A new era: The farthest the Doomsday Clock ever moved backward

By A Bulletin editorial | June 29, 2023

This is a section of the cover of a December 1991 Bulletin magazine issue that marked the move of the Doomsday Clock from 10 minutes to midnight to 17 minutes to midnight. It shows an Earth with the Doomsday Clock hands overlaid on it, set at 17 minutes to midnight.This is a section of the cover of a December 1991 Bulletin magazine issue that marked the move of the Doomsday Clock from 10 minutes to midnight to 17 minutes to midnight.

This article was the lead story in the December 1991 issue of the Bulletin magazine. With this issue, the Bulletin reset the Doomsday Clock from 10 to 17 minutes until midnight.

This article appears here as part of our 2023 summer archive dive, which resurfaces a timeless Bulletin article each week. 

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With this issue, the Bulletin resets the Bulletin Clock from 10 to 17 minutes until midnight. The clock is in a new region because we feel the world has entered a new era. Never before has the Board of Directors moved the minute hand so far at one time. Conceived at the dawn of the Cold War, the clock was designed with a 15-minute range. John A. Simpson, one of the Bulletin’s founders, says that a 15-minute scale was all anyone thought would be needed in their lifetimes. The present move was not easily agreed upon. Board members initially expressed divergent views as did some of the sponsors of the Bulletin. But on balance, a consensus was reached reflecting a conviction that the world was changing in fundamental and positive ways.

Foremost are the developments in East-West relations. The Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty was revived and promptly signed. Shortly thereafter hardliners in the Soviet Union mounted a coup that quickly failed and, among other results, significantly reduced what might have been years of negotiations between our two countries. Then, on September 27, President George Bush announced the withdrawal of thousands of tactical weapons. Many strategic missiles were taken off hair-trigger alert, as was the B-52 bomber fleet. On October 5, President Mikhail Gorbachev announced similar initiatives and upped the ante by indicating that the Soviet Union would suspend nuclear testing. We hope the United States will have a positive response …

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