Our "decider" is playing nuclear chicken with Russia. Putin threatens a new nuclear arms race. Putin is responding to Bush provocations, like the threat to nuke Iran and the attempt to place a missile shield in Europe.
Russia and the US still have thousands of nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM)aimed at each other. These missiles have never been taken off hair trigger alert, despite the end of the Cold War in 1991. Each ICBM nuclear tip has a "yield" of 100 to 300 kilotons - blast strength in equivalent tons of TNT. The Hiroshima atom bomb yield was 15 kilotons.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock conveys how close humanity is to catastrophic destruction--the figurative midnight--and monitors the means humankind could use to obliterate itself. First and foremost, these include nuclear weapons.The hand of the Doomsday Clock has twice moved toward midnight since Bush took office. It now stands at 5 minutes to midnight.
We have been living with the doomsday threat since 1945. It got a lot of attention in the '50's. Some of us are old enough to remember ducking under our school desks during air raid drills, all the while knowing that in case of nuclear war there would be nowhere to hide. Some people built underground shelters and stockpiled them with food and water. Books and movies like "On the Beach" and "Dr. Strangelove" kept awareness alive.
But nuclear terror is too great a threat for the human mind to sustain. In the 60's the fear of nuclear war got buried deep in the public unconscious, covered over by more immediate concerns like the Vietnam war abroad and racial segregation at home. Psychic numbing set in, a deep denial of the possibility of annihilation. Hopelessness about the future doesn't show up in conversation, or even in dreams. It takes the form of truncated life choices- escape into drugs, failed marriages, neglected children.
Key people, by God's grace, remained alert to the danger of nuclear war. In the 70's, international treaties were signed, the Nuclear NonProliferation Treaty (NPT), and the Anti Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. The International Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC) was set up to make sure the treaties were kept, and given authority to inspect nuclear facilities in all 189 nations that have signed the NPT.
Despite the Cold War, these safety measures have worked. Nuclear weapons were not used in Vietnam, although Nixon came close. International cooperation has won over hostility, in the common interest of preserving the species.
In 1991, when the Soviet Union fell apart and the Cold War ended, people relaxed. The clock hand turned back, to 17 minutes to midnight.