How close to nuclear armageddon?
As the anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki approaches and the recent release of the motion picture “Oppenheimer” hits the big screen, citizens worldwide are reminded of the ever-looming threat of worldwide destruction from nuclear weapons.
Several conversations have sparked as a result of the movie release prompting protests outside of the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. Contacts say the film "is coming out at a time when the world is closer to world war, to nuclear armageddon, than it has been for decades."
“Oppenheimer” chronicles the development of the first atomic bomb. In the aftermath of World War II, scientists involved with the Manhattan Project created the Doomsday Clock using the imagery of the apocalypse as well as the contemporary idiom of a nuclear explosion. The Doomsday Clock was originally created to measure nuclear threats. However, it has become an ongoing myth that has left many individuals fascinated and aghast regarding the validity of the claims.
The Bulletin of Scientists created the clock in 1947, marking 76 years today in 2023. The Doomsday Clock has been used to illustrate or warn individuals of threats to humanity and how much time remains left. In 1947 it was set at 7 minutes, under the impression that it wouldn’t come to fruition. Threats to humanity include global climate change, biotechnology, and nuclear war. This month marks the 78th anniversary of the only time in the history of the world where a nuclear weapon was used (i.e., attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki). The two cities were virtually annihilated with between 129,00 and 226,00 dead, the majority of which were civilians.
In 1945, a discussion amongst I.I. Rabi, a Columbia University physicist and Nobel laureate, and theoretical physicist, J. Robert Oppenheimer revealed that national possession of weapons like the ones used in Japan presented a unique threat otherwise unheard of. Less than a decade later, hydrogen bombs upped the stakes– meaning the total number of potentially fatal attacks increased from hundreds of thousands to hundreds of millions. Oppenheimer went on to assume the responsibility of design and research of the atom bomb, thus making him the “ Father of the atomic bomb.”
According to an article by the Medill Reports Chicago, in 1953 the Doomsday Clock was reportedly set at two minutes. This adjustment was made after the detonation of a hydrogen bomb, the first thermonuclear weapon. In addition to the invention of The Doomsday Clock, the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 revealed a horrifying situation resulting in the construction of several missile sites. President John F. Kennedy issued a warning to Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev regarding the (scheduled) placement of nuclear armaments in Cuba.
“It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union,” Kennedy said in an October 1962 address to the nation. The Cuban Missile Crisis was a 13-day confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union and, arguably, was the closest the two superpowers would come to a nuclear war..
Various factors can contribute to the movement or acceleration of the Doomsday Clock. These include technological advancements, political tensions, weapons, technology, climate change, and pandemic illnesses. After the clock was reset 25 times, it is now the closest it has ever been to warranting a real threat. As of 2022, it is predicted that due to advancements in technology throughout Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom, the United States, Pakistan, India, Israel, North Korea, and Iran, the Doomsday Clock is set at just under 100 seconds to midnight. In January of this year, the clock was moved to 90 seconds until midnight based on the ongoing war in Ukraine. Prior to this year, in 2020, the clock rang in at 100 seconds and stayed at that number until the years, 2021 and 2022.
The COVID-19 pandemic was a demonstration of a societal crisis that had no direct resolution or solution. The world was not equipped to deal with that level of health crisis. According to a Medill Reports Chicago article, Rachel Bronson, president and CEO of the Bulletin of Scientists stated “COVID-19 will not obliterate civilization, and we expect the disease to recede eventually. Still, the pandemic serves as a historic wake-up call, a vivid illustration that national governments and international organizations are not prepared to handle complex and dangerous challenges like those of nuclear weapons and climate change.”
In addition to health and or issues related to climate change, the advancement of technology is startlingly progressive and adds to threats as well. For example, nuclear arsenal development and the development of hypersonic missiles carrying large nuclear warheads. Ironically enough, these were intended to help assist in deterring nuclear force post the Cold War. However, it has done the complete opposite by designing a faster way to deliver a nuclear payload. The United States has a nuclear weapons triad.
As of now, Russia has the world’s largest nuclear stockpile. In 1994 under Gorbachev’s leadership, Russia joined the United States and United Kingdom in the Budapest memorandum to reassure and declare that it would respect the independence and "refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine."
Russian President Vladimir Putin has vowed to expand Russia's nuclear arsenal with threats to use the weapons in its war with Ukraine. Russia, reportedly, has signaled it may unleash several Russian-made RS-28 Sarmats which are long-range ballistic missiles capable of carrying up to 10 large nuclear warhead and hypersonic missiles in 2023.
Political conflicts, such as the war in Ukraine, can create a major cause for concern regarding global risks which escalate and exacerbate an already volatile situation. Whether intentional or not, conflict coupled with miscalculations could result in the extinction of the human race as the world exists. Not only does conflict and miscalculation increase the worlds’ peril but it also undermines global efforts to combat climate change.
At the beginning of 2023, Russia had a reported 5,977 warheads, the United States has 5,428, China has 350, France has 290, the United Kingdom has 225, Pakistan has 165, India has 160, Israel has 90, and North Korea with a reported 20 (but lacking the technology to affix the warheads to a rocket.) As the war steadily continues, the last and final treaty between Russia and the United States, New START remains in jeopardy. The only way to avoid this is to negotiate and reduce nuclear proliferation, otherwise, the treaty will expire in February of 2026.
Additionally, countries formerly sourcing Russian oil and gas have sought resources elsewhere leading to expanding investment in natural gas when the opposite is what is needed. Russia has falsely blamed Ukraine for plans to use radiological dispersal devices, chemical weapons, and biological weapons creating more dissension. Thankfully there are a few things that world leaders can do to try and prevent this crisis such as staying informed on climate change, taking the treatment of the environment seriously, and most importantly continuing the geopolitical dialogue amongst China, the United States, and Russia regarding the reduction of nuclear weapons.