Pugwash Conferences

views updated May 29 2018


In 1995 the Pugwash Conferences and one of its co-founders, the physicist Sir Joseph Rotblat, shared the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of their decades-long work to reduce the threat of nuclear war and seek the abolition of nuclear weapons. As announced by the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Pugwash and its then president, Joseph Rotblat, were being recognized "for their efforts to diminish the part played by nuclear arms in international politics and in the longer run to eliminate such arms. It is the Committee's hope that the award of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1995 to Rotblat and to Pugwash will encourage world leaders to intensify their efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons" (Norwegian Nobel Committee Communique, 13 October 1995).

The purpose of the Pugwash Conferences is to bring together, from around the world, influential scientists, scholars, and public figures concerned with reducing the danger of armed conflict and seeking cooperative solutions for global problems, especially those at the intersection of science, technology, and security. Meeting in private as individuals, rather than as representatives of governments or institutions, Pugwash participants exchange views and explore alternative approaches to arms control and tension reduction with a combination of candor, continuity, and flexibility not often possible in official diplomatic meetings. Because of the stature of many of the Pugwash participants in their own countries, insights from Pugwash discussions tend to penetrate quickly to the appropriate levels of official policymaking.

Origins and Organization

The Pugwash Conferences take their name from the small fishing village of Pugwash, Nova Scotia, Canada, site of the first meeting in 1957, which was attended by twenty-two eminent scientists from the United States, Soviet Union, Europe, Japan, Canada, and Australia. The stimulus for this first Pugwash meeting was the "Manifesto" issued in 1955 by Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein, and also signed by Max Born, Percy Bridgman, Leopold Infeld, Frederic Joliot-Curie, Herman Muller, Linus Pauling, Cecil Powell, Joseph Rotblat, and Hideki Yukawa, which called upon scientists of all political persuasions to assemble to discuss the threat posed to civilization by the advent of thermonuclear weapons. American philanthropist Cyrus Eaton hosted the 1957 meeting at Thinkers' Lodge in Pugwash, his birthplace, and Mr. Eaton continued to provide crucial support for Pugwash in its early years.

From that beginning evolved both a continuing series of meetings at locations all over the world—with a growing number and diversity of participants—and a decentralized organizational structure to coordinate and finance this activity. Pugwash convenes between eight and twelve meetings per year, consisting of the large annual conference, attended by 150 to 250 people, and the more frequent workshops and study group meetings, which focus on specific issues and typically involve twenty to fifty participants.

Although very loosely structured—anyone who attends a Pugwash Conference becomes a member—the organization has been presided over since its inception by a series of distinguished scientists. Among the presidents, besides Rotblat, have been Nobel Laureate in chemistry Dorothy Hodgkin and Sir Michael Atiya, both from the United Kingdom, and Professor M. S. Swaminathan of India. Since 2002 the Secretary General has been Professor Paolo Cotta-Ramusino, who is a professor of mathematical physics at the University of Milan, and the executive director has been Dr. Jeffrey Boutwell of the United States (former associate executive officer at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences). A twenty-eight-member council, which generally meets once per year, and a six-member executive committee provide formal governance for Pugwash. Council members are elected every five years at the Quinquennial Conferences, held since 1962, which approve the long-term goals and bylaws of Pugwash. Marie Muller, professor of international politics at the University of Pretoria, is chair of the Pugwash Council. Pugwash has four small permanent offices, in Rome, London, Geneva, and Washington, DC, which help coordinate activities with more than fifty national Pugwash Groups around the world.

Evolution of the Pugwash Agenda

During the height of the Cold War, when few official channels existed between the Soviet Union/Eastern Europe, and the United States and Western Europe, Pugwash helped create unofficial lines of communication among scientists and policy makers, which in turn contributed to laying the groundwork for some of the most important arms control treaties of the period, including the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963, the Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972 and SALT I accords, the Biological Weapons Convention of 1972, and the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993. Despite subsequent trends of generally improving international relations and the emergence of a much wider array of unofficial channels of communication, Pugwash meetings play an important role in bringing together key scientists, analysts, and policy advisers for sustained, in-depth discussions of crucial arms-control issues, particularly in the areas of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.

