Trump And The Doomsday Clock: President’s ‘Diplomacy’ May Lead Us Into A Nuclear Disaster

To mark day 75 of Trump’s presidency, celebrated linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky offered his analysis of the president’s actions so far in an interview with Democracy Now! Among other things, Chomsky mentioned how the president’s stance towards North Korea and its nuclear program could disastrously backfire.

He also mentioned the nuclear and environmental threats brought about by Trump’s policy and actions have brought us a mere two-and-a-half minutes to midnight on the Doomsday Clock.

Trump’s first 75 days

On April 4, the Trump presidency hit day 75. Needless to say, the president has had a rocky ride. Trump was not able to rally enough support for his health care bill, even though he threatened Republicans opposing the bill with “political problems” if they did not get in line. The president continues to have problems bringing his party together, with strong voices of dissent rising from both moderate Republicans as well as hard-line conservative members of the Freedom Caucus.

As of April 3, Trump’s approval rating, as measured by the Gallup poll, was just 39 percent. Fifty-nine percent of all Americans stated they believe environmental concerns should be prioritized over energy production. Considering the deep cuts the president has proposed for the EPA, and his green light to build the Keystone XL pipeline, the Trump administration obviously has other priorities.

Recovering from blunders and growing opposition at home, Trump now wishes to try his hand again at diplomacy. On Friday, the president will welcome China’s Xi Jinping to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. At this meeting, Trump is expected to take a hardline against North Korea’s nuclear and ballistics weapons program, as well as China’s willingness to restrict such efforts.

Trump’s famous—perhaps someday infamous—quote on the matter is as follows.

“If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will.”

What is the Doomsday Clock?

Lawrence Krauss and Thomas Pickering holding up a poster of the Doomsday Clock with the sentence "It is two and a half minutes to midnight."
Not great news for mankind. [Image by Carolyn Kaster, AP Images]

In 1947, the Doomsday Clock was created by members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board. The clock was designed as a metaphor for global nuclear war, with “midnight” symbolizing how close our world currently is to global catastrophe. In 2007, the potential catastrophic effects of climate change were added to the Doomsday Clock measurements.

In his interview, Chomsky mentioned that 1953 was the last time the Doomsday Clock reached two-and-a-half minutes to midnight, right after Russia and the US tested nuclear weapons. He goes on to point out that such little time before the symbolic clock strikes the witching hour spells disaster for the world.

The reasons behind this setting on the Doomsday Clock include the global rise in nationalism, President Trump’s attitudes towards and access to nuclear weapons, and the Trump administration’s skepticism about the threat of climate change.

Since its creation, the Doomsday Clock has been set both backward and forward a total of twenty-two times. When first created in 1947, the clock was first set at seven minutes to midnight. The farthest back it has ever been was seventeen minutes to midnight, which was the estimate in 1991.

Trump is dangerously unsuited to diplomacy

President Donald Trump addressing members of the media regarding the health care overhaul bill, Friday, March 24, 2017, at his desk in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington.
Donald Trump is known for being unpredictable.[Image by Pablo Martinez, AP Images]

In an article in the Washington Post, Daniel W. Drezner, professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, wrote that Trump’s penchant for being unpredictable would not work very well in diplomacy. As an example, Drezner told a story about a time in the early 2000s when someone thankfully noticed a stray punctuation mark in an obscure communique. The typo was removed before the communique went public, thus preventing the fuss it likely may have caused.

On this seemingly meaningless punctuation mishap, Drezner had the following to say.

“This mattered: Historically, foreign officials and the press parse every word that presidents and policy principals say to decipher any changes in policy. Even minute shifts in language can send important signals to the world.”

If something as minor as a misplaced comma or question mark can strain diplomatic relations, it seems extremely unlikely President Trump’s unpredictability and bullying tactics will go over very well with either China or North Korea.


In his interview, Chomsky mentions that a lot of China’s demands, for example, concerning Taiwan, are internationally unacceptable. However, he says “the reaction through use of force is extraordinarily dangerous.”

About North Korea, Chomsky said as follows.

“The claim is ‘Well, we’ve tried everything (with North Korea). Nothing works. Therefore, we have to use force.’ Is it true that nothing’s worked? I mean, there is a record, after all.”

Chomsky goes on to mention Clinton’s Framework Agreement with North Korea. Although neither the US or North Korea lived up entirely to their side of the bargain, by 2000, North Korea had not gone ahead with its nuclear arms program. But when George W. Bush became president, and “immediately launched an assault on North Korea,” the country began producing nuclear weapons.

He also mentions there is already a proposal between China and North Korea on the table. Although Obama also dismissed this proposal, which would call for the U.S. to cease threatening military maneuvers on the border with South Korea in exchange for North Korea no longer developing nuclear weapons, Chomsky does not believe the proposal is unreasonable. The alternative use of force, which Trump seems to be leaning towards, would mean a major attack carried out against Seoul by North Korea, according to Chomsky.

Chomsky stresses that we simply cannot play with the use of force in international affairs. “We are too close to destroying ourselves,” he said. He went on to mention that when you look at all the tensions and missteps taken during the nuclear age, it’s almost a miracle we’ve survived until now.

Let’s hope it stays that way.

[Featured Image by Evan Vucci/AP Images]