100 seconds to midnight
100 seconds to midnight

It is 100 seconds to midnight, and the threat of a nuclear catastrophe is greater now than during the Cold War, according to the science and security board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. When the board two years ago moved the settings of the Doomsday Clock—a metaphorical device for conveying threat levels to humanity—it noted that the world was “closer to apocalypse than ever”.

Until recent years, we have only once reached two minutes to midnight (the apocalypse). That was in 1953, when the Soviet Union, following the United States, detonated a thermonuclear bomb and the Bulletin concluded that there was now no chance of avoiding a nuclear arms race between the East and the West.

There are now nine nuclear-armed states, and there is no doubt that there is an increased threat of war between two or more of them. The consequences of such a conflict are almost unfathomable. Recent estimates published in the journal Nature Food put direct deaths at 27 million, plus 250 million people across the world without access to food within two years due to production disruptions resulting from a nuclear winter. 

That’s the least bad scenario that the scientists modelled. In the event of an all-out war between the US and Russia, they estimate that more than 5 billion people would die.

It goes without saying, then, that everything should be done to avoid such a conflict. Yet arms control mechanisms have been steadily dismantled in recent years, and a new arms race is under way. The US and Russia both have instituted extensive nuclear modernisation programs to upgrade warheads, weapons production facilities and missile delivery systems. China too is modernising and expanding its nuclear weapons stockpiles. 

There are six other nuclear-armed states. All are acquiring or installing new nuclear weapon systems or have declared that they will soon do so, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. 

Russia is the clear aggressor in its criminal war against Ukraine. And while the Ukrainian government, and the Ukrainian people, have been pleading for ever more support, the reality is that any serious intervention by the United States—or by the nuclear-armed European imperialist states, France and Britain—could quickly spiral into a disastrous inter-imperialist war that would be far worse than anything we have thus far seen in Ukraine.

In this region, China is ever more assertive and expansionist. But the threat of nuclear war involving China is, putting aside the remote possibility of a full-blown war with India, squarely the result of US imperialism’s presence in the western Pacific. The US has around 90,000 troops deployed across more than 200 bases in East and South-East Asia—in Japan, South Korea, Guam, Australia, Singapore, the Philippines and Thailand. It routinely carries out military exercises in the region.

The starting point, for anyone worried about the possibility of a nuclear holocaust resulting from the increasing tensions between Beijing and Washington, is to demand that the US military get out of Asia. There would be no question of a possible World War Three in our region if US military forces were stationed only in the United States.

A second point is that the diplomatic brinkmanship and the race to accumulate weapons of mass destruction must cease. Countries such as Australia, for example, should not participate in the build-up to war by ramping up their own military spending, or by hosting US bases, or by carrying out provocative joint exercises with the US military. The position of the Australian ruling class, however, seems to be that breaking the US alliance would be worse than Armageddon.

While many people in Taiwan are understandably nervous about the Chinese Communist Party’s designs on their future, the worst of all possible worlds would be a Chinese occupation combined with a US-led war launched on the pretext of “defending democracy”, which, if it went nuclear, could wipe out half of the voting age population of the region.

No country should possess such weaponry that could put the future of all humanity in jeopardy. But the logic of capitalist competition means that every threat is met by a counter-threat, every new weapon of mass destruction in one state matched by proliferation in other states.

Every government is telling its populations that the threat is coming from somewhere else and that there is no option but to prepare militarily for potential conflict. But in every case, it’s the governments and states that are in conflict, not working people. We have an interest in stopping the march to war, not participating in it.

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