|Countdown to Zero
The Doomsday Clock Keeps Ticking
"I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."
The Doomsday Clock is a symbolic clock face, maintained since 1947 by the board of directors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists at the University of Chicago.
The closer the clock is to midnight, the closer the world is estimated to be to global disaster. Since its creation, the time on the clock has changed 19 times.
–– Albert Einstein
Nuclear warfare, or atomic warfare, is a military conflict or political strategy in which nuclear weaponry is detonated on an opponent.
Compared to conventional warfare, nuclear warfare can be vastly more destructive in range and extent of damage.
A study presented at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in December 2006 asserted that even a small-scale, regional nuclear war could produce as many direct fatalities as all of World War II and disrupt the global climate for a decade or more.
In a regional nuclear conflict scenario in which two opposing nations in the subtropics each used 50 Hiroshima-sized nuclear weapons on major populated centers, the researchers estimated fatalities from 2.6 million to 16.7 million per country.
Also, as much as five million tons of soot would be released, which would produce a cooling of several degrees over large areas of North America and Eurasia, including most of the grain-growing regions. The cooling would last for years and could be "catastrophic" according to the researchers.
Nuclear war is considered to bear existential risk for civilization on Earth. The first, and to date only, nuclear war was World War II: near the end of the war, the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.
At the time of those bombings, the United States was the only country to possess atomic weapons.
After World War II, nuclear weapons were also developed by the United Kingdom, France, the Soviet Union, and the People's Republic of China, which contributed to the state of conflict and tension that became known as the Cold War.
In the 1970s, India and 1990s, Pakistan, countries openly hostile to each other, developed nuclear weapons. Israel, North Korea, and South Africa are also believed to have developed nuclear weapons, although South Africa subsequently abandoned them.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the resultant end of the Cold War, the threat of a major nuclear war between the superpowers was generally thought to have receded.
Since then, concern over nuclear weapons has shifted to the prevention of localized nuclear conflicts resulting from nuclear proliferation, and the threat of nuclear terrorism. The possibility of using nuclear weapons in war is usually divided into two subgroups, each with different effects and potentially fought with different types of nuclear armaments.
The first, a limited
nuclear war (sometimes attack or exchange), refers to a small scale use
of nuclear weapons by one or more parties.
Nations that are known or believed to possess nuclear weapons are sometimes referred to as the nuclear club. There are currently eight states that have successfully detonated nuclear weapons.
In order of acquisition of nuclear weapons are: the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China.
It is widely believed that Israel has nuclear weapons.
Other states declaring they have nuclear weapons are: India, Pakistan and North Korea. States suspected of having a nuclear weapons program: Iran and Syria.
A "limited nuclear war" would consist of a limited exchange between two
nuclear powers targeting each other's military facilities, either as an
attempt to pre-emptively cripple the enemy's ability to attack as a
defensive measure or as a prelude to an invasion by conventional forces
as an offensive measure.
This term would apply to any limited use of nuclear weapons, which may involve either military or civilian targets.
The second, a full-scale nuclear war, consists of large numbers of
weapons used in an attack aimed at an entire country, including
military, economic and civilian targets.
Such an attack would almost certainly destroy the entire economic, social, and military infrastructure of the target nation, and would possibly (depending on the severity of the nuclear exchange) have a devastating effect on Earth's biosphere.
Some Cold War strategists such as Henry Kissinger argued that a limited nuclear war could be possible between two heavily armed superpowers (such as the United States and the Soviet Union) and if so several predicted that a limited war could "escalate" into an all-out war.
Others have called limited nuclear war "global nuclear holocaust in slow motion" arguing that once such a war took place others would be sure to follow over a period of decades, effectively rendering the planet uninhabitable in the same way that a "full-scale nuclear war" between superpowers would, only taking a much longer and more agonizing path to reach the same result.
Even the most optimistic predictions of the effects of a major nuclear exchange foresee the death of a hundred million people within a very short amount of time.
More pessimistic predictions argue that a full-scale nuclear war could bring about the extinction of the human race or its near extinction with a handful of survivors (mainly in remote areas).
As well as reduced quality of life and life expectancy for centuries after and cause permanent damage to most complex life on the planet, Earth's ecosystems, and the global climate, particularly if predictions of nuclear winter are accurate.
