Sunday, 5 April 2009

Obama Catches Up With Vision of Pugwash Founders?

Today's rousing speech by President Obama in Prague would have struck a positive note with many of the founders of the Pugwash movement. A call to rid the world of nuclear weapons has been a steadfast part of the Pugwash message from the Russell-Einstein Manifesto and through all major statements.

Today Obama said,
"There are those who doubt whether true international cooperation is possible, given inevitable differences among nations. And there are those who hear talk of a world without nuclear weapons and doubt whether it's worth setting a goal that seems impossible to achieve. But make no mistake: We know where that road leads. When nations and peoples allow themselves to be defined by their differences, the gulf between them widens. When we fail to pursue peace, then it stays forever beyond our grasp. We know the path when we choose fear over hope. To denounce or shrug off a call for cooperation is an easy but also a cowardly thing to do. That's how wars begin. That's where human progress ends."
Here is an excerpt of the 1958 Vienna Declaration (which Rotblat called the "tenet" or "credo" of the Pugwash movement) that shows not just Pugwash optimism, but also Pugwash pragmatism about the road to disarmament:
"The armaments race is the result of distrust between states; it also contributes to this distrust. Any step that mitigates the arms race, and leads to even small reductions in armaments and armed forces, on an equitable basis and subject to necessary control, is therefore desirable. … We recognize that the accumulation of large stocks of nuclear weapons has made a completely reliable system of controls for far-reaching nuclear disarmament extremely difficult, perhaps impossible. For this disarmament to become possible, nations may have to depend, in addition to a practical degree of technical verification, on a combination of political agreements, of successful international security arrangements, and of experience of successful cooperation in various areas. Together, these can create the climate of mutual trust, which does not now exist, and an assurance that nations recognize the mutual political advantages of avoiding suspicion."

I'll return to the Vienna Declaration in other posts, as it many other important elements...

Did you know? At the end of the Third Pugwash Conference, a meeting with about 10,000 people took place in the Vienna City Hall Auditorium, the largest Pugwash conference attendance ever.

Check it out: I just discovered this Oregon State University Special Collections web site that shows Linus Pauling's suggested draft revisions for the Vienna Declaration. Rotblat in the short 1962 history* says this statement was first drafted by Eugene Rabinowitch, with comments from others prior to the meeting. Szilard, following a quirky tradition of his own, ultimately abstained from signing.

*J. Rotblat, Science and World Affairs: History of the Pugwash Conferences, London: Dawsons of Pall Mall, 1962.

McNamara on Pugwash Role in Vietnam

In a little known initiative, Pugwash provided a back channel (code named PENNSYLVANIA) between two French men and Ho Chi Minh during the Vietnam War.

Here is what Robert McNamara said about this in a 1996 interview with Harry Kreisler:

"But what the public wasn't aware of, which I couldn't really describe or discuss when I left, was that we were engaged in very delicate negotiations. ... They had been triggered, oddly enough, by a visit that Henry Kissinger, who was then a professor at Harvard, had made to a Pugwash meeting in Paris. ... [T]hey were meeting in Paris in the summer of 1967. Kissinger was there, and he was approached by two Frenchmen, Herbert Marcovich and Raymond Aubrac*, whom I cite in the book, who said, "If the U.S. has a message to take to Ho Chi Minh, we'll deliver it." Now to illustrate the degree to which we didn't understand the situation in Vietnam at the time, today I believe that Ho Chi Minh was more of a nationalist, more of a Tito, than a servant or a follower of Khruschev. But at that time, we looked upon him as a vassal of the Soviets. He had lived in Paris during World War II, he had lived with this man Aubrac; he was the godfather of Aubrac's child. (By the way, Ho Chi Minh had been a pastry cook in the Savoy Hotel in London, and he lived in this country for a time.) There's a real possibility that if we had understood him better we could have avoided this war, or, after it started, we could have terminated it. It illustrates my point of how little we knew and understood the Vietnamese. But to come back to my point, I said to President Johnson "I know you think there's nothing in this, sir, but let me handle it. Something might come of it. I promise not to get us in trouble; let me handle it." So I engaged in a long series of exchanges with Kissinger with the full knowledge of the Secretary of State and the President over a period of months. "

"Our efforts failed, and I suggest why in the book: in part because we were clumsy and in part because maybe there was nothing in it, I don't know. But I know we were clumsy. In any event, our efforts failed, but they were still continuing when I left. After I left, the President, in March of 1968, made a speech in San Antonio in which he put forward publicly the elements of the proposal that we had put forward recretly through Kissinger to Ho Chi Minh, which became known as the San Antonio formula. That ultimately was the foundation for the start of the negotiations between North Vietnam and the U.S. in Paris. That was under way when I left; I couldn't talk publicly about it. As Secretary of Defense, when the United States was in the midst of a war with 500,000 American young people's lives at risk, in the
midst of a war in a foreign country, I couldn't speak candidly or freely without self-constraint." (emphasis added)

*Some archival research indicates that this question of who contacted whom is a bit more complicated than this, but I will save that for another post!!

