January 26, 2023
Like the Nobel Prizes, the Doomsday Clock of the Bulletin of the Atom Scientists attracts enormous media attention. It simplifies a very complex issue into a time measure: How close is the world to global catastrophe?
This year it is at 90 seconds to midnight. Between 2020 and 2022, it was at 100 seconds. 75 years ago, it was ticking at 7 minutes, and in 1991, at the end of the First Cold War, it stood at 17 minutes to midnight. Philosophically, this is highly enigmatic: Out of 24 hours, the world has always been a few minutes or seconds from global catastrophe. Over 75 years!
The whole thing is arbitrary or symbolic, if not bizarre. But it does alert the media and does have the positive effect of turning people’s attention at the global rather than regional or local issues. At least for a few moments.
Anyone who has studied risks and threats a bit seriously knows that it is not an easy piece of cake. It involves some theory, lots of different expertise, scenario-creativity and very solid natural and social science expertise. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists doesn’t have it.
But the media love it – and never, again like with the Nobel Peace Prize, do they do any research on how it is actually constructed and who is behind it.
They ought to.
Because this is not a genuinely global assessment with estimates and analyses from around the world. It is a US thing which – when you read this year’s statement – very clearly serves US foreign policies and NATO in the NATO-Russia conflict that so tragically plays out in Ukraine.
By and large, it’s a diatribe against Russia – something that has also popped up in articles in the Bulletin more frequently (and, as I have experienced, something the Bulletin does not respond to critical letters of).
And it comes in the wake of the Bulletin’s extremely one-sided condemnation of Russia’s invasion from March 2022. Be sure that such a thing as NATO expansion against all promises and NATO activities inside Ukraine over the last 30 years is part of the Bulletin’s analytical capacity and probably not something this US Bulletin can allow itself even to mention.
It lacks every conflict analysis and macro perspective in time and space – and runs like any other outlet of the omission-prone, self-righteous Western media narrative.
One would expect more from a group of high-level scientists. But perhaps not; because being a natural scientist does not mean being any more competent in political analysis and understanding of the world than the average citizen, but that is what is pretended – and swallowed by the media.
It is as indefensible – and laughable – as if the present author, educated in sociology and peace research, would play it as an expert in physics.
Siegfried Hecker, from left, Daniel Holz, Sharon Squassoni, Mary Robinson and Elbegdorj Tsakhia with the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, remove a cloth covering the Doomsday Clock before a virtual news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced that it has moved the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock to 90 seconds to midnight. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
You’ll see in this article by the Bulletin’s editor, journalist John Mecklin, which is supposed to explain this year’s Doomsday Clock that virtually everybody else but the US is responsible for the world’s close-to-catastrophe situation; it’s Russia, China, Iran (that does not have any nukes), North Korea and India. He also maintains that Russia, more than the other UN Security Council Nuclear-Haves should “make a renewed commitment to confront nuclear dangers through arms control efforts and strategic stability agreement…”
Would he even think of saying something similar about the United States and other NATO-nuclear countries?
The US nuclear activity is mentioned only cursorily “The United States, Russia, and China are now pursuing full-fledged nuclear weapons modernization programs, setting the table for a dangerous new “third nuclear age” of competition. Long-standing concerns about arms racing in South Asia and missile arms races in Northeast Asia complete a dismal picture that needs to be addressed.”
The neutrality of that sentence is remarkable – they are all equally responsible for what goes on over there? That the US is roaming around with nuclear submarines close to China doesn’t seem to be a concern to Mr Mecklin. Exercises, the US’ Taiwan armament provocation and that sort of thing?
The huge British nuclear weapons programs is not mentioned. Same thing with Israel’s nuclear weapons – while non-nuclear Iran, as mentioned, is pointed out as part of a global risk assessment. Yes, perhaps Iran is sick and tired of being harassed year after year and, in particular, since then US President Trump ruined the 2015 JCPOA, the most important diplomatic agreement in decades, by withdrawing from it and by the fact that the Biden administration follows his policy – a pretext, one may assume, for a later military action against Iran?
