists published an extensive analysis titled ‘Chinese nuclear weapons, 2024’.
…China has significantly expanded its ongoing nuclear modernisation program by fielding more types and greater numbers of nuclear weapons than ever before.
…China’s nuclear expansion is among the largest and most rapid modernisation campaigns of the nine nuclear-armed states.
This follows reports in The New York Times of China expanding its nuclear arsenal.
I’ve been to China as a member for 20 years of the Commission on Disarmament Education, Conflict Resolution and Peace of the United Nations and International Association of University Presidents and it’s long been clear that China is committed to taking Taiwan.
If the China-Taiwan situation escalates to war, bringing in the United States, which has built up its military in the Pacific because, it says, of China — would it become nuclear war?
As to Russia and Ukraine, the nuclear threats by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his associates continue. This month, Dmitry Medvedev, former President of Russia and now deputy chairman of its Security Council, ‘warned,’ according to Reuters, ‘that any Ukrainian attacks on missile launch sites inside Russia with arms supplied by the United States and its allies would risk a nuclear response from Russia’.
The article continues:
Putin is the decision-maker when it comes to Russia’s vast nuclear arsenal, but diplomats say Medvedev’s views give an indication of hawkish thinking at the top of the Kremlin which has cast the war as an existential struggle with the West.
Russia and the United States are by far the world’s biggest nuclear powers: Putin controls 5,889 nuclear warheads while U.S. President Joe Biden controls about 5,244 nuclear warheads.
Meanwhile, the organisation Beyond Nuclear (I’m on its board) ran an article on its Beyond Nuclear International website this month headlined: ‘“Steadfast Noon” spells doom.’ Its subhead: ‘U.S. prepared for nuclear war at foreign bases.’ The article was written by John LaForge, co-director of the organisation Nukewatch.
It told of how in October 2023
‘…the alliance [supporting Ukraine in its war with Russia] began its annual nuclear attack rehearsal dubbed “Steadfast Noon”. This practice involves air forces from 13 countries, the “exercising” of fighter jets and U.S. B-52s [which] roared over Italy, Croatia and the eastern Mediterranean.’
It quoted NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg saying:
“Our exercise will help to ensure the credibility, effectiveness and security of our nuclear deterrent.”
‘This is shrewd, silk tie talk about threatening nuclear attacks, threats barely distinguishable from Russia’s verbal warnings. Mr Stoltenberg dared to add, “The fundamental purpose of NATO’s nuclear capability is to preserve peace, prevent coercion and deter aggression.”’
LaForge quoted from the declared mission online of the U.S. Air Force Nuclear College at Ramstein Air Base that it ‘is responsible for delivering, sustaining and supporting air-delivered nuclear weapon systems for our warfighters… every day’.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is in the midst of a nuclear weapons “modernisation” program.
Notes the Centre for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation:
The United States plans to spend up to $1.5 trillion over 30 years to overhaul its nuclear arsenal by rebuilding each leg of the nuclear triad and its accompanying infrastructure. The plans include, but are not limited to, a new class of ballistic missile submarines, a new set of silo-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, a new nuclear cruise missile, a modified gravity bomb, a new stealthy long-range strike bomber and accompanying warheads… for each delivery system.
The good news: the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons has been enacted, taken force and is moving forward. This month, an additional two nations ratified it. The treaty, providing a legally binding agreement to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading to their total elimination, was adopted by the UN General Assembly – with 122 nations in favour – in 2017. The treaty bans the development, testing, production, stockpiling, stationing, transfer, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons.
Leading in the drive for the treaty has been the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).
As it declares on its website:
‘Nuclear weapons are the most inhumane and indiscriminate weapons ever created. They violate international law, cause severe environmental damage, undermine national and global security, and divert vast public resources away from meeting human needs. They must be eliminated urgently.’
A big problem: the so-called “nuclear weapons states” including the U.S., Russia, China, France and Great Britain have not signed on to the treaty.