Recommended reading: Robert McNamara, James Blight, Robert Brigham, Argument Without End, Public Affairs, 2000, pp. 292-301. Photo above from the Kreisler interview website.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Schaerf on Founding ISODARCO with Amaldi

In the 1960s, Edoardo Amaldi and Carlo Schaerf founded the International School on Disarmament and Research on Conflicts (ISODARCO), a project of the Italian Pugwash Group. In a recent video taped interview conducted by Marco De Andreis for La fondazione Ugo La Malfa, Carlo discusses the history and future of ISODARCO (please click here for the You Tube link).

If you might be able to conduct interviews for the Pugwash History Project, please contact me. Equally, if you have insight into particular aspects of the history of Pugwash, please get in touch, and perhaps we can arrange for a Skype interview, or some other creative use of technology...

Click here for a playlist of the other interviews conducted at the 2009 ISODARCO course: F. Calogero, B. Gill, D. Holloway, V. Journe, J. Lewis, C. Kelleher, P. Sidhu.

ABM Treaty

In most cases it is very difficult to pinpoint definitely the impact Pugwash has had. By design, the idea has always been to create space where influential people from diverse perspectives can gather. They would then, in their individual capacities, seek to influence policy in their home countries.

Metta Spencer highlights one instructive example regarding Pugwash and the ABM Treaty, in an excellent article called "Political Scientists":

"Millionshchikov ... noted that he had privately come around to the anti-ABM position in 1964 during a Pugwash meeting ... By the time of the Pugwash Conference in Sochi in October 1969 ... Millionshchikov definitely said he opposed ABM systems. ... A month after the Pugwash meeting in Sochi, the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks began in Helsinki. One outcome was the ABM Treaty of 1972..."
See Metta Spencer, "Political Scientists", Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, July/Aug 1995, Vol 51, No 4, p. 62.

Rotblat & Szilard, First Pugwash Conference, 1957

Szilard played an important role in the First Pugwash Conference and the development of the Pugwash Movement.

Szilard’s biographer, William Lanouette, wrote that the Pugwash meeting was “the international forum that finally coupled Szilard’s eclectic brainstorming with his fervent desire to curb the U.S.-Soviet arms race”. Quoting Lanouette again, "…the Russians quickly warmed to Szilard’s candor and wit. ‘They really loved Leo,’ recalled Ruth Adams, an editor at the Bulletin who attended the First Pugwash Conference and many to follow. ‘He never tried to disguise anything, and they appreciated that.’"

William Lanouette with Bela Silard, Genius in the Shadows. 587 pages, Scribner's, New York, 1992, ISBN 0-684-19011-7. For a review, see: David Hafemeister, American Journal of Physics, Sept 1993 (reprinted Physics and Society Newsletter, Jan 1994.)

Rotblat: Leaving the Bomb Project (and not an absolute pacificist)

Joseph Rotblat, the only project scientist to leave the Manhattan Project on moral grounds, tells his story in this classic 1985 article, "Leaving the Bomb Project," in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Leaving the Manhattan Project was a courageous step for Rotblat, and one with serious personal implications. He was accused of being a spy, his personal belongings mysteriously 'disappeared' on his train ride home, and he was not allowed to tell his fellow Project scientists why he was leaving.

"Chadwick ... was shown a thick dossier on me with highly incriminating evidence. It boiled down to my being a spy: I had arranged with a contact in Santa Fe to return to England, and then to be flown to and parachuted onto the part of Poland held by the Soviets, in order to give them the secrets of the atom bomb. ..."
People are often surprised to hear that Prof said he would not rule out working on a similar weapon again in the future. I suspect this was his scientific precision and exact language more than anything else:
"After 40 years one question keeps nagging me: have we learned enough not to repeat the mistakes we made then? I am not sure even about myself. Not being an absolute pacifist, I cannot guarantee that I would not behave in the same way, should a similar situation arise."

Frisbee Diplomacy

This article, "Good Guys All", from Time Magazine, 1969, shows how the atmosphere at Pugwash Conferences helped people find their common humanity across political and geographic divides.

"In the patio behind the Orante Intourist Hotel at the Black Sea resort of Sochi, an American scholar and a leading Soviet physicist were skimming a Frisbee at each other. The Russian, Mikhail Dmitrievich Millionshchikov, had approached the game hesitantly, perhaps because the American. Columbia University's Marshall Shulman, a specialist in Russian affairs, had demonstrated such skill. But soon Millionshchikov was lunging enthusiastically after the elusive plastic saucer. ..."

Please post comments if you have perspectives on the Sochi meeting.