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Scientists Move 'Doomsday Clock' Closer to Midnight

A symbol of global nuclear danger born during the Cold War is again being used by its creators as a reminder that the world is not secure from mass destruction. The hands of the so-called "Doomsday Clock" have been moved a couple of minutes closer to midnight.

The "Doomsday Clock" appears on the cover of the University of Chicago-based Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Since 1998, the clock has read nine minutes to midnight, with midnight representing the use of nuclear weapons. Wednesday in Chicago, the Bulletin's editors adjusted the clock to read seven minutes to midnight.

The head of the Bulletin's board, George Lopez, says this is the third time since 1991 the clock has edged closer to midnight. "We have gotten worse, not better, at controlling the opportunities or responding to the opportunities that will produce greater security in a world of nuclear weapons," he said.

He said the United States has contributed to this situation through its plans to walk away from the Antiballistic Missile Treaty.

Mr. Lopez said other factors hurting global security include increased tensions between nuclear powers India and Pakistan, the security of nuclear weapons materials in the former Soviet Union and the knowledge that the terrorist organization behind the September 11 attacks on the United States has been trying to obtain nuclear materials to make weapons.

He said, "The September 11th attacks and the subsequent and probably unrelated use of the mail to deliver deadly anthrax spores breached previous boundaries for terrorist acts and should have been a full global wake-up call. Moving the clock's hands at this time reflects our growing concern that the international community has simply hit the snooze button rather than respond to the full alarm."

The closest the "Doomsday Clock" has been to midnight was in 1953. The United States and Soviet Union each tested hydrogen bombs, and the Bulletin's editors adjusted the clock to two minutes to midnight. The furthest from midnight it has been was 17 minutes to midnight in 1991, when the Soviet Union was dissolving and the United States and Russia signed an arms reduction treaty.

The clock has its critics. Among them is the Washington-based Center for Security Policy, which advocates international peace through U.S. military strength. The head of the Center was recently quoted in news reports referring to the Bulletin's editors as irrelevant to the global security process, and advocating prescriptions that are wrong. VOA was not able to reach anyone at the Center for comment.

Bulletin Publisher Stephen Schwartz says it is not wrong to remind the world that the threat of nuclear weapons is still real, and to call reductions in the number of weapons and increased security for existing ones. "I think there is a great deal of history and evidence to suggest that arms control did make a positive contribution during the Cold War and today, and to simply throw it away on the pretext that it is no longer required because the world is in a very different place is a serious mistake," he said.

Mr. Schwartz said the Bulletin originally defined midnight as nuclear war between the United States and Soviet Union. Now, midnight refers to the use of a nuclear weapon anywhere on earth. This is the 17th time the hands of the "Doomsday Clock" have been moved since its creation in 1947.