Why did the Doomsday clock move?

The recent decision of American nuclear experts to move the Doomsday Clock, a symbolic device indicating the level of nuclear danger, one minute further forward, inspired mixed feelings among Russian experts. The Doomsday Clock, first established in 1947 by a group of American physicists who participated in the creation of the atomic bomb and clustered around the famous Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, is now fixed in the position “Five Minutes to Midnight,” midnight being nuclear Armageddon.

During the 64 years of its existence, the Doomsday Clock’s hands have moved 20 times. The current position of the clock is certainly no cause for celebration, even though in 1953 the situation was even worse: then the Doomsday Clock indicated we only had two minutes before the disaster, staying at the 11:58 mark. In the wake of the biggest thaw in Russo-American relations ushered in by the former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985-1991, the hands were moved to their most secure position ever. In 1991 the hands of the Doomsday Clock stood at “Seventeen to Midnight.”

Since then the “Doomsday Time” went back only once, giving us one more minute in the year 2010, when the famous “reset” in Russo-Aerican relations inspired some hopes. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists noted that two years ago its experts had an impression that the world’s leaders had the ability to stand up to global threats. This impression is almost gone now, hence the menacing new position of the Doomsday Clock.

Russian experts, while acknowledging the expertise of their American colleagues, suggest a more balanced approach. Vladimir Orlov, the head of the Moscow based think tank PIR-Center, specializing in the assessment of security challenges, particularly in the nuclear field, says that the amount of nuclear threats has not incrased in the year 2011, but the coming year 2012 does not augur well so far.

“The Doomsday Clock idea is a sound one and I have a lot of respect for people who make these assessments,” Orlov said in a phone interview. “But I am not sure we saw any significant changes since the year 2010. The Arab revolutions, important as they are geopolitically, affect the countries that have no nuclear weapons. In the field of nuclear security, 2011 was a “sleepingĀ» year.”

Experts differ in the views on the current state of Russo-American relations, which for a long time have been the main factor in nuclear security. The new START treaty between Russia and the United States, a major achievement of the year 2010, has not been heard about too much ever since the middle of the year 2011. The only news about it came from the United States, where the new START treaty was criticized by congressmen and potential candidates for the presidency as being “soft on Russia.”

“We still have to see how this treaty will be implemented,” says retired general Yevgeny Buzhinsky, formerly the head of several Russian negotiating teams at Russo-NATO talks on strategic arms. “According to the treaty, Americans will have to dismantle some of their nuclear weapons. We know they don’t like to do it.”

PIR-Center’s Vladimir Orlov is more optimistic.

“I agree that there is a certain cooling of relations between Russia and the United States. However, according to PIR-Center’s information, the new START treaty is being implemented,” Orlov said. “There is a certain increase in weapons-related rhetoric because of the start of the presidential race in the United States that is true. There are also a lot of statements about Iran’s nuclear projects. These are worrisome trends, but for the moment they are limited to rhetoric. I, for my part, do not think Iran has nuclear weapons and I strongly doubt it has plans to develop such weapons. So, we still have to wait and see whether the real clock of the nuclear threat will go forward or back.”

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