The Doomsday Clock is a symbolic clockface maintained since 1947 by the Board of Directors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. It uses the analogy of the human race being at a time that is a 'few minutes to midnight' where midnight represents destruction by nuclear war.
Chicago (AFP) Jan 12, 2007
The world is inching closer to nuclear Armageddon, a group of prominent scientists and security experts said Friday. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has kept a Doomsday clock since 1947 as a reminder of the dangers of nuclear proliferation. The clock will be moved forward Wednesday at simultaneous events in Washington and London whose speakers will include physicist Stephen Hawking, the Chicago-based periodical said in a statement.
The Bulletin warned that the world had entered a "Second Nuclear Age marked by grave threats."
It cited the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea; escalating terrorism; unsecured nuclear materials in Russia and elsewhere, the continuing "launch-ready" status of 2,000 of the 25,000 nuclear weapons held by the United States and Russia, and "new pressure from climate change for expanded civilian nuclear power that could increase proliferation risks."
First set at seven minutes to midnight -- a phrase that has become part of pop culture -- the clock has been moved 17 times in response to global events. The most recent shift was in 2002 when it moved two minutes forward because the United States withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and terrorists were known to be seeking nuclear and biological weapons. It currently stands once again at seven minutes to midnight, the closest to danger since the end of the Cold War.
Founded in 1945 by scientists who had helped develop the atomic bomb and were deeply concerned about the use of nuclear weapons, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists counts 17 Nobel laureates among its boards of directors and sponsors.
Here are the dates and reasons for previous changes:
- 2002: Seven minutes to midnight
The United States rejects a series of arms control treaties and announces it will withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Terrorists seek to acquire and use nuclear and biological weapons.
- 1998: Nine minutes to midnight
India and Pakistan "go public" with nuclear tests. The United States and Russia cannot agree on further deep reductions in their nuclear stockpiles.
- 1995: Fourteen minutes to midnight
Further arms reductions stall while global military spending continues at Cold War levels. Risks of nuclear "leakage" from poorly guarded former Soviet facilities increase.
- 1991: Seventeen minutes to midnight
The United States and the Soviet Union sign the long-stalled Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and announce further unilateral cuts in tactical and strategic nuclear weapons.
- 1990: Ten minutes to midnight
The Cold War ends as the Iron Curtain falls.
- 1988: Six minutes to midnight
The United States and the Soviet Union sign a treaty to eliminate intermediate-range nuclear forces; superpower relations improve; more nations actively oppose nuclear weapons.
- 1984: Three minutes to midnight
The arms race accelerates.
- 1981: Four minutes to midnight
Both superpowers develop more weapons for fighting a nuclear war. Terrorist actions, repression of human rights, and conflicts in Afghanistan, Poland and South Africa add to world tension.
- 1980: Seven minutes to midnight
The deadlock in US-Soviet arms talks continues; nationalistic wars and terrorist actions increase; the gulf between rich and poor nations grows wider.
- 1974: Nine minutes to midnight
SALT talks reach an impasse; India develops a nuclear weapon.
- 1972: Twelve minutes to midnight
The United States and the Soviet Union sign the first Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
- 1969: Ten minutes to midnight
The US Senate ratifies the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
- 1968: Seven minutes to midnight
France and China acquire nuclear weapons; wars rage in the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, and Vietnam; world military spending increases while development funds shrink.
- 1963: Twelve minutes to midnight
The US and Soviet signing of the Partial Test Ban Treaty "provides the first tangible confirmation of what has been the Bulletin's conviction in recent years -- that a new cohesive force has entered the interplay of forces shaping the fate of mankind."
- 1960: Seven minutes to midnight
Growing public understanding that nuclear weapons made war between the major powers irrational amid greater international scientific cooperation and efforts to aid poor nations.
- 1953: Two minutes to midnight
The United States and the Soviet Union test thermonuclear devices within nine months of one another.
- 1949: Three minutes to midnight
The Soviet Union explodes its first atomic bomb.
- 1947: Seven minutes to midnight
The clock first appears on the Bulletin cover as a symbol of nuclear danger.