A mix of apocalyptic politics and utopian dreams.
‘Prediction,” the Danish nuclear physicist Niels Bohr once observed, “is very difficult, especially about the future.” For more than 60 years, the folks at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists have been merrily discarding this useful piece of advice with dire warnings that the seconds are ticking toward a nuclear and, more recently, climate catastrophe. As of yesterday, their clock stood at six minutes to midnight.
And that’s the good news. “For the first time since atomic bombs were dropped in 1945, leaders of nuclear-weapons states are cooperating to vastly reduce their arsenals,” the Bulletin announced yesterday, by way of explaining its decision to move the hand of doom back by a minute. “A key to the new era of cooperation is a change in the U.S. government’s orientation toward international affairs brought about in part by the election of Obama.”
That’s a funny judgment. The Administration has failed to negotiate so much as a pause in Iran’s nuclear programs or rein in North Korea. Pakistan remains in a precarious political state. Russia and China are building a new generation of nuclear weapons even as the reliability of America’s aging arsenal is increasingly in doubt. Meanwhile, the risks of a Middle East arms race involving current nonnuclear states like Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt grows as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad comes closer to getting his bomb.
But these facts apparently don’t impress the Bulletin’s editorial staff or its governing board. The driving motivation here is the familiar mix of apocalyptic politics and utopian dreams that now typifies so much thinking about disarmament and global warming. That both of these causes now march under the misleading banner of “science” tells us more about the times than it does about the future.
Editorial, Wall Street Journal