It is in this latter mode that nuclear warfare is usually alluded to as a doomsday scenario.
Nuclear terrorism by non-state organizations is an unknown factor in nuclear deterrence thinking, as states possessing nuclear weapons are susceptible to retaliation in kind, but sub- or trans-state actors are not.
The collapse of the Soviet Union led to the possibility that former Soviet nuclear weapons might become available on the black market (so-called 'loose nukes'), while no warheads are known to have been mislaid, it has been alleged that suitcase-size bombs might be unaccounted for.
Such hypothesized civilization-ending nuclear wars have been a staple of the science fiction literature and film genre for decades. Either a limited or full-scale nuclear exchange could be an accidental nuclear war, in which a nuclear war is triggered unintentionally.
Possible triggers for this scenario have included malfunctioning early warning devices and targeting computers, deliberate malfeasance by rogue military commanders, accidental straying of planes into enemy airspace, reactions to unannounced missile tests during tense diplomatic periods, reactions to military exercises, mistranslated or misscommunicated messages, and so forth.
A number of these scenarios did actually occur during the Cold War, though none resulted in a nuclear exchange.
Many such scenarios have been depicted in popular culture, such as in the 1962 novel Fail-Safe (released as a film in 1964) and the film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, also released in 1964.
World War III is a common theme in popular culture. Since the 1940s, countless books, films, and television programmes have used the theme of nuclear weapons and a third global war. The presence of the Soviet Union as an international rival armed with nuclear weapons created a persistent fear in the United States.
There was a pervasive dread of a nuclear World War III, and popular culture reveals the fears of the public at the time. This theme in the arts was also a way of exploring a range of issues far beyond nuclear war. The historian Spencer R. Weart called nuclear weapons a "symbol for the worst of modernity."
In the early 1980s there was a feeling of alarm in Europe and North America that a nuclear World War III was imminent. Films and television programmes made in the 1980s had different visions of what World War III would be like.
Filmed in late 1983 and early 1984, the primary plot centres on two families, the Kemps and the Becketts, as an international crisis between the United States and the Soviet Union erupts and escalates.
As the United Kingdom prepares for war, the members of each family deal with their own personal crises.
Meanwhile, a secondary plot centered upon Clive J. Sutton, the Chief Executive of Sheffield City Council serves to illustrate for the viewer the United Kingdom government's then-current continuity of government arrangements.
As open warfare between NATO and the USSR-led Warsaw Pact begins, the harrowing details of the characters' struggle to survive the attacks is dramatically depicted.
The balance of the film details the fate of each family as the characters face the medical, economic, social, and environmental consequences of a nuclear war. Both the plot and the atmosphere of the film are extremely bleak.
The Day After (1983)
Threads is a British television drama produced by the BBC in 1984. Written by Barry Hines and directed by Mick Jackson, it is a documentary-style account of a nuclear war and its effects on the city of Sheffield in northern England.
The film portrays a fictional war between NATO forces and the Warsaw Pact that rapidly escalates into a full scale nuclear exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union.
It focuses on the residents of Lawrence, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri, as well as several family farms situated next to nuclear missile silos.
The cast includes JoBeth Williams, Steve Guttenberg, John Cullum, Jason Robards and John Lithgow. The film was written by Edward Hume, produced by Robert Papazian and directed by Nicholas Meyer. It was released on DVD on May 18, 2004, with MGM.
On its original broadcast (Sunday, November 20, 1983), ABC and local TV affiliates opened 1-800 hotlines with counselors standing by. There were no commercial breaks after the nuclear attack.
ABC then aired a live debate, hosted by Nightline's Ted Koppel, featuring scientist Carl Sagan, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Elie Wiesel, former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, General Brent Scowcroft and conservative writer William F. Buckley, Jr.. Sagan argued against nuclear proliferation, while Buckley promoted the concept of nuclear deterrence.
Sagan described the arms race in the following terms: "Imagine a room awash in gasoline, and there are two implacable enemies in that room. One of them has nine thousand matches, the other seven thousand matches. Each of them is concerned about who's ahead, who's stronger."
The Day After is a 1983 American television movie which aired on November 20, 1983, on the ABC television network. It was seen by more than 100 million people during its initial broadcast.