Rod Liddle takes issue with the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and otherdoom-mongers: Kim Jong-il’s nukes are quaintly amateurish
Apparently it’s now five minutes to midnight. I am referring not to the actual time, but to the figurative clock of the apocalypse which tells us how long it will be until we are all annihilated. It was invented by something called the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists back in 1947 when, gravely worried by international developments, not least those two nukes dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, they had the hands of the clock positioned at seven minutes to midnight. Within a few years the hands had edged forward still further, to three minutes to midnight, as the Russkies did a spot of nuclear testing and the Korean war got underway.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was, back then, the preserve of atomic scientists, much as it said on the tin — the engineers and experts who had worked on the Manhattan Project and were subsequently unconvinced that they had helped to make the world a safer place. Since then, the clock has swung this way and that. In 1953, for example, it stood at two minutes to midnight — scarcely time to make a cup of tea before your eyeballs melted — but back to seven by 1961 and then down to a scary three minutes as Ronald Reagan started talking about Star Wars and evil empires in 1984. There was a respite in 1991 with the dissolution of the Soviet empire, when the hands of the clock moved back to 17 minutes to midnight — enough time to rustle up a quick snack and watch half of The Simpsons before Armageddon. Curiously, the hands stood at a languorous seven minutes to midnight in 1961 even as JFK’s finger was hovering over the button while those Russian ships steamed towards Cuba; perhaps they forgot to wind it that year.
Right now it’s back at five to 12. One thing the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is not any more, incidentally, is a bulletin of atomic scientists. So far as I can discern there are no atomic scientists on its board whatsoever, although there is one chap involved in the prevention of nuclear proliferation. Most of the board members these days are what I would call, perhaps unfairly, anti-American left-wing international bearded lesbian peace monkeys — lecturers in peace studies and the like.
There’s the curator of a peace museum in Chicago, for example (I bet that’s a real draw for the kiddies), the publisher of the famous old left-wing US magazine Mother Jones, a woman from Unicef, a lecturer in peace studies also in Chicago, and a doctor who is a member of an organisation comprised of doctors opposed to nuclear warfare (as opposed to those doctors who think nuclear warfare is a bloody good thing, by and large). You can tell the sort of people they are by the fact that they no longer concern themselves solely with nuclear annihilation, which was the original point of the bulletin. You can probably guess what worries them even more, these days. The ice is melting, the ice is melting, we’re all going to drown!
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists therefore follows the golden rule of all organisations: it ends up being run by people who think they knew better than the founders and who, as a consequence, change it completely. Furthermore, if your job and title require you to frighten the entire world about nukes, Armageddon, warfare and so on, then it is in your financial interests to keep those hands as close to midnight as possible, so as to justify your existence. And to get angry with people like me who think that in reality it’s about a quarter to five in the afternoon and just about time to settle the kids in front of their horrible tv programmes and then fix up a nice gin and tonic, if there’s any lemon left. The fact that they’re so worried about global warming makes me suspect that, much though they may protest otherwise, the nuclear annihilation of the world is a less pressing problem than it has perhaps ever been. North Korea notwithstanding.
There is something vaguely likeable about North Korea’s attempts to convince the world that it is a nuclear power to be reckoned with — a bit like watching Blyth Spartans playing Manchester United in the FA Cup. I do not for a moment doubt that Kim Jong-il is a deluded, paranoid, psychopathic megalomaniac and, were it within his power, might blow the world to kingdom come, given the tools to do so.
To an extent I swallow the multilateralists’ thesis that the concept of mutually assured destruction effectively prevented another world war. But if that is the case, then I do not see how it can be argued that Israel should have nuclear weapons but not, for example, Iran. And there is something very comforting about North Korea’s nuclear programme; they have yearned, for years, to have nuclear capability and have at last succeeded in producing a device which almost — almost — matches the destructive power of the primitive weapon which the US used against Nagasaki some 64 years ago.
Furthermore, they do not seem to have any delivery system capable of depositing their nuke very much further than the boundaries of their own benighted, grass-eating, basket case of a country. The triumphant North Korean films showing launches of their latest ballistic missiles resemble those early black and white flicks from the Soviet space programme, except instead of a whimpering Laika strapped down inside it’s a painstakingly acquired minuscule ball of plutonium.
We are told that Kim now has sufficient fissile material for four bombs, at most — and the capability to chuck them a few yards over the South Korean border. Ranged against him is the certitude of utter and complete destruction should he ever think of so doing. Even for a madman such logic is unerringly compelling — as it has been for madmen ever since 1945, from Stalin to the Pakistanis.
The West should harry North Korea with military patrols along the coast, increase economic pressure on the country and keep those spy satellites firmly in place — but otherwise not worry over much. The Korean Central News Agency — Pyongyang’s equivalent of the BBC, except more balanced — has said that the country no longer recognises the armistice which ended the civil war in 1953 and that hostile interference will be met by military action. It is like being threatened by a psychopathic gerbil. Meanwhile we should remain committed to developing newer and more fantastically destructive nuclear weapons so that the occasional isolated maniac knows precisely what will happen if those missile launches are ever undertaken in anger.
Precisely the opposite, in fact, of the course of action urged upon us by the Bulletin of Anti-American Left-Wing International Bearded Lesbian Peace Monkeys.