A central feature of the 50 th anniversary of the first Pugwash Conference, commemorated with an international experts’ workshop (July 5-7) on “revitalizing nuclear disarmament” at the site of the first conference in 1957, was a ceremony to present the medal for the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize to the Pugwash Peace Exchange.
The Pugwash Peace Exchange is a national Canadian initiative emerging out of the community of Pugwash, with Senator Romeo Dallaire as patron, to build an “interpretive, education and research facility, based on the history and work of the Pugwash Conferences,” and it is this centre that will house the medal. It had been at the London, England home of the late Joseph Rotblat, a participant in the first Pugwash conference organized by the Canadian industrialist Cyrus Eaton to bridge the Cold War divide through a meeting of world scientists and experts, especially from the Soviet Union and the United States. It was Rotblat’s wish that the medal go to the birthplace of the Pugwash movement.
The 22 participants of that first Pugwash meeting, which spawned the international and ongoing “Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs,” were responding to the manifesto issued two years earlier by Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein. Troubled by the toxic mixture of the destructive power of nuclear weapons and escalating East-West suspicion and enmity, Russell and Einstein wrote:
“Most of us are not neutral in feeling, but, as human beings, we have to remember that, if the issues between East and West are to be decided in any manner that can give any possible satisfaction to anybody, whether Communist or anti-Communist, whether Asian or European or American, whether White or Black, then these issues must not be decided by war. We should wish this to be understood, both in the East and in the West.
“There lies before us, if we choose, continual progress in happiness, knowledge, and wisdom. Shall we, instead, choose death, because we cannot forget our quarrels? We appeal as human beings to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death.”
At the 50 th Anniversary conference, we of course heard that the “risk of universal death” is in fact hugely expanded from what it was in 1957. While nuclear arsenals have been reduced from their peak in the 1980s, they are still much larger than they were when Russell and Einstein issued their warning in1955 and those weapons still have the capacity to effectively annihilate human society. As they did in 1957, the Pugwash experts set out an agenda for nuclear disarmament that is achievable and most certainly urgent:
“This sober, inescapable truth continues to haunt the international community,” the 2007 conference declared.” Every minute of every day, more than 26000 nuclear weapons – many thousands of then on hair-trigger alert – are poised to bring monumental destruction if they are ever used.”
So now two Nobel Peace Prizes reside in Canada – the first, is housed at the Department of Foreign Affairs in the building bearing the recipient’s name, Lester B. Pearson (he, of course, received it for his visionary work in proposing the United Nations Emergency Force which as able to keep the peace and allow the belligerents in the 1956 Suez crisis to withdraw).
These two Nobel Prizes don’t only honor past achievements; they point to future responsibility for both war prevention and nuclear disarmament. And Canadians should accept the medals on our soil as challenges to this country in particular. A country of extraordinary privilege and capacity, we have a particular obligation to advance policy and global consensus toward the objectives the Nobel Peace Prizes honor.
Foreign Minister Peter Mackay spoke at the anniversary event in Pugwash, recommitting Canada to the disarmament enterprise. In particular he explicitly supported the “13 practical steps” toward nuclear disarmament that were universally agreed in the 2000 Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and which summarize the essential global nuclear disarmament agenda. The Bush Administration has since specifically repudiated the 13 steps, so to have the current Canadian government specifically hold them up as critically important is a welcome gesture (more on moving from gestures to concrete action to come in future postings).
The peacekeeping Nobel Prize is certainly a reminder of the need for renewed leadership in the pursuit of alternative means of settling disputes. In fact, while the Russell-Einstein manifesto is a profoundly moving and persuasive warning of the dangers of nuclear weapons, the challenge that Russel and Einstein and their nine co-signatories set before governments went well beyond nuclear disarmament:
“In view of the fact that in any future world war nuclear weapons will certainly be employed, and that such weapons threaten the continued existence of mankind, we urge the governments of the world to realize, and to acknowledge publicly, that their purpose cannot be furthered by a world war, and we urge them, consequently, to find peaceful means for the settlement of all matters of dispute between them.”
Two Nobel Peace Prizes and two extraordinary challenges.