Can there be a bunch of more self-serving individuals than the board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which annually presents its assessment of global politics in the form of its ‘Doomsday Clock’? Yesterday, the organisation announced that it was moving its clock forward by 30 seconds so that it now stands at two and a half minutes to midnight – where midnight is Armageddon, the end of human civilisation as we know it.
The reason, of course, is Donald Trump. As the scientists explained: ‘He has made ill-considered comments about expanding the US nuclear arsenal. He has shown a troubling propensity to discount or outright reject expert advice related to international security, including the conclusions of intelligence experts. And his nominees to head the Energy Department and the Environmental Protection Agency dispute the basics of climate science.’
We all know that Trump is a bit off his rocker, but is the world really closer to annihilation than it was during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, during the crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968, during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1980 or in the aftermath of 9/11 in 2001? The only time that the Doomsday clock has been set closer to midnight than it is now was in 1953 when the US tested its first hydrogen bomb.
Trump has shown some belligerence in his first week at the White House, but mainly against journalists at the Washington Post and others who dared to question his claim that he had a bigger crowd for his inauguration than did Barack Obama. Bizarre – but trivial. As for him warmongering against foreign states, I must have been asleep. Far from ratcheting up US rhetoric against Putin’s Russia, Trump has been winding it down – to the point he has been accused of being a Putin plant.
He has declared an end to the US ‘cycle of intervention and chaos’. That might be an ominous sign for oppressed people around the world who would rather the US did come and blitz their presidential palaces pronto, but a threat to world peace? Surely it is the opposite: it reduces the danger that the US, Russia and China could end up entangled in proxy wars which then erupt into full-scale global conflict. We might well end up with a trade war between the US and China, but that isn’t going to mean bombs flying, just fewer containers of consumer products crossing the Pacific.
When the concept of the Doomsday Clock was established in 1947 it was a serious attempt to gauge the danger of nuclear war. More recently, it has become a feeble little protest against anything that irks scientists. And of course, it is no longer just about the threat of nuclear Armageddon but about climate change, too – as if the threat of a slightly warmer world over coming centuries compared with the instant destruction of most of the human race.
The ‘Doomsday’ which these scientists really fear is that their departments will be starved of cash, that they won’t feel quite so valued by an administration and that the liberal values they espouse will be supplanted by conservative ones. Usually, says the Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, it moves the clock by a full minute, but on this occasion it was advanced only by 30 seconds because ‘as this statement is issued Donald Trump has been the US President only a matter of days’. The subtext is: we need to give ourselves room to repeat our little protest next year, and the year after, and if we keep on moving it in whole minutes we will accidentally have reached Armageddon before the end of Trump’s term.