"There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest." — Elie Wiesel

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

It's 5 Minutes to Midnight. Do You Know Where Your Nukes Are?


The hands of the Doomsday Clock, that icon of the nuclear age that conveys just how close humanity is to catastrophic destruction (primarily from nuclear weapons) rest at 5 minutes to midnight. The clock, created by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in 1947, was initially set at 7 minutes to midnight, symbolizing the urgency of the nuclear dangers of that time. Since then the clock has been as close as 2 minutes in 1949 (with the creation and testing of the hydrogen bomb), and as far as 17 minutes in 1991 (when the Cold War ended). Click here for the full timeline.

Since 1991 the clock has inched closer to midnight for many reasons, among them the fading of the Cold War peace dividend, India and Pakistan's nuclear ambitions, and the risks of unsecured nuclear weapons. The most recent position (5 minutes) was set in 2007 as the world stood "at the brink of a second nuclear age", with the United States and Russia still poised to "stage a nuclear attack within minutes", along with concerns about North Korea, Iran and global warming.

Today the hands of the clock still show 5 minutes to midnight, and for good reason. The concerns that caused the hands to move 2 minutes closer still exist, and tensions have increased with Russia, Iran and North Korea. In addition, tensions between India and Pakistan are heating up once again. Israel is heating up the Middle East with its most recent military escapades.
The question now is, "Can we turn back the clock?" This is not just some crazy question of theoretical physics about time and space. This is a question of the survival of humankind. We are, indeed, at the brink of a second nuclear age. But this one will not be as stable as the previous one was (with two relatively evenly matched and stable players with everything to lose). There are new players in this high stakes game where there are really no winners.

With a new president in The White House we have just the opportunity we need to turn back the clock. But it will require the engagement of the American People in an issue that most have found untouchable since the dawn of the nuclear age. President Obama has stated his desire to rid the world of nuclear weapons, but is taking a cautious approach. Of course, every president has stated the desire (to one degree or another) to get rid of nukes, but history has shown that the rhetoric has been hollow.

We, the American people, will need to support the President in his initiatives and prod him where he falls short if we are to succeed in progressing towards abolition. David Krieger of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation has examined eight reasons why the public has not been engaged in nuclear disarmament. Whether you are engaged as an individual or as part of an organization you should read Nuclear Weapons After Bush: A Role for the People. We need to bring nuclear weapons into the everyday dialogue of the American people if we are to progress in what is arguably the most inconvenient truth of our time.

While you are at it, consider sending President Obama an email asking him to take some immediate (and some not-so-immediate) steps to lessen the nuclear danger. Among those steps is taking our nuclear weapons off high-alert status, a dangerous practice, considering the potential for breaches of the military's communication's network by hackers, potentially causing false alerts and launch orders. It's not as far fetched as you might think. Read more on this at Slate.com by clicking here.

With a new administration (but the same old Pentagon) in place, NOW is the time to start advocating for real progress on nuclear disarmament. President Obama needs our help and prodding to succeed.



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