The manifest US Cold War policy against China, well-financed and also orchestrated through the Western mainstream media – goes unmentioned too.
As does the ongoing US nuclear escalation in Europe – the equivalent of 83 Hiroshima bombs, according to ICAN, the Geneva-based coalition of 652 non-governmental partner organisations in 107 countries, promoting adherence to and implementation of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, received the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize.
That Treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons is also not mentioned – that is, the positive fact that the huge majority of humanity does not want nuclear weapons.
And, finally, while the Russians are blamed 100% for what now goes on in Ukraine – which is peak anti-intellectualism – the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and its editor do not have one word to say about the risk of catastrophe associated with – as of now – NATO countries having dispatched weapons for about US$ 150 billion, totally ignored every possibility of a negotiated solution and told President Zelensky to stop talking about negotiations – to the effect that he has signed a law that prohibits negotiation with Russia as long as its president is Vladimir Putin.
All this is not a concern to those who decide about the – alarming – Doomsday Clock.
You should wonder why.
Here is my primary explanation: It is, for all practical purposes, a US public relation thing. The Doomsday Clock can also be seen as an indicator of where the world is today as a consequence of the policies of the largest and most killing and nuclear global actor of all – the US – and its allies and partners in NATO, all in all 72 countries. That such an entity needs to blame others and see threats and catastrophes in everything those others do – what I would call psycho-political projection of its own dark sides onto others – is anything but unlikely.
To back this up, look at what the Bulletin says and what it really is.
“The Science and Security Board (SASB) is comprised of a select group of globally recognized leaders with a specific focus on nuclear risk, climate change, and disruptive technologies. The SASB provides the Bulletin with objective external perspectives on trends and issues in these related fields and connects the organization to outside experts. The SASB’s responsibilities include: (1) setting the hands of the Doomsday Clock…”
“Globally recognised leaders…objective…” This falsely conveys the impression that this is a globally-composed expert group. Also, the criteria for their being globally recognised are not stated (I, for one, have heard about only 1or 2 of them, sorry for my ignorance. It is marketing/PR language).
This Board consists of 22 members, at least 19 of whom are Americans. (I have not been able to identify the nationality of 3, but they are US-educated, and one is a professor at Oxford). Not exactly an international or global group assessing global threats to humanity. Many of them are Standford University people and members of the US Academy of Sciences. Surely high-level, but perhaps with a bit of a US-biased worldview – and, naturally, a politically correct anti-Russian sentiment?
Furthermore, 7 of them have had or have relations with US government and military institutions such as State Department, Pentagon, the White House, National Defence College, Homeland Security and the US Airforce.
Could it be that they might not that easily see the log that is in their own US eyes but see very well the speck that is in their brothers’ eyes?
Finally, the Doomsday Clock is Western-biased in the extreme. If it is Russia and it happens in Europe, it’s very dangerous to the whole world. Secondly, the Bulletin gives no explanation as to how the regional conflict of NATO and Russia in Ukraine necessarily would translate into a global threat or humanity’s annihilation. Or under what circumstances the conventional war and escalation there would escalate to the level of the use of tactical nukes in the regional theatre and then to a global all-out Holocaust.
Of course, that scenario cannot be excluded, but to make it a world media issue without any analytical explanation is alarmist. But that is, one must assume, OK in these US politico-academic circles when it comes to Russia – as if NATO did not have a nuclear doctrine, too, that includes the right to use nukes even against a conventional attack.
I suppose the Bulletin and the experts behind its Doomsday Clock find that nuclear posture purely defensive and morally right. Remember, NATO is officially a defensive alliance. And that the Ukraine conflict is quite an extraordinary, unique conflict in that it has only one party.
We have enough doom and gloom.
Time is indeed ticking for this outdated, deceptive clock.