Do you know what time it is??? No, not the time of day, but the proximity of humanity to catastrophic destruction, that time being the midnight hour. The Doomsday Clock was created by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to convey the urgency of the nuclear dangers faced by humanity. First set at 7 minutes to midnight in 1947, the minute hand has been moved back and forth over six decades, and is now set at 5 minutes to midnight.
The clock has been set as close as 2 minutes to midnight when the U.S. and then Soviet Union tested the first thermonuclear bombs, and as distant as 17 minutes to midnight in 1991 as the Cold War officially ended and even the scientists at The Bulletin were led to believe that the U.S. and Russia were moving well away from the brink. Read the full Doomsday Clock timeline here.
It was announced this week that President Obama has decided not to pursue his predecessor's foolhardy plan to deploy a missile defense system in Eastern Europe. Aside from the technical problems with the unproven plan, it was extraordinarily destabilizing to any negotiations with the Russians on disarmament and nonproliferation.
Of course, the President's announcement does not mean that missile defense is history. There are already many other elements of the missile defense network in development and in place (on land, at sea and in the air), and the U.S. may still consider siting future systems in Turkey, Israel or the Balkans; the implications of such decisions on future disarmament efforts could be problematic. It might benefit President Obama to study the history of U.S. nuclear weapons in Turkey, for example, particularly during the Kennedy/Khrushchev years.
For all the hand wringing over Iran and its nuclear weapons and missile capabilities, the U.S. would do well to step back and take a more objective look at the situation before spending billions more dollars on missile defense. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists released a special Web Edition yesterday - European Missile Defense Reversed - that takes a hard look at the topic.
Whether the next movement of the Doomsday Clock will move us closer to or farther from the nuclear abyss will depend greatly on the decisions made by world leaders. Based on the U.S. experience, in which we have already seen a frenzy of development of missile defense systems, it will take a huge effort by the people to overcome the inertia of the deeply entrenched military-industrial complex. Missile defense is $$$$$$$ (Can you say BIG BUSINESS?) down the drain; not what I would call a secure, long-term investment; more like a wildly speculative hedge fund. Detente and diplomacy represent money in the bank like an old-fashioned savings account.
As for me, I'll take the old-fashioned savings account any day, building peaceful relations through a gradual process of give and take (and a lot less take than the U.S. has previously demonstrated). The President's announcement on European missile defense should not make us neglect this issue! We need to keep a close eye on this one, and much like a shell game it will require a very, very keen eye.
Read Obama Scraps European Missile Defense Initiative, Global Security Newswire, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2009
Check out the newest articles on European missile defense at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
If you want to do some heavy reading/research, read what some have called a "devastating report" by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (March 2009), DEFENSE ACQUISITIONS: Production and Fielding of Missile Defense Components Continue with Less Testing and Validation Than Planned.