The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists will announce on Thursday whether the minute hand on its “Doomsday Clock” will be adjusted, now that President Donald Trump, whose campaign took on the status quo with Russia, China, Mexico and other nations, has been sworn into office.
Since the founding of its clock in 1947, the organization has judged the world moving to a safer place generally whenever Republicans are in the Oval Office.
It’s the Democrats who move the clock closer to “Doomsday.”
The clock is now at three minutes to midnight, where it was placed during Democrat Barack Obama’s tenure.
Factors such as the White House transition, U.S.-Russia relations, North Korea, Iran’s nuclear aspirations and the “uncertain fate of climate solutions” are among the considerations in deciding where to position the minute hand in 2017.
The decision is made by the group’s Science and Security Board, in consultation with the Board of Sponsors, which includes 15 Nobel winners.
“Factors influencing the 2017 deliberations regarding any adjustment that may be made to the Doomsday Clock include: a rise in strident nationalism worldwide, President Donald Trump’s comments on nuclear arms and climate issues, a darkening global security landscape that is colored by increasingly sophisticated technology, and a growing disregard for scientific expertise,” the group’s announcement said.
The clock was not moved last year, but in 2015, under Obama, it moved from five minutes to midnight to three minutes to midnight.
That was when the group said the “probability of global catastrophe is very high, and the actions needed to reduce the risks of disaster must be taken very soon.”
At the time of the 2015 change, indicating higher threats, the group said: “Unchecked climate change, global nuclear weapons modernizations, and outsized nuclear weapons arsenals pose extraordinary and undeniable threats to the continued existence of humanity, and world leaders have failed to act with the speed or on the scale required to protect citizens from potential catastrophe. These failures of political leadership endanger every person on Earth.”
In 2012, under Obama, the clock moved from six minutes to five minutes when the scientists warned, “It is difficult to see where the capacity lies to address these challenges.”
They pointed out “the potential for nuclear weapons use in regional conflicts in the Middle East, Northeast Asia, and South Asia.”
In 2010, shortly after Obama took office, the clock moved from five minutes to six minutes as negotiations between Washington and Moscow for a follow-on agreement to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty neared completion and more negotiations for further reductions in the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenal were planned.
It moved from nine minutes to seven minutes to five under Republican George W. Bush, an outlier among Republicans in the assessment, during his tenure after the 9/11 terror attacks.
The scientists pointed out the United States and Russia “remain ready to stage a nuclear attack within minutes, North Korea conducts a nuclear test, and many in the international community worry that Iran plans to acquire the bomb.”
Setting the clock at seven minutes in 2002, they said, “Concerns regarding a nuclear terrorist attack underscore the enormous amount of unsecured – and sometimes unaccounted for – weapon-grade nuclear materials located throughout the world.”
Democrat Bill Clinton took it from 14 minutes before midnight in 1995 to nine minutes in 1998, when the scientists called the nuclear weapons tests by both India and Pakistan a “failure of the international community to fully commit itself to control the spread.”
George H.W. Bush’s term ended with the clock at 17 minutes to midnight, up from 10 minutes in 1991 when the Cold War was officially over and the United States and Russia began making deep cuts to their nuclear arsenals.
The clock was at four minutes to midnight in 1981, the year Ronald Reagan took office, and it moved to three minutes in 1984 as the Soviet Union spiraled toward its eventual disintegration. It surged back to six minutes in 1988.
Under President Jimmy Carter, it was set at seven minutes, down from nine minutes the year President Richard Nixon was succeeded by President Gerald Ford, both Republicans.
It was at 10 minutes to midnight when Nixon took over from Lyndon Johnson, and rose briefly to 12 minutes as the U.S. and USSR signed the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty and Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
Johnson took it from 12 minutes in 1963 to seven minutes in 1968, as regional wars raged, including in Vietnam, the Indian subcontinent and the Holy Land.
Republican President Dwight Eisenhower took it from two minutes to midnight in 1953 to seven minutes to midnight in 1960.
The scientists said then: “For the first time, the United States and Soviet Union appear eager to avoid direct confrontation in regional conflicts such as the 1956 Egyptian-Israeli dispute. Joint projects that build trust and constructive dialogue between third parties also quell diplomatic hostilities. Scientists initiate many of these measures, helping establish the International Geophysical Year, a series of coordinated, worldwide scientific observations, and the Pugwash Conferences, which allow Soviet and American scientists to interact.”
Democrat Harry Truman, the post-World War II president, took it from three minutes in 1949 to two minutes in 1953. When the clock was established in 1947, it was set at seven minutes before midnight.