Citing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the consequences globally, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced Tuesday that its 2023 Doomsday Clock has been set forward to the closest to catastrophe it has ever been. The move reflects an assessment by the Bulletin’s science and security board that the world is in a state of unprecedented danger.
For more than 75 years, the Doomsday Clock has been a powerful symbol used to warn the public about the immediacy of existential threats by showing how close humanity is to destroying our world. The horrific war in Ukraine “has increased the risk of nuclear weapons use, raised the specter of biological and chemical weapons use, hamstrung the world’s response to climate change, and hampered international efforts to deal with other global concerns,” the Bulletin stated in turning to clock to 90 seconds to midnight.
Meanwhile, “Russia’s thinly veiled threats to use nuclear weapons remind the world that escalation of the conflict—by accident, intention, or miscalculation—is a terrible risk. The possibility that the conflict could spin out of anyone’s control remains high,” the statement said. “Russia has also brought its war to the Chernobyl and Zaporizhzhia nuclear reactor sites, violating international protocols and risking widespread release of radioactive materials. Efforts by the International Atomic Energy Agency to secure these plants so far have been rebuffed.”
Even if nuclear use in Ukraine is avoided, the war has undeniably challenged the global nuclear order. Russia’s actions violate international norms and nuclear safety protocols, contravene decades of commitments by Moscow, and have jeopardized the future of New START, the last remaining nuclear weapons treaty between Russia and the United States.
Unfortunately, the adverse effects of the war are not limited to the nuclear landscape. Ongoing Russian disinformation campaigns regarding biolaboratories and bioweapons in Ukraine have changed the landscape of biological threats. According to the Bulletin, “[the] risk that Russia will engage in biological warfare increases as conditions in Ukraine become more chaotic, weakening norms of warfare.”
Due to these (and other) mounting and horrifying dangers, advancement of the 2023 Doomsday Clock seemed unavoidable. Nuclear risks, biological threats, climate change, and disruptive technologies are existential issues that threaten us all. Still, it is vital to remember that they are not insurmountable—the hands of the clock can also turn back.
The clock serves as a powerful warning about the state of our world, but it is also meant to remind people that we have moved the clock back in the past and can do so again. “No one can do this alone, but everyone can do something,” said the Bulletin’s President and CEO Rachel Bronson. “We hope that the moving of the clock is a motivator that we all need to pay attention to these key issues.”
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