Issue 87 • Week of September 17, 2023

People are more concerned about the threat of nuclear weapons than they have been in at least the past two decades, and that was before Oppenheimer was released in theaters. We are in greater danger of a nuclear war now than during any point since the atomic era began; scientists have set the doomsday clock to only 90 seconds until midnight.

For a short time, the world had become significantly safer from mutually assured destruction after the Cold War. The doomsday clock was set back as far as 17 minutes to midnight in 1991 where it remained for four years. Treaties such as INF and START I successfully reduced stockpiles from a high of about 70,000 warheads in 1986 to roughly 13,000 today – so there is reason to maintain hope as world leaders mark the 9th annual International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons next week.

However, America does have to accept some responsibility for our current predicament. A rash decision by President George W. Bush widely condemned in the aftermath of 9/11 led to the US withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and a corresponding Russian response to disregard its obligations to START II. Subsequent agreements such as SORT and New START continued arms reductions, but Bush set a dangerous precedent by exiting a treaty once thought to be ironclad.

Now, treaty withdrawals by both the US and Russia alongside escalations in rhetoric during the invasion of Ukraine as well as ongoing rivalry in South Asia have brought the world closer to the brink than ever before.

How can we turn the doomsday clock back from nuclear war?

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