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Thinkers' Lodge, Pugwash, Nova Scotia, Canada; site of the first Pugwash conference in 1957
The Russell-Einstein Manifesto, released July 9, 1955, called for a conference for scientists to assess the dangers of weapons of mass destruction (then only considered to be nuclear weapons). Cyrus Eaton, an industrialist and philanthropist, offered on July 13 to finance and host the conference in the town of his birth, Pugwash, Nova Scotia. This was not taken up at the time because a meeting was planned for India, at the invitation of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. With the outbreak of the Suez Crisis the Indian conference was postponed. Aristotle Onassis offered to finance a meeting in Monaco instead, but this was rejected. Eaton's former invitation was taken up.
The first conference was held at what became known as Thinkers' Lodge in July 1957 in Pugwash, Nova Scotia. Twenty-two scientists attended the first conference:
Pugwash's "main objective is the elimination of all weapons of mass destruction (nuclear, chemical and biological) and of war as a social institution to settle international disputes. To that extent, peaceful resolution of conflicts through dialogue and mutual understanding is an essential part of Pugwash activities, that is particularly relevant when and where nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction are deployed or could be used."
"The various Pugwash activities (general conferences, workshops, study groups, consultations and special projects) provide a channel of communication between scientists, scholars, and individuals experienced in government, diplomacy, and the military for in-depth discussion and analysis of the problems and opportunities at the intersection of science and world affairs. To ensure a free and frank exchange of views, conducive to the emergence of original ideas and an effective communication between different or antagonistic governments, countries and groups, Pugwash meetings as a rule are held in private. This is the main modus operandi of Pugwash. In addition to influencing governments by the transmission of the results of these discussions and meetings, Pugwash also may seek to make an impact on the scientific community and on public opinion through the holding of special types of meetings and through its publications."
Officers include the president and secretary-general. Formal governance is provided by the Pugwash Council, which serves for five years. There is also an executive committee that assists the secretary-general. Jayantha Dhanapala is the current president. Paolo Cotta-Ramusino is the current Secretary General.
During the Cold War, it was claimed that the Pugwash Conference became a front conference for the Soviet Union, whose agents often managed to weaken Pugwash critique of USSR and instead concentrate on blaming the United States and the West. In 1980, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence received a report that the Pugwash Conference was used by Soviet delegates to promote Soviet propaganda. Joseph Rotblat said in his 1998 Bertrand Russell Peace Lecture that there were a few participants in the conferences from the Soviet Union "who were obviously sent to push the party line, but the majority were genuine scientists and behaved as such".
Following the end of the Cold War, the traditional Pugwash focus on decreasing the salience of nuclear weapons and promoting a world free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction addresses the following issue areas:
Nuclear stability, nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation: 1. Traditional Nuclear Disarmament, US-Russia nuclear disarmament, nuclear weapons in Europe; 2. Nuclear weapons and nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, Israeli nuclear weapons, Iranian nuclear program, proposal for a Middle Eastern zone free of weapons of mass destruction, Arab attitudes towards nuclear weapons and nuclear proliferation; 3. India and Pakistan nuclear relations, the effects of US India nuclear deal; 4. North Korea.
Regional security in regions where nuclear weapons exist or risks of nuclear proliferation are significant: 1. Middle East--general issues, the impact of the Palestinian problem and its relevance in the Arab world, the consequences of the so-called Arab spring and the growth of the Islamic movements and parties, Arab-Iranian, Arab-Israeli and Iran-Israeli relations; 2. South-Central Asia--traditional antagonism between India and Pakistan, the role of terrorist attacks in the worsening of such antagonism, US-Pakistani relations in general. The role of radical movements in Pakistan, reconciliation and peace in Afghanistan, talking to the Taliban (is it possible and how should be done?), Pakistani-Afghan relations.
The Pugwash movement has also been concerned with environmental issues and as a result of its 1988 meeting in Dagomys it issued the Dagomys Declaration on Environmental Degradation ().
Nobel Peace Prize
In 1995, fifty years after the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, and forty years after the signing of the Russell-Einstein Manifesto, the Pugwash Conferences and Joseph Rotblat were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize jointly "for their efforts to diminish the part played by nuclear arms in international politics and, in the longer run, to eliminate such arms." The Norwegian Nobel committee hoped that awarding the prize to Rotblat and Pugwash would "encourage world leaders to intensify their efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons." In his acceptance speech, Rotblat quoted a key phrase from the Manifesto: "Remember your humanity."
International Foundation for Science
From the 1965 Pugwash conference came a recommendation to establish the International Foundation for Science "in order to address the stultifying conditions under which younger faculty members in the universities of developing countries were attempting to do research". The organization gives grants to early-career scientists in low-income countries for work on local water resources and biology.
As of 2019, 13 individuals have served as Presidents of the Pugwash Conferences.
Earl (Bertrand) Russell, 1950 Nobel Prize in Literature, a founder of the movement, was its natural head in its initial years. The formal office of the presidency was established at the Quinquennial Conference in Ronneby, in 1967. The president's role was to "preside over the Annual Pugwash Conferences and, in addition, between Conferences, to offer his counsel and advice to the members of the Continuing Committee and the Secretary-General, and thereby assist them in the execution of the activities of the Movement."
Sir John Cockcroft, joint recipient of the 1951 Nobel Prize in Physics for pioneering work on the transmutation of atomic nuclei by artificially accelerated atomic particles, was elected as the first president in 1967, though he died suddenly ten days later.
Lord Florey, who shared the 1945 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for extraction of penicillin, was then invited to become president, though he also died within weeks. At that point the Continuing Committee decided to have a rotating presidency for a term of one year, to have that office held by a distinguished person in the country where the annual conference would be held each year.
Francis Perrin (1968), had worked with Frederic Joliot's team to establish in 1939 the possibility of nuclear chain reactions and nuclear energy production.
Eugene Rabinowitch (1970), American biophysicist who worked on the Manhattan Project and was co-author with Leo Szilard of the Franck Report and co-founder in 1945 of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. In September 1970, the Continuing Committee switched back to the initial idea of a permanent office of president, with a five-year term.
Hannes Alfvén (1970-1975), recipient of the 1970 Nobel in Physics for work on his theory of magnetohydrodynamics.
Amb. Jayantha Dhanapla (2007-2017), former Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs at the United Nations (1998-2003), and former Ambassador of Sri Lanka to the US (1995-97) and to the UN Office in Geneva (1984-87)
Amb. Sergio Duarte (2017-), former UN Undersecretary for Disarmament Affairs and a retired career diplomat from Brazil
The Pugwash Conference itself does not have formal membership (although national organisations do). All participants take part in their individual capacities and not as representatives of any organization, institution or government. Anyone who has attended a meeting is considered a "Pugwashite". There are more than 3,500 "Pugwashites" worldwide.
The Jubilee 62nd Pugwash Conference devoted to nuclear disarmament will be held in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, in 2017. The conference will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the first Pugwash Conference, held in Pugwash, Nova Scotia in 1957. The theme of the conference is "Confronting New Nuclear Dangers." The conference agenda will focus on strengthening the nuclear test ban and combating terrorism.