That’s how the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists described the global situation as they unveiled this year’s Doomsday Clock – the hands again at two minutes to midnight. The hands have never been closer, even at the height of the Cold War. So what accounts for their almost apocalyptic assessment?
Humanity, they say, continues to face two simultaneous existential threats, nuclear weapons and climate change. On the nuclear front they highlight US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, its intended withdrawal from the INF Treaty, nuclear modernization across the nuclear-armed states and erosion of the taboo against the use of nuclear weapons. With regard to climate change, global carbon dioxide emissions are on the rise again, with attacks on the 2015 Paris agreement coming from a number of directions.
These threats were highlighted last year, but they have identified an additional and significant risk: where the threats of nuclear weapons and climate change have been exacerbated by the increased use of information warfare to undermine democracy around the world, amplifying risk and putting the future of civilisation in extraordinary danger.
So the hands may have stayed the same, but there is nothing normal, the scientists insist, about the complex and frightening reality we inhabit. In fact, they call the current international security situation ‘the new abnormal’:
‘The new abnormal describes a moment in which fact is becoming indistinguishable from fiction, undermining our very abilities to develop and apply solutions to the big problems of our time.’
Fake news and post-truth politics are buzz words that trip off the tongue – but they actually mean a disastrous undermining of democracy that opens the door to terrible political developments, the like of which we thought we would never see again after the defeat of fascism in the second world war.
As the scientists describe it, we see the same leaders that are worsening the nuclear and climate change threats, lying shamelessly, ‘calling their lies truth’, with their lies used to exacerbate division, create rage and distrust.
The scientists’ words are powerful and eloquent and present us with a stark warning, of what happens when cyber-enabled information warfare threatens to replace logic and truth with fantasy and rage:
‘If unchecked, such distortion will undermine the world’s ability to acknowledge and address the urgent threats posed by nuclear weapons and climate change and will increase the potential for an end to civilization as we know it.’
Add to this the rise of Artificial Intelligence with its dual use and military capacities, and the use of cyber-hacking to sabotage the ‘Internet of Things’, where military responses could be elicited; we are in a complex, rapidly evolving and very dangerous situation.
Let us never accept that this kind of manipulation, the lies, the threats, the intolerance and abuse of democracy is ‘normal’. It is abnormal and must be opposed.