In 1947 the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists created what they called the Doomsday Clock as a way of gauging how close humans were to totally screwing up the planet with tools of our own making. In 1953 when both the US and the Soviet Union tested atomic bombs sixth months apart, they set the clock at two minutes to midnight. The cold war was on and by 1986 the world had 64,000 nuclear warheads to worry about.
By 1991 the cold war was over and the clock had moved back 15 minutes. There was still a threat but it seemed we were moving away from Mutually Assured Destruction. Today there are only around 10,000 nuclear warheads in existence, which is still enough to kill pretty much everyone.
In recent months you may have noticed that the issue of nuclear weapons has become more pressing. There are a variety of reasons for this and their names are familiar Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un.
I did see in the run up to the American elections a man here in Stockholm argue that the rise of Donald Trump to the presidency would actually reduce the likelihood of a nuclear war. his reasoning was that Hilary Clinton favoured a no-fly zone over Syria, they’d shoot down Russian jets and boom we’ve World War Three. The threat of nuclear war may have quieted down but it still exists in the popular imagination.
There are currently 8 nations with full nuclear weapons capability – USA, Russia, China, UK, France, India, Pakistan & Israel. Anyone there you trust to never use them? Any scenarios you can imagine where one of those countries might use them?
There are also at least two other nations that would very much like to have nuclear weapons. One is close and the other is on pause. North Korea is very close to having nuclear weapons and it won’t be easy to try to stop them going all the way to achieving their goal of getting a bomb into a missile.
Iran is much further back and signed essentially a ten-year deal to stop trying to get closer to having them. Only Donald Trump thinks it was a terrible deal. If the deal collapses then can anyone be sure they won’t think it in their long-term interests to start-up the programme again? Of course Donald Trump has made all sorts of concerning statements regarding nukes but it seems his choice for secretary of state at least thinks having more of them would be bad.
In 1945 there was one country with nuclear weapons – America. 70 years later there are nine. And according to The Economist
In short, there has been no attempt to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in the military and security doctrines of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, despite their commitments under the NPT.
The simple fact is that no one is getting rid of them and new countries are acquiring them. Fortunately since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 we’ve not come as close again to war between nuclear powers but it really only takes one war or even one bomb to spell complete disaster.
Of course the biggest danger might not actually be one nation firing them on another nation. As John Oliver explains that wealthy well equipped nations like America are not exactly looking after their nuclear arsenal as well as they could (some bad language). It seems we have avoided nuclear disaster so far more by luck than skill.
Between 2010-2015 there were 41 incidents of nuclear material being lost or stolen. And if that’s how it is in the US, spend a few minutes thinking how it might be in Russia or Pakistan.
But of course they’re a deterrent aren’t they? Except not really. When would you push the button? Let Jim Hacker help you figure it out
Let me clear I’m against nuclear weapons and it is right now three minutes to midnight.