Ticking Closer to Nuclear Midnight
Exclusive: President Obama embraced Japanese survivors of the Hiroshima bomb, but his policies, such as heightening tensions with Russia, have raised the potential for a far worse nuclear catastrophe, explains Jonathan Marshall.
By Jonathan Marshall
Even if you’ve never won an office raffle, a sports pool or a lottery, consider yourself supremely lucky. Unlike the atomic bomb victims who were recognized by President Barack Obama’s visit to Hiroshima, you’ve never experienced the horrors of nuclear war.
That’s nothing any of us should take for granted, says former Defense Secretary William Perry. On at least three occasions, he noted recently, the U.S. military received false alarms of a Soviet nuclear attack. At least twice the Soviet military went on high alert from similar alarms. And anyone who lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 survived “as much by good luck as by good management,” he added.
The consequences of an accidental nuclear war would be staggering. Thousands of U.S. and Russian warheads, some of them orders of magnitude larger than the one that wiped out Hiroshima, are primed for launch on warning. Besides wiping out tens or hundreds of millions of people in urban centers, they would put a large fraction of the world’s population at risk from starvation.
A 2013 report by Physicians for Social Responsibility concluded that even a limited regional nuclear exchange — say between India and Pakistan — could “cause significant climate disruption worldwide” and jeopardize food supplies to as many as two billion people.
Many authorities believe the threat of accidental war is even greater today than during most of the Cold War. Last year, the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved its famous Doomsday Clock forward to three minutes to midnight, its “direst setting” since the nuke-rattling days of the early Reagan era.
The group cited continued bluster and brinkmanship between NATO and Russia, including the shooting down of a Russian warplane by Turkey, as indicators of today’s risky nuclear environment.