Every year since 1947 in the month of January, members of the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists meet to perform an annual ritual of setting the time on the “Doomsday Clock.” It is a mechanism designed to warn the world of how close we are to doomsday; the closer the clock moved to midnight, the closer we are to a nuclear holocaust. In 2007, the scientists added climate change as one that could also cause global destruction.
In 1947, the scientists agreed to set the clock initially to 11:53 PM or seven minutes to midnight. They hang the clock on a wall in the Bulletin’s office at the University of Chicago to remind everybody how close we were to the threat of a global nuclear war.
The following were the years when the Doomsday Clock was closest or farthest to midnight:
In 1949, the clock was set to 11:57 PM or three minutes to midnight. That was when the Soviet Union tested her first atomic bomb, which officially started the nuclear arms race.
In 1972, the clock was set to 11:48 PM when the U.S. and the Soviet Union signed the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I) and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
In 1984, the clock was set once again to 11:57 PM when tensions escalated between the U.S. and the Soviet Union when the arms race intensified. The U.S. deployed Pershing II medium-range ballistic missiles and cruise missiles in Western Europe.
In 1991, the clock was set to 11:43 PM – 17 minutes to midnight — the earliest setting since its inception. That was when the U.S. and the Soviet Union signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and the collapse of the Soviet Union thereafter.
The most recent setting was made on January 22, 2015. The clock was set to 11:57 PM or three minutes to midnight. That was the closest we were to doomsday since 1984. It was due to the modernization of nuclear weapons in the U.S. and Russia, the specter of a new Cold War, the problem of nuclear waste, and the danger of global climate change.
Ukraine civil war
What the scientists did not take into account when they set the clock last month was the civil war in Ukraine where the U.S. and her NATO allies are being drawn into a proxy war with Russia. It is feared that the fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists in East Ukraine might escalate should Russia decide to invade Ukraine in full force including the use of tactical nuclear weapons. But what is preventing Russia from intervening is that the U.S. has so far desisted from arming Ukraine. However, President Barack Obama is under tremendous pressure by high military officials and a growing number of U.S. senators and members of Congress to send heavy weapons to Ukraine. Obama is said to be weighing his options. And then…
Last February 12, after a marathon 17-hour summit of Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President François Hollande, and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Minsk, Belarus, they agreed on a ceasefire and a slew of measures to achieve peace in Ukraine.
Putin was the first to announce, saying: “We have agreed on a ceasefire from midnight 15 February.” Then he added: “There is also the political settlement. The first thing is constitutional reform that should take into consideration the legitimate rights of people who live in Donbas. There are also border issues. Finally there are (sic) a whole range of economic and humanitarian issues.”
Peacemaker or renegade?
But peace was as remote as it was before the summit. No sooner had the four leaders signed the agreement than Ukraine claimed that 50 Russian tanks, 40 missile systems, and 40 armored vehicles crossed the border into Ukraine. It was also reported that an armored column of Russian-speaking soldiers without insignias – the “little green men” — were advancing around Debaltseve, a strategic rail hub, which had been under intense artillery shelling by the rebels.
Once again, Putin denied sending heavy weapons and troops to Ukraine. But the U.S. released photos taken by satellites showing the movement of heavy weapons into eastern Ukraine right after the ceasefire agreement was signed.
Evidently, Putin is doing everything he can to make the ceasefire fail just like the first one he agreed to last September. And this leads many to believe that the ceasefire would not last too long, which then begs the question: What exactly does Putin want?
While speculations abound about what his real intentions were, one known fact is that he felt very badly about the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. During his state of the nation address to the country’s parliament in April 2005, he bitterly said: “Above all, we should acknowledge that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century. As for the Russian nation, it became a genuine drama. Tens of millions of our co-citizens and co-patriots found themselves outside Russian territory. Moreover, the epidemic of disintegration infected Russia itself.”
It did not then come as a surprise that when Putin was elected to a third term in May 2012, he embarked on a road map to restore “Mother Russia” to her old imperial glory. In 2014, he made several moves to assert his leadership over the Eurasian subcontinent that includes all of the defunct Soviet Union’s former republics and the Eastern European client states from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea.
It didn’t take long for Putin to annex Crimea, which stunned the U.S. and her NATO allies. Unprepared for such a blatant act of aggression, all they could do was impose economic sanctions.
Emboldened by the ease with which he grabbed Crimea, Putin then called Ukrainian President Poroshenko and threateningly told him: “If I wanted, in two days I could have Russian troops not only in Kiev, but also in Riga, Vilnius, Tallinn, Warsaw and Bucharest.” These are the capitals of NATO members who were formerly aligned with the Soviet Union before her demise. It gave them an eerie feeling of déjà vu when the Soviet Union forcibly imposed her reign over them in the closing days of World War II.
Now, in the midst of a civil war that could escalate into World War III, pitting NATO against Russia, planet Earth has never been closer to nuclear annihilation. The warring sides have enough nuclear warheads between them – NATO has 8,175 and Russia has 8,420 — to fry the world into radioactive smithereens. And all it would take is for Putin to press the “doomsday button.”
From Munich to Minsk
In retrospect, one wonders if the Minsk Agreement was an attempt to appease Putin by acceding to his demands including the “division” of Ukraine into several autonomous states within a federation. But once the Ukrainian Federation is created, what would prevent the pro-Russian autonomous states – Donetsk and Lugansk — from seceding, ala Crimea, from Ukraine in the future? Which makes one wonder if the Minsk Agreement of 2015 had the hallmark of the Munich Agreement of 1938? That was when the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Italy signed a settlement allowing Germany’s annexation of parts of Czechoslovakia in return for peace. But less than six months later, Germany invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia. World War II had begun.
For as long as the U.S. and her NATO allies stay out of Ukraine and refrain from sending lethal weapons to Ukraine, Putin is appeased. But what if the ceasefire were broken? Would the U.S. provide Ukraine with the weapons needed to defend her territory? Or would Obama throw Poroshenko under the bus and turn a blind eye to the pillage that would follow the collapse of Ukraine? Or… and here is the big IF… If Obama decides to send all the weapons Ukraine needs, what would Putin do? Would he make good of his promise to go nuclear? And just the thought of Putin going ballistic, that alone would set the “Doomsday Clock” to 11:59 PM… or one minute to midnight. God forbid!