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Top 10 Events That Moved The Doomsday Clock

VO: RB WRITTEN BY: Nick Roffey
Written by Nick Roffey The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board manages the doomsday clock, measuring how close humanity is to complete and utter annihilation! WatchMojo presents the Top 10 Events That Moved the Doomsday Clock. But what event will take the top spot on our list, will it be the testing of the first hydrogen bombs, India and Pakistan conducting nuclear tests, or wars raging around the world in the late 60s? Watch to find out! Watch on WatchMojo: Have an idea for our next video, submit it via our suggest tool here: https://www.WatchMojo.commy/suggest.php

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Time flies when you’re courting nuclear disaster. Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Events That Moved the Doomsday Clock.

For this list, we’re looking at historical incidents that prompted the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board, the caretakers of the Doomsday Clock, to move the hands closer to, or further from, midnight: the symbolic hour of man-made global disaster. We’ve ranked them according to historic firsts, international significance, how far the minute hand moved and its distance from midnight.

#10: Slow Response to Climate Change and Modernization of Nuclear Arsenals

In 2010, the clock moved back one minute, as international arms control and climate change talks showed signs of progress. But the reversal was short-lived. In 2015, the failure of world leaders to take meaningful action on climate change, as well as the threat of a new nuclear arms race – as the U.S. and Russia promised to reduce, but also modernized their arsenals – prompted the Bulletin to move the minute hand forward two minutes, to just three minutes from nuclear armageddon – and climate catastrophe. It was a trend that continued, with the minute hand reaching two minutes to midnight in 2018, back to 1953 levels.

#9: The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

In the 1960s, France and China both got the Bomb, joining the U.S., USSR and UK in the “nuclear club.” But amid fears of apocalyptic global war, a nascent anti-nuclear movement gained traction, and negotiations produced the “Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,” signed by most countries. The Bulletin celebrated by pushing the clock back to ten minutes to midnight. The nuclear “haves” agreed to share peaceful nuclear technology with the “have-nots,” and eliminate their nuclear arsenals… which, to date, has still yet to happen. But at the time, it set a powerful precedent for cooperation and marked a moment of cautious optimism in troubled times.

#8: The Cold War Escalates

A series of arms limitation agreements improved relations between the U.S. and USSR throughout the 1970s. But the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan derailed diplomacy and the U.S. increased Cold War military spending, hoping the economically stagnant Soviet Union would crack and break apart. Tensions peaked in 1983 when the Soviets shot down commercial Korean Air Lines Flight 007, killing all 269 passengers and crew. With nuclear-tipped missiles deployed in Western Europe and U.S. plans to launch a space-based anti-ballistic missile system sparking fears of an entirely new arms race, the hands of the Doomsday Clock lurched forward to just three minutes to midnight.

#7: North Korea Enters the Nuclear Club and Climate Change Looms

In the 2000s, the minute hand crept steadily forward as nuclear weapons continued to proliferate and nuclear states failed to eliminate their arsenals. North Korea had acceded to the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1985, but withdrew in 2003, then later announced their first nuclear test. Fears that Iran had nuclear ambitions and the U.S. and Russia’s combined arsenal of 26,000 nukes would have been enough to move the clock forward, but in 2007, a new menace was acknowledged: climate change, which posed a less immediate but no less potentially catastrophic threat. The minute hand now stood at five minutes to midnight.

#6: The U.S. and the Soviet Union Sign the Partial Test Ban Treaty

A growing public and scientific push against nuclear arms and a new spirit of international scientific cooperation in the 1960s, led the Bulletin to express cautious optimism - seeing the “vague outlines of a new world” emerging from the “anguish and confusion” of the old. We even somehow managed to survive the Cuban missile crisis – although not by a comfortable margin. As evidence mounted that nuclear testing was spreading dangerous levels of radioactive fallout through the atmosphere, President Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev signed the Partial Test Ban Treaty, which banned above-ground detonations. As a result, the hand of the Doomsday Clock was rolled back to twelve minutes to midnight.

#5: The Soviet Union Tests Its First Atomic Bomb

At the end of the Second World War, the world witnessed the awful power of nuclear weapons, which left hundreds of thousands dead in Japan. Scrambling to catch up in the armaments race, the Soviet Union accelerated their own program; and in 1949, detonated their first atomic bomb. The nuclear competition had begun. For the first time, scientists moved the hands of the Doomsday Clock, which had been created two years earlier to warn the world of nuclear catastrophe. Initially set at 11:53, it now pointed at three minutes to midnight - just a few steps from the edge of disaster.

#4: End of the Cold War

As over four decades of Cold War began to pass into history, the Doomsday Clock jumped back to its furthest point away from midnight in its history: 17 minutes. It was also the furthest the minute hand has ever been moved at one time. The Soviet Union had entered the decade teetering on the brink of collapse. The Iron Curtain was in tatters and the Soviet Union faced both economic stagnation and civil unrest at home. Its official dissolution on December 25th, 1991 marked the end of Cold War hostilities, and for the scientists at the Bulletin, that meant the world was taking its first hopeful steps “into a new era.”

#3: India and Pakistan Conduct Nuclear Tests

While most nations signed the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a few countries refused, including India and Pakistan. In 1974, India tested its first bomb, code-named Smiling Buddha, and a decade later Pakistan followed suit. In 1998, amid mounting tension over the Kashmir conflict - the root cause of multiple battles between India and Pakistan - India conducted a series of underground nuclear tests within a hundred miles of Pakistan’s border. Pakistan responded with its own tests, and the international community slapped both with sanctions. The Bulletin swung its clock forward by five minutes, to nine minutes from nuclear apocalypse.

#2: Wars Rage Across the Globe

As we’ve seen, in the early-to-mid ‘60s, the clock sat back at twelve minutes to midnight. But regional wars intruded, with the Indo-Pakistan War in 1965, the Six Day War between Israel and neighboring countries in 1967, and US involvement escalating in Vietnam. Worse, the nuclear club had grown, with more countries now possessing the Bomb. Lamenting “the deadly heritage of international anarchy,” the Bulletin advanced the clock to seven minutes to midnight. As we’ve seen, support for a nuclear non-proliferation treaty then grew, but we stood at an uncertain and crossroads in history.

#1: The U.S. and Soviet Union Test First Hydrogen Bombs

As friction between the U.S. and USSR grew, American scientists conceived of a new nightmare weapon: the hydrogen bomb, capable of producing mind-boggling devastation. The first one tested, in 1952, was over 450 times more powerful than the bomb that devastated Nagasaki. Less than a year later, the Soviets detonated their own thermonuclear bomb, and the race was on. In response, the Bulletin moved the clock to just two minutes until midnight, warning that “Only a few more swings of the pendulum and, from Moscow to Chicago, atomic explosions will strike midnight for Western civilization.” The world seemed to teeter on the brink of annihilation. And just think: the clock was moved back to two minutes to midnight in 2018.

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