The Doomsday Clock has moved closer to ‘midnight’ and the end of the world as we know it.
The last time it got so ‘late’ was in 1984 when the Cold War took a turn for the worse and East v West relations briefly ceased. Before that it
was 1949 when the Soviets successfully tested the H-bomb and were able to compete with the West in the nuclear arms race. The only time it’s been
closer was in 1953 (2 minutes) and highlights the assertion that the world is in a fairly bad place and a new nuclear arms race appears to have
The image below shows the historical number of nuclear warheads possessed by the USA (blue) and Russia (red).
As usual, it’s a failure of diplomacy and our leaders seem to be less focused on peace than they are on appearing resolute. US Republicans in
Congress are hoping to reintroduce Cruise missiles to Europe to be ‘robust’ in the face of rising Russian tensions. We’ve had
from Russia and their capacity to deliver
is making some Western leaders skittish and others hawkish. This is combined with the
recent test of an ICBM
capable of striking 5000km away – well within US
borders. Throw in the shipping container warheads and we have a situation fraught with tensions.
Borei Class submarine
Of course, none of this leaves Western leaders as innocent responders to Russian threats. When has it ever been so simple? It’s a
long-held annoyance in Russia
that NATO is developing an anti-ballistic missile
shield in Eastern Europe. Arguably, Russia’s sabre-rattling is increasing in volume as they seek to reassert their powers and international status.
The shield has been listed as the ‘fourth greatest external threat’ to the country although
NATO thinks they're overreacting.
significant threats reflect the same fears as any nation on Earth: 'extremism and terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and
rocket technology and actions of foreign intelligence services.' RT link
Away from the East v West dynamics we have ongoing troubles in the Middle East. Sure, IS get a lot of attention and yet most of the region remains
unstable. Western relations with Iran might have improved slightly due to
and apparent willingness to
pull back their nuclear program. Ironically, a justification for the European ABM shield is to defend it from Iranian attack. Would the shield be
required if Iran agrees to open her doors to international inspectors? Does anyone honestly see North Korea as a credible threat to the West? I only
ask because they are usually cited as another reason for the shield. China is
also a problem
for generating a black-market in cruise missiles and
technology and increasing their Naval assets.
When Russia and the US signed the ‘New Start’ agreement, they agreed to reduce nuclear warheads to 1550 - give or take a few. They also
deliberately left out accountability for submarine nuclear warheads
. I say ‘deliberately’ because Medvedev and Obama were only figureheads and the details would have gotten the nod from their
strategic advisers. There’s no longer an incentive to inform each other about the number of warheads being deployed within
On the surface, we’re to accept the
idea that nobody knows who is carrying what warhead or where. Intuitively, we might speculate that each side has more effective means of keeping count
than officially telling each other. Nevertheless, the possibility that our respective fleets are in each other's waters and armed with nuclear
warheads is hardly soothing the tension.
I wonder if the omission is possibly a reflection of the asymmetrical nature of these East/West disputes? NATO’s capabilities (reportedly) far
exceed Russia’s. The West has the advantage of numbers across most, if not all, areas: navies, warheads, troops, territory, aircraft etc. Having the
strategic upper hand may have led to this notable change in policy.
Arguably, Russia no longer poses an existential threat to Western nations, but does the West represent such a threat to Russian status on the
international stage? I don’t know. Putin has a powerful policy known as
’ It essentially promises a targeted
nuclear response against any nation/organisation that starts hostilities. It doesn't elevate them to military equivalence or guarantee victory should
a major conflict arise. It does, however, pose a great deterrent and threat to possible enemies. An unaccountable nuclear-capable submarine fleet
lends credence to the policy and should, in theory, cause hostile nations to pause.
Whatever the case, failing international relations have encouraged Russia to increase its diplomatic ‘potency’ and power by broadcasting the
strength of its armoury and seeking new influence/allies with BRICS, OSCE and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. They've also
considered 'revising' the Treaty
in the face of Western sanctions. In contrast, confidence in its own
superiority has ramped up Western assertions of power and startled the atomic scientists enough to push the hands of the Doomsday Clock from ‘5
minutes’ to ‘3 minutes.’
I’m old enough to remember the 1980s and the world back then seemed to be in a similar mess. Alongside the Cold war, there were major conflicts in
the Middle East with fatwas and jihadis promising to bring hostilities to the West. As I look to the next couple of years, I can honestly say that I
feel anxious. The world constantly falls back from the precipice and I get that. There’s no point in worrying too much and I get that too. However,
when I peer dimly into the future, I can’t help feeling we (humanity in general) are going into a time of darkness. On several levels the symbolic
clock resonates with my own sense that humanity has, once more, lost its direction.