After announcing the acceleration of the Doomsday Clock — a symbolic time warning the public of how close the world is to apocalypse — international leaders gathered at Georgetown to discuss the global threats that contributed to the decision.
Mary Robinson, the first woman president of Ireland and former United Nations high commissioner for human rights; Elbadorj Tsakhia, the former president and prime minister of Mongolia; Juan Manuel Santos, former president of Colombia and Nobel Peace Laureate; and Rachel Bronson, president and CEO of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the organization that warns the public about scientific and global security issues through the clock, spoke with students, faculty and staff about the war in Ukraine’s impact on the Doomsday Clock at the Jan. 24 event.
Since 1947, the Doomsday Clock has been used to signal how close the world is to “midnight,” or global catastrophe. The clock was first set at seven minutes. This year, after evaluating Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as well as the climate crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic and cybersecurity threats, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists reset the clock hands from 100 to 90 seconds — the closest the clock has ever been to midnight.
“The event was surreal,” said Rhea Banerjee (SFS’26), an undergraduate who attended the panel discussion. “I can’t believe I could be in the same room as all of these amazing leaders, learning from people who have active roles in global politics and decision making. I loved hearing their wisdom and their words on peace.”
Georgetown’s Conflict Resolution program last hosted leaders from the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and the Elders, an independent group of global leaders working together for peace, justice and human rights, in 2020, when the clock was moved within two minutes of midnight for the first time.
“In 2020, there was no war with Ukraine; there was no pandemic yet. So it does feel inevitable that we’re here, but I’m hopeful that we can move it in the other direction with the tools that you’re talking about and identifying,” said Katherine Collin, the moderator and director of Georgetown’s Conflict Resolution program.
Hear from each of the panelists as they discuss the advancement of the Doomsday Clock, the war in Ukraine and ways to turn back the clock hands.
‘We Need International Cooperation’
“At this moment, we absolutely need international cooperation to address the existential threats that we face from nuclear risk, climate change, the advancement of science and technology, artificial intelligence and bioscience. Every issue that we face is made significantly harder because of the war in Ukraine, which put nuclear weapons back on the table as an instrument of war. …
Every nuclear country is investing in their nuclear arsenals. Pakistan is one of the largest growing nuclear forces in the world. The United States, heavily invested. China, heavily invested. But if they’re not usable, what a waste of money.
We have so many things we need to spend on. Even if you just focus on the threats of tomorrow, we’re not focusing on them. We’re not focusing on pandemics the way we need to. We’re not focusing on cybersecurity the way we need to. We need to be putting that [money] into 21st century threats, and we’re sinking them into 20th-century threats. When we look at how useful [nuclear weapons] were, I suspect when we open the books, we’re going to find out they weren’t very useful.”
—Rachel Bronson, CEO of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists
‘You Have To Prepare for Peace’
“The Doomsday Clock unfortunately moved toward midnight. And the Ukraine war is one of the main reasons. I met [President] Zalenskyy some months ago. … He wanted me to share my experience in the peace process in Colombia with him. They’re two completely different situations, but many of the armed conflicts have common denominators. … Every war, no matter what, ends at the negotiating table. For that, you have to prepare for peace.
The peace process is very difficult. I had the opportunity in my country to make war … and then I switched from being a hawk to being a dove. It’s much easier to make war than to make peace. To make peace, you have to swim against the current. Instead of giving orders, you have to persuade. You have to teach.
I like to quote my chair when I say, ‘We were not created to win wars but to end wars.’ We have to think of how we are going to end the war. You end wars by using the most powerful weapon there is in the world, according to Mandela: to sit down and talk. That’s how I won the war. I sat down with my adversaries of 50 years, we sat down and talked.
At a certain moment in time, this is needed between Russia and Ukraine. We have to start thinking about how we create the circumstances to have a viable negotiation.”
—Juan Manuel Santos, former president of Colombia, a Nobel Peace Laureate and member of The Elders, an independent group of global leaders working together for peace, justice and human rights
‘A Salutary Lesson for Europe’
“There’s no doubt that the war in Ukraine has aggravated and worsened so many crises. It has driven up the price of food and fuel and fertilizer, which has affected the poorest countries, already indebted, particularly after COVID-19.
It has also been a salutary lesson for Europe. Europe was overdependent — Germany in particular — on gas from Russia. Initially, the response was, we need energy security. Full stop … But I think the real important, thoughtful lesson of the EU has been that we have to rapidly increase our move to renewables. And certainly all the pressure now in the EU is to address how to move in the direction of renewable energy.”
—Mary Robinson, first woman president of Ireland and chair of The Elders
‘Through War, You Cannot Achieve Anything’
“I think war is the worst form of the violation of human rights. I think war is obsolete. If you go to the United Nations, 145 some countries are supporting Ukraine and voting against war. They think war in the 21st-century is obsolete.
You are our next generation. We are thinking about you. You and your children should not experience war. This should be the last war …. Through war, you cannot achieve anything.
If President Putin prevails, maybe autocrats will be very much encouraged. If Ukraine and people prevail, the free world is going to be encouraged. I’m always in support of the Ukrainian people. They have a right to exist. They have a right to live freely. They have a right to choose their faith. Because of that, we have to rally behind those who are fighting for global peace, security and freedom.”
—Elbadorj Tsakhia, the former president and prime minister of Mongolia and member of The Elders
In the Room Where It Happens
“This is the best thing that has happened to me since coming to Georgetown.
Those leaders are who we want to be through this program.
I don’t know where else I could get the opportunity to sit a meter away from people who have done and seen amazing things in the field that I want to pursue and grow in.”
—Ellie Cotter (G’23), a graduate student in Georgetown’s Conflict Resolution program who studies human rights violations and transitional justice in the classroom.