In the early-twenty-first century, the Pugwash Workshops on Nuclear Weapons focused on bringing together scientists and policy makers from areas of regional tension such as South Asia, the Korean Peninsula, and the Middle East to discuss ways of reducing the threat posed by nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction in those regions.

The Pugwash Chemical and Biological Warfare Workshops, which began in 1959, meet twice per year, involving scientists and other technical experts, official negotiators, and industry representatives to explore means of strengthening the international prohibitions on the development and deployment of chemical and biological weapons (CBW) as well as possible CBW terrorist threats.

The Pugwash Workshops on Energy, the Environment, and the Social Responsibility of Scientists capitalize on the global network of Pugwash scientists to hold meetings and consultations on the major scientific and technological issues facing the international community. The workshops cover issues such as global climate change and future world energy needs as well as more specific topics, such as two workshops held in Cuba on public health and medical research. The Pugwash Conferences also have as one of its major goals the promulgation of ethical norms for the scientific community, which was the subject of a workshop in Paris, France, in June 2003.

While Pugwash findings reach the policy community most directly through the participation of members of that community in Pugwash meetings and through the personal contacts of other participants with policy makers, additional means of disseminating policy analysis include the Pugwash Newsletter (published twice per year), Pugwash Occasional Papers and Issue Briefs, and the Pugwash website. Some Pugwash publications include Nuclear Terrorism: The Danger of Highly Enriched Uranium (2002) and U.S.-Cuban Medical Cooperation: Effects of the U.S. Embargo (2001), and others more generally focused on global perspectives regarding issues of humanitarian intervention and the ramifications of missile defenses for nuclear stability.

Complementing Pugwash is an international Student/Young Pugwash movement, inaugurated in 1979. This is a global network of national groups with their own agendas and goals. Although organizationally separate from the Pugwash Conferences, International Student/Young Pugwash helps introduce students and younger scientists and scholars to the principles and objectives of Pugwash.

Founded on the principle of the individual responsibility of scientists for their work, the Pugwash Conferences have worked toward the twin goals of abolishing nuclear weapons and the peaceful settlement of international disputes since 1957. Emerging challenges in science, technology, and international politics of the twenty-first century make those principles and goals more relevant than ever.


SEE ALSO International Relations;Rotblat, Joseph.



Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. Available from www.pugwash.org. Website for the Pugwash Conferences.

International Student/Young Pugwash. Available from www.student-pugwash.org. Website for the ISYP.

Pugwash Conferences

views updated May 21 2018


PUGWASH CONFERENCES. Summoned by an appeal from Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell to work against the danger of nuclear war, twenty-two of the world's leading scientists attended a Conference on Science and World Affairs at Pugwash, Nova Scotia, in July 1957. Meeting at least annually thereafter and supported by philanthropist Cyrus S. Eaton, the loose association of scholars and public figures from both sides in the Cold War created an informal avenue for the exchange of ideas designed to combat the arms race and reduce the risk of international conflict. Whether high government officials or eminent academics, participants met as private individuals, not as representatives of their respective countries, and spoke off the record. Their conversations may have contributed to the realization of such arms control initiatives as the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963, the Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972, the Biological Weapons Convention of 1972, and the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993. In 1995, the Pugwash Conference and Joseph Rotblat, a Manhattan Project physicist who helped organize the first and subsequent meetings, jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize.

Since the Cold War, the Pugwash Conferences have broadened their concerns to include environmental and development issues. By the year 2000, some 10,000 people had attended Pugwash meetings.


Blackaby, Frank. A Nuclear-Weapon-Free World: Steps Along the Way. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000.

Ferry, Georgina. Dorothy Hodgkin: A Life. London: Granta Books, 1998.

Max PaulFriedman

Pugwash conferences

views updated Jun 08 2018

Pugwash conferences a series of international conferences first held in Pugwash (a village in Nova Scotia) in 1957 by scientists to promote the peaceful application of scientific discoveries.