Doomsday Clock: Nuclear Arsenals More Dangerous Now than During the Cold War

Human Wrongs Watch

1 February 2016 (ICAN)*The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) informed that on 26 January 2016 the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists kept the “Doomsday clock” at three minutes to midnight, the closest it has been since the height of the Cold War in 1983. Despite the successful Paris Agreement on Climate, the current nuclear arsenals and their modernisation programmes increase the risk of nuclear war.


Bombs No More Melbourne | ICAN campaigners in Melbourne held a Bombs No More action, encouraging passers-by to “disarm a nuclear bomb” by transforming it into something peaceful | Source: ICAN

The Bulletin’s Science and Security Board notes that decisive action on nuclear weapons is urgently needed. 

Lawrence Krauss, Chair of the Bulletin’s Board of Sponsors, said that efforts like the humanitarian pledge and a treaty banning nuclear weapons would certainly have a positive impact on the clock.

ICAN shares the concerns of the Bulletin and highlights the urgent need for governments to use the momentum gained from the humanitarian initiative, to negotiate a treaty that prohibits nuclear weapons.

As a response to new evidence about the human and environmental repercussions of a nuclear detonation and a dangerous new arm race fueled by modernization programmes in all nuclear armed states, many governments are rallying behind the “Humanitarian Pledge”, a commitment to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons.


Source: ICAN

“The Bulletin’s warning should be taken seriously by world leaders,” says Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), “The risk of use of nuclear weapons is on the rise. If a nuclear weapon was detonated, the effects would be devastating and the international community would be unable to cope with the aftermath. The status quo is no longer an option”.

Inspired by the main global achievements of 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement, governments have an opportunity to address the pressing issues of nuclear weapons in a UN working group in Geneva, Switzerland this year.

“All responsible states should use the UN nuclear talks that will take place in Geneva, Switzerland in February and May 2015, to start working on a new treaty that – similarly to other weapons of mass destructions – prohibits the possession and use of nuclear weapons’ concludes Fihn, “If we don’t take this opportunity to prohibit nuclear weapons, the world might face a humanitarian catastrophe.”

The United States Tests New, Smaller Nuclear Weapons

On 18 January 2016, ICAN wrote: last week, shortly after the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)’s allegedly detonated an hydrogen bomb, the United States carried out a mock nuclear weapons test, on the new B61-12 over the Nevada desert.

The new addition to the US arsenal is a precision-guided, “smaller nuclear bomb”. It is a previously untested, modification designed to replace the existing B61 family, primarily deployed in five European countries (Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey).


Image © | Source: ICAN

The new bomb is equipped with maneuverable sensors, allowing it to target and destroy underground objects, and an adjustable yield, which could still create a blast of more than three times the size of the one that destroyed Hiroshima.

These ‘smaller’ and ‘smarter’ nuclear weapons risk making nuclear weapons more useable. Despite commitments to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in security strategies, this increase in usability of the weapons is likely to increase their role, particularly in the NATO nuclear doctrine.

James N. Miller, one of the US government officials who helped develop the modernisation plan said “Minimizing civilian casualties if deterrence fails is both a more credible and a more ethical approach.”, despite that the entire theory of nuclear “deterrence” is built on a claim that it cannot fail.

“This B61 model is a new nuclear weapon and a very worrying development.” Says Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director of ICAN, “It could lower the threshold of use, and will increase tensions and risk of use when stationed in European NATO-bases.

The risk of nuclear weapons use is already the highest since the end of the Cold War according to many experts, and these “smaller” nuclear weapons would still cause devastating humanitarian harm and unleash a nuclear war.’

The states wielding nuclear weapons believe they have the right to use a weapon with the capability to mass murder civilians, destroy cities, disrupt the climate, and threaten humanity’s survival.

Building a “smaller” or “more precise” nuclear weapon is neither credible nor ethical. The nuclear weapon tests conducted by the DPRK and the US, and the ongoing development and modernization of the arsenals of all nuclear-armed states, underscore the inability of the current legal regime to prevent states from seeking, possessing, or modernising nuclear weapons.

“The only credible and ethical approach is to prohibit nuclear weapons for everyone, stop all modernisation programmes, and eliminate existing arsenals.

The international community must take responsibility and prevent another nuclear arms race from happening by prohibiting nuclear weapons through a legally-binding international treaty. That is a practical, feasible, and effective way to help facilitate nuclear disarmament in the current context,” says Fihn.

TEDx: Can We Prevent Nuclear War?


On 1 February 2016, ICAN informed that Dr Ira Helfand, a co-president of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and member of ICAN’s international steering group, explains the grave threat posed by nuclear weapons in today’s world, and our moral obligation to work together to achieve complete nuclear disarmament.

He highlights the fast-growing international movement to outlaw these ultimate weapons of mass destruction.

For more information, contact: Daniela Varano

*Source: ICANInternational Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons | 

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Read on nuclear Middle East:

Non-Proliferation Treaty: Nuclear Weapons and Tension Areas

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