By Tariq Rauf
Vienna, 26 September 2021
The commemoration of the 2021 International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, takes place at a time of increasing nuclear dangers, the continuing COVID-19 pandemic and major damaging climate changes.
Earlier this year, the Doomsday Clock, created in 1947 by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists founded by Albert Einstein, remained precariously at a mere 100 seconds to midnight – midnight implying global nuclear destruction. The Doomsday Clock has been stuck at 100 seconds for a couple of years, closest to midnight than even during the Cold War because of continuing nuclear dangers.
All nine nuclear-armed countries are engaged in modernization of their nuclear weapon arsenals and are developing novel destabilizing technologies to better ensure that their nuclear attacks when launched will hit home.
Earlier this month reportedly, US President Joe Biden, following a long line of previous presidents, yet again provided written assurance to the Israeli prime minister to not push Israel to accede to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and thus also by implication to not support United Nations efforts to set up a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the volatile region of the Middle East.
Furthermore, under the awkwardly named AUKUS pact, the US will be arming Australia with nuclear-powered submarines, thus further exacerbating nuclear dangers in the Pacific Ocean area and also globally.
Despite the end of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet Union, today the nine nuclear armed countries between them possess 13,080 nuclear weapons deployed at 107 locations in 14 countries – with more than 2,000 at ready to launch status. This means that they can be launched within a few minutes of the launch order and in some cases, like the US, upon the “sole authority” of the president. Imagine the worst case existential risk of a nuclear weapons launch order by a feverish commander infected with the coronavirus struggling for breath and suffering mental delusions due to lack of oxygen.
Former US Secretary of Defense Bill Perry recalls that during his tenure there were three erroneous reports of Soviet missiles streaking towards the US. He concluded “we avoided nuclear catastrophe by good luck and not by good management”.
Only a few years ago, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) concluded that neither the world nor any single country had the capacity to deal with the humanitarian and environmental consequences of the detonation of a single nuclear weapon. This because in a nuclear war hospitals and infrastructure would be destroyed, doctors and first responders killed, the radioactive fallout could trigger a nuclear winter leading to crop failures and catastrophic climate failure worldwide; with the survivors envying the dead given their horrific blast and radiation injuries.
It is incontrovertible that there are no “right hands” for nuclear weapons, nor can such weapons of total mass destruction ensure peace and security. The truth is that the development and possession of nuclear weapons has become a major source of increasing international tensions.
In his 2019 video message, the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres stated that: “Nuclear weapons present an unacceptable danger to humanity. The only real way to eliminate the threat of nuclear weapons is to eliminate nuclear weapons.”
Thus, to conclude, the Doomsday Clock is stuck at 100 seconds to midnight, continuing the most dangerous situation ever faced by humanity. It is time for everyone to take the actions needed to save the world. With international efforts led by Austria and supported by more than 100 countries, though nuclear weapons have been outlawed, we need to continue the relentless struggle to eliminate them from this world just we are trying to eliminate the coronavirus and to rehabilitate the environment.
Tariq Rauf, board member of Atomic Reporters, was formerly Head of Verification and Security Policy Coordination, Office reporting to the Director General, International Atomic Energy Agency. Personal views are expressed here.