Doomsday Clock remains at 90 seconds to midnight, TPNW a ‘glimmer of hope’


The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has unveiled that the Doomsday Clock remains at 90 seconds to midnight, the closest to global catastrophe it has ever been, citing the increased risk of nuclear escalation due to widespread and growing reliance on nuclear weapons, as well as failures to address the climate crisis, and developments in artificial intelligence and bio-threats. This warning underscores the need for all responsible states to move away from the dangerous doctrine of deterrence and join the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) as soon as possible

Watch the Bulletin’s announcement here, or read the full 2024 Doomsday Clock Statement here. (PDF) 


What did the Bulletin say about the state of the nuclear threat? 

In its statement detailing the reasoning for keeping the clock at 90 seconds to midnight, The Bulletin cited an undiminished nuclear threat and a new arms race. According to the Bulletin “the war in Ukraine and the widespread and growing reliance on nuclear weapons increase the risk of nuclear escalation. China, Russia, and the United States are all spending huge sums to expand or modernize their nuclear arsenals, adding to the ever-present danger of nuclear war through mistake or miscalculation.” 

Speaking to the nuclear risk on behalf of the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board, Princeton Associate Professor Alexander Glaser underscored that the war in Ukraine and in Gaza - which involve nuclear-weapon states - act as backdrop for a larger “crisis in nuclear arms control”.  Arms control and weapons restriction agreements such as New START and Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty are under threat, and nuclear-armed states are actively acting counter to their nuclear disarmament obligations, pursuing expansive and expensive modernisation programmes that will extend nuclear weapon infrastructure to last until 2100. He particularly highlighted concerns about a three way arms race between the United States, Russia, China. 

ICAN’s Policy and Research Coordinator, Alicia Sanders-Zakre, called for urgent action : “This announcement shows the threat nuclear weapons could be used in conflict again is still the highest it has ever been. The nuclear-armed states and their allies who support the dangerous doctrine of nuclear deterrence - which is based on the threat to unleash nuclear war - need to abandon this misguided theory. Deterrence is the main reason we face global catastrophe. It assumes that in a crisis leaders will always act rationally on the basis of the best possible information, but history has taught us this is not how the real world works. The leaders of nuclear-armed states need to stop modernising their arsenals and instead join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, alongside nearly half of all countries.”

How is the Doomsday Clock set? 

Every year the Doomsday Clock warns the public about how close we are to destroying our world with dangerous technologies of our own making.  The choice of how to reset the time is set by Bulletin’s Science and Security Board, made up of scientists and other experts with deep knowledge of nuclear technology and climate science. This process was recently explored in the BBC documentary “Nuclear Armageddon: How Close Are We?”

To read more about the reasoning behind this year’s Clock setting, you can read their Bulletin’s full statement here


How are climate change, AI & nuclear war connected ?  

In addition to the nuclear threat, the Bulletin cited advances in artificial intelligence alongside failure of the international community to take stronger action on climate change in its reasoning, and how these threats act as threat multipliers that magnify individual problems.  The fact that these three existential threats are interrelated, highlights the need for us to take action on all three together at the same time. For more on the connections between these crises, read our briefing papers:


Deterrence is the Problem

Underlying the rising nuclear threat is the dogmatic adherence by nuclear-armed states and their allies to the dangerous doctrine of deterrence. This unproven theory is based on demonstrating the readiness to use nuclear weapons which  potential opponents respond to by demonstrating the same readiness. This constantly risks cycles of escalation and nuclear war, as we are seeing in the world at the present moment. 

Rather than making countries safe, nuclear deterrence can actually make conflict more likely. We can see this in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine where Moscow facilitated its aggression by using its nuclear arsenal to blackmail other countries into not intervening directly against it. Moreover, the history of how nuclear conflict has been avoided up to now, indicates luck is a larger factor than deterrence - and in the words of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “luck is not a strategy. ”

Deterrence is also morally and politically unacceptable. It's based on the threat to wage nuclear war which would kill millions outright and lead to a nuclear winter and mass starvation that research shows could kill billions of people. 

The Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty as a path forward out of the crisis

From “seven minutes to midnight” when it was first set in 1947, to “90 seconds in 2023” the Clock has been an indicator for the existential risk humanity faces, with these threats expanding beyond nuclear weapons to include climate change and artificial intelligence.  The decision not to move the Clock’s hands this year, is not only a warning, but it is also a call to action, with the Bulletin emphasizing in their announcement that “the Clock could be turned back, but governments and people needed to take urgent action.” 

Speaking to global governance on nuclear weapons and the ways to reduce the nuclear threat, Glaser raised the TPNW as a highlight, adding that it offers a new perspective on nuclear issues for many countries and their citizens, and that it is very likely to gain new momentum, particularly in Europe, as countries re-evaluate their policies on nuclear weapons in the wake of the war in Ukraine.  Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists President and CEO Rachel Bronson and Chair of the Science and Security Board Daniel Holz wrote in a USA Today op-ed published with the announcement of the Clock’s time that “There are some glimmers of hope. We see people worldwide focusing on these issues, and even pushing through a landmark Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.”  

The TNPW, adopted in 2017 and in force since January 22 2021, provides the clearest multilateral pathway to ending the threat from nuclear weapons. It is the first globally applicable treaty that categorically prohibits these weapons and puts in place a framework for verifiably and irreversibly eliminating nuclear weapons, and for assisting the victims of their use and testing and remediating contaminated environments. Seventy states have already ratified the treaty.  

The treaty has also been fundamental in shifting the norm around the unacceptability of nuclear threats and in challenging deterrence. The second meeting of TPNW states parties late last year produced a strong condemnation of deterrence which is the first time a UN treaty outcome has laid out the threat that deterrence poses to the future of life on our planet. 

It is time for all responsible states to join the TPNW.