This is where pressure must be focused – through grassroots actions, politics and media – directed at the “nuclear weapons states.”
People should join in with ICAN and become members. Its website is here.
Can the atomic genie be put back in the bottle? Anything people have done other people can undo. And the prospect of massive loss of life from nuclear destruction is the best of reasons.
There’s a precedent: the outlawing of chemical warfare after World War I when its terrible impacts were horrifically demonstrated, killing 90,000. The Geneva Protocol of 1925 and the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1933 outlawed chemical warfare and to a large degree the prohibition has held.
There are some in the United States, in Russia and elsewhere who think nuclear war is winnable. Journalist Robert Scheer wrote a book published in 1982: With Enough Shovels: Reagan, Bush and Nuclear War. The title was from TK Jones, a deputy undersecretary of defence, who said that with a shovel, anyone could dig a fallout shelter — a hole in the ground with a door over the top.
Nuclear weaponry today – 79 years after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – involves yet more gigantic destructive power.
Take the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines built in Groton, Connecticut, across the Long Island Sound from where I live on Long Island, New York.
As The National Interest describes them:
If you do the math, the Ohio-class boats may be the most destructive weapon system created by humankind. Each of the 170-metre-long vessels can carry 24 Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missiles which can be fired from underwater to strike at targets more than 7,000 miles away…
As a Trident II reenters the atmosphere at speeds of up to Mach 24, it splits into up to eight independent reentry vehicles, each with a 100- or 475-kiloton nuclear warhead. In short, a full salvo from an Ohio-class submarine – which can be launched in less than one minute – could unleash up to 192 nuclear warheads to wipe 24 cities off the map. This is a nightmarish weapon of the apocalypse.
As to so-called “nuclear deterrence”, I just did a TV program, aired nationally last month, ‘Commander Robert Green and security without nuclear deterrence’. Green was deeply involved in the readiness of Great Britain to use nuclear weapons as a bombardier-navigator on a Buccaneer nuclear strike jet. Then he worked in the Ministry of Defence and was staff officer for intelligence to the Commander-in-Chief Fleet during the 1982 Falklands War. That war was a turning point for Green.
“The Falklands War raised major concerns relating to nuclear weapons,” says Green. During the war, there was “a very secret contingency plan” to “move a Polaris submarine… within range of Buenos Aires” and the possibility of it conducting a “nuclear strike” on Argentina. “Fortunately, there was no need for that plan to be implemented because we won,” says Green.
He retired from the British Navy in 1982 and became an opponent of nuclear warfare. He became a peace activist and was involved in the campaign that led the International Court of Justice in 1996 to rule the threat and use of nuclear weapons were illegal.
He says there has been a “systematic effort to play down the appalling side effects and ‘overkill… with even the smallest modern nuclear weapons,” how they are “not weapons at all. They are utterly indiscriminate devices that combine the poisoning horrors of chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction, plus effects… of radioactivity, with almost unimaginable explosive violence”.
The “deterrence theory” multiplies the likelihood of the use of nuclear weapons, he says. The program can be viewed below.
Guterres has also said:
Today, the terrifying lessons of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are fading from memory.
In a world rife with geopolitical tensions and mistrust, this is a recipe for annihilation. We cannot allow the nuclear weapons wielded by a handful of states to jeopardise all life on our planet. We must stop knocking at doomsday’s door.
Abolition of nuclear weapons globally has long been a top priority of the UN. Indeed, in 1946 the first resolution – Resolution 1 – of the UN, adopted by consensus, called for the creation of a commission to ‘make specific proposals… for the elimination from national armaments of nuclear weapons’. That vision, the abolition of nuclear weapons, must become reality.
“A world free of nuclear weapons is necessary and possible.”
Indeed, it’s critical — if we and our children and their children are to survive.
Indeed, “Let us eliminate nuclear weapons before they eliminate us”.