Pugwash then, Pugwash now

The Russell-Einstein Manifesto of 1955 establish the first Pugwash Conference, held in Nova Scotia in July 1957. The conferences continue into the present day.


“Crossing the nuclear threshold, even with a low-yield weapon, would erase the 60-year old taboo against the use of nuclear weapons and make their use by others more likely. If the victim is a non-nuclear-weapon state, such action would destroy, or at the very least severely undermine, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, with disastrous consequences for United States and world security.” 

–Open Letter to US Congress by Nuclear Physicists, February 1, 2007


Almost fifty years have passed since the first Pugwash Conference took place in Pugwash, Nova Scotia. It was attended by an international group of committed scientists who firmly believed that “in the nuclear age we must either abolish war or war will abolish us.” Their efforts resulted in controls that have helped curb nuclear proliferation post-WW II into the present.


The Russell-Einstein Manifesto of 1955 establish the first Pugwash Conference held in July of 1957. The conferences continue into the present day. “Pugwashites,” active members of the Pugwash movement, take the form of both an international community of practicing scientists and as students with established chapters on university campuses.  The core group of scientists who worked on the Manifesto realized the enormous ramifications of accelerated nuclear testing and the stockpiling of such arsenals. They understood that the furtherance of such developments by a few select super states would eventually result in nuclear competitiveness beyond the reach of international negotiation. Their united outspoken stance stimulated political consciousness and it helped establish the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).


The NPT, which went into effect in 1970, states that nuclear countries must work toward the reduction of nuclear arsenals. The rationale of the treaty is clear: those who have nuclear weapons must take steps toward total disarmament. This process insures the eventual eradication of nuclear weapons, halts further developments, and reduces the incentives for non-nuclear countries to gain such weapons.


Similar to the Russell-Einstein Manifesto half a century ago, a group of scientists of the American Physical Society have taken an urgent stance against the possible use of nuclear weapons against Iran. Last year, they sent a personal letter to President Bush. On February 1, 2007, they released an “Open Letter to US Congress by Nuclear Physicists.” In both letters, they state their opposition to “the possible use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states and for pre-emptive counterproliferation purposes.”


It is a pre-emptive policy, according to the physicists’ letter to Congress, that would propel us across “… the nuclear threshold …[and] would erase the 60-year-old taboo against the use of nuclear weapons and make their use by others more likely.”


In 2005, Joseph Rotblat, a signatory of the Russell-Einstein Manifesto and the central figure of the Pugwash Conferences wrote:


“The worst setback [for non-proliferation] came in 2000, with the election of George W. Bush as President of the USA. In statements on nuclear policy, soon after the election, he not only made it clear that he wants to keep nuclear arsenals ad infinitum, but he elevated nuclear weapons to the status of weapons of first use, to be an essential element of the US general armed forces. Moreover, in accordance with these policies, the possession of nuclear arsenals by other states would be allowed, provided they are friends of the USA; those not friendly to the USA would be prevented, by force if necessary, from acquiring such weapons…The words of the Manifesto: ‘We appeal, as human beings to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest’ are as cogent in 2005 as they were in 1955.”  Joseph Rotblat and Pugwash were jointly awarded the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize for their “efforts to diminish the part played by nuclear arms in international affairs, and, in the longer run, to eliminate such arms.”


Laray Polk is a political writer and activist who lives in Dallas, Texas. She can be contacted at laraypolk@earthlink.net.


Copyright © 2007 The Baltimore Chronicle. All rights reserved.



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