Is the "Doomsday Clock" stuck?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

That famous symbol of the Cold War, the Doomsday Clock (of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists) appears to have become stuck at seven minutes to midnight since some time in March or April of 2002.

Chicago, February 27, 2002: Today, the Board of Directors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moves the minute hand of the "Doomsday Clock," the symbol of nuclear danger, from nine to seven minutes to midnight, the same setting at which the clock debuted 55 years ago. Since the end of the Cold War in 1991, this is the third time the hand has moved forward.

We move the hands taking into account both negative and positive developments. The negative developments include too little progress on global nuclear disarmament; growing concerns about the security of nuclear weapons materials worldwide; the continuing U.S. preference for unilateral action rather than cooperative international diplomacy; U.S. abandonment of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and U.S. efforts to thwart the enactment of international agreements designed to constrain proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons; the crisis between India and Pakistan; terrorist efforts to acquire and use nuclear and biological weapons; and the growing inequality between rich and poor around the world that increases the potential for violence and war. If it were not for the positive changes highlighted later in this statement, the hands of the clock might have moved closer still. [bold added]
Since so many scientists are lefties, does it really surprise anyone that the United States is mentioned by name in these two summary paragraphs three times to the once (giving Pakistan, arguendo, the benefit of the doubt) the terrorists rate, and the zero Russia (with its accounting problems and scientists for hire) rates?

I don't recall exactly why I thought of the clock. Perhaps it was because I read this article (HT: Newslinker) about American military assets that might be deployed to halt Iran's feverish drive to develop the bomb.
The military option may be the only means of halting a regime that has threatened to annihilate Israel from developing a bomb and triggering a regional nuclear arms race.

Experts agree that America has the military capability to destroy Iran's dozen known atomic sites. US forces virtually surround Iran with military air bases to the west in Afghanistan, to the east in Iraq, Turkey and Qatar and the south in Oman and Diego Garcia. The US Navy also has a carrier group in the Gulf, armed with attack aircraft and Tomahawk cruise missiles. B2 stealth bombers flying from mainland America could also be used.
But think about the clock I did. "Surely," I thought, "What with Iran being so close and so defiant, and with North Korea likely to have the bomb already, the clock has had to be moved."

Well. OK. I lied. For one thing, I know how far to the left many scientists are: I am, after all, the only scientist I know of in my department at work to have voted for Bush and so was outnumbered three-to-one by scientists in my lab who voted for Dennis Kucinich in the Democrat primaries. For another, the first time I looked at this site I noticed the strong tendency to assume the worst of United States policies while only very reluctantly admitting that anyone else might possibliy be, perhaps, up to no good. My actual thought was more like, "Have they finally gotten around to admitting that there is a problem?"

The answer would appear to be "No."

Since I started with Iran, let's look at the Bulletin's latest report on that nation.
Despite the U.S. government's fears, the president's "WMD Commission" concluded that U.S. intelligence knows "disturbingly little" about Iran. And in August, the Washington Post reported that a new U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) projects that Iran is about 10 years from having the capability of making nuclear weapons--double the time predicted by earlier estimates.

The new NIE, if correct, provides more time for active engagement. The United States and other international partners should seize the opportunity to work closely with Tehran to ensure that its nuclear program complies with the most rigorous safeguards while preserving its right to perform peaceful nuclear activities. Close involvement also can serve as an important source of data on Iranian nuclear activities and can act as a reality check on U.S. intelligence community estimates.

Such collaboration would open interesting avenues to shape the development of Iran's nuclear program in a positive manner. In the near term, the United States could work with the nuclear industry to provide a steady supply of fresh fuel to Iran through direct contracts with individual companies or through a multinational consortium. (Such a "fuel bank" was recently proposed at an international conference in Moscow.) In parallel to the provision of guaranteed fresh fuel as needed [for what? -- ed], Iran would implement part of its own proposed agreement with the European Union to restrict the number of enrichment centrifuges it operates for research purposes. [bold added]
Since U.S. intelligence might be off, assuming that Iran is closer is out of the question, and we should give fuel to Iran, presumably as a sort of bribe so we can monitor their facilities -- something the Iranian government has made clear it does not want!
Over the long term [a decade or when Iran has the bomb, whichever comes first --ed], if confidence builds [And what if it doesn't? --ed] that Iran is fully complying with more rigorous safeguards -- and if Iran's nuclear energy needs continue to grow -- the United States and its international partners can assist Iran with developing next-generation fuel cycles that have built-in proliferation-resistant technologies. One such option would be to spike low-enriched uranium hexafluoride with thorium. If the spiked material is introduced into an enrichment plant to make highly enriched uranium, as opposed to the low-enriched uranium used for nuclear fuel, the presence of radioactive thorium would sound an alarm.
So we give Iran fuel "as needed" for their -- er -- non-proliferation-resistant fuel cycle and then introduce proliferation-resistant technologies? I guess if U.S. intel is wrong, then we should by all means wait until it is right. And what better way to be correct about Iran having a bomb than to have good, solid evidence, like a nuclear detonation? Never mind that this is exactly what U.S. intelligence and military efforts are supposed to be heading off!

If a publication by a bunch of nuclear scientists hadn't come up with this loony plan, I would have said, "It doesn't take a nuclear scientist to realize that this is appeasement."
Critics would likely label our proposal as appeasement. Rather than being starry-eyed Neville Chamberlains proclaiming nuclear "peace in our time" with Iran, we would hinge implementation of our initiative on Iran agreeing to rigorous, continuous monitoring of their nuclear program through active involvement with the United States and the European Union. Only by keeping our enemy closer can we increase confidence that Iran is living up to its commitments.
Instead, I'll just say that, "Even a nuclear scientist might realize that this proposal is appeasement."

What is even more incredible -- and remember how evil the unilateralist United States is -- is this article which, if you can read the bloodless "disinterested" prose without nodding off, describes in rich detail the extent to which Iran has developed its own nuclear sector and catalogues a huge amount of international help. In fact, it sounds like Iran really doesn't need the help that the Bulletin so boldy proposed above that we lend. Its conclusion reads, at least to me, like its author can barely keep himself from congratulating the Iranians.
Foreign nuclear scientists and engineers have undoubtedly helped Iran over the years. While Iran is still strongly interested in their assistance, it has built up an impressive indigenous program.

The Iranian nuclear program appears to be transforming from a small, research-based system to one that includes a completely indigenous nuclear fuel cycle. Iran is nearing this level despite the opposition of the United States, Israel, and other nations.

Last October, President Khatami commented that "Iran has made major breakthroughs in the area of industrial and scientific development at a time when Iran was in a most challenging historical juncture and highly critical international conditions." These breakthroughs came about not only because Iran has acquired help from abroad, but because it has devoted considerable resources to nurturing its own technical talent.

"Impressive", eh? You ain't whistlin' Dixie.

This article is dated May/June 2004 and did not prompt a movement forward of the Doomsday Clock. Was Iran's progress just not "impressive" enough to the blowhards at the Bulletin? Was the use of that term just one of encouragement from one group of nuclear scientists suspicious of America to another?

But let's give Iran a rest. What of North Korea? At least the Bulletin seems halfway lucid in its May/June 2005 assessment of North Korea's intentions.

Perhaps the greatest danger of all would be North Korea selling its plutonium, highly enriched uranium, or finished weapons to other countries or terrorists. Its track record with ballistic missiles is not encouraging. It has sold missiles to Iran, Yemen, Syria, and Pakistan -- lucrative sources of income to the impoverished country. Fissile material and nuclear weapons would be even more lucrative and would have a far larger impact on regional and international security.
"Not encouraging." And yet, three years after the Doomsday Clock was moved forward, it remains stuck at seven minutes to midnight. The last time the clock moved forward, all that was needed, according to the Bulletin's own executive summary, was for, "[t]he United States [to reject] a series of arms control treaties and [announce] it will withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty [and for t]errorists [to] seek to acquire and use nuclear and biological weapons."

Again, giving known nuclear power Pakistan an undeserved benefit of the doubt, even the Bulletin admits that Iran and its ally, Syria, have missiles and that Iran, a known sponsor of terrorists is quite able to develop a bomb if it wants one. Unless you're a nuclear scientist that would mean that terrorists are about to have the bomb, if they don't already: "The global community has united to condemn terrorism -- too bad nobody can agree on what exactly a terrorist is." Well, I was about to ask why the clock hasn't moved forward yet, but I guess that one just answered itself.

Will the clock move towards midnight if an Islamic bomb goes off? Away if America stops this from happening? Will it stay still? Or will it move in the wrong direction? Or does the clock move only when these scientists think someone might listen to them?

Your guess is as good as mine.

-- CAV


Myrhaf said...

Scientists vote for Dennis Kucinich? Now, that's scary.

Gus Van Horn said...

Heck, anyone with an IQ over 55 who votes for Kucinich is scary.

A couple of these guys were also unhappy because Nader wasn't on the ballot for the Presidential election.


FrauBudgie said...

I also have been wondering about the Doomsday Clock, and I've been noticing it hasn't budged.

Thanks for the explanation; depressing, but makes sense.

Also, has it occurred to anyone that we honestly don't really know what Iran already has?

Gus Van Horn said...


I think so. What blows my mind is that so many people seem not to care one way or the other.


Laika's Last Woof said...

The BAS clock strains the old proverb that even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

Rogue nations get bombs and there's nary a tock, but the U.S. chooses not to sign a PIECE OF PAPER and it's Dick Clark rockin' in Armageddon Eve.

I'll make a prediction: nothing Iran does including test-firing a nuclear device will budge those rusty gears, but the second an American or Israeli military option is suggested the clock will scream, "Doomsday!"

Gus Van Horn said...


If GWB would only make such a suggestion (or better yetr, just do it), we could discover whether the part of your prediction after "but" is true!

Of course, I'll grant your whole argument if they find another, even less "good" excuse to do the same thing.