Joseph Rotblat and the Pugwash


On Tuesday, the Atomic Heritage Foundation hosted a panel of speakers at the Elliott School of International Affairs to present on physicist Joseph Rotblat and the Pugwash Conferences he helped run.

Andrew Brown, an author and radiation oncologist, spoke on Rotblat’s formative years before his involvement with the Pugwash Conferences. From his childhood spent in occupied Warsaw during World War I to his leaving the Manhattan Project, Brown detailed Rotblat’s transition from nuclear physicist to the “Keeper of the Nuclear Conscience,” as Brown names him in his recently published biography.

Detailing his own relationship with Rotblat and the Pugwash Conferences beginning as a 29-year-old in 1973 was John Holdren, the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (and member of FAS’s Board of Sponsors). At that time, the Conferences were shifting to an increasingly diverse membership. New attendees included political figures, social and political scientists, and representatives from developing countries.

Matthew Evangelista, political professor at Cornell University, talked about the role Pugwash played through the 20th century, and the gap between Pugwash’s initial goals and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the former advocating nuclear disarmament and the latter only deterrence. However, the reduction of nuclear arms following the retreat from the United States’ Strategic Defense Initiative was much more in line with the initial Pugwash goals of disarmament.

As the final speaker, current co-chair of the U.S. Pugwash Committee Steven Miller spoke on Rotblat and his legacy as well as the current goals and directions of the Pugwash Conferences. In line with Brown’s assessment of Rotblat, Miller described Rotblat’s particular abhorrence of war based on his “searing personal experiences in two world wars.” In the aftermath of the Cold War, Pugwash has broadened its scope to include more potential theaters than just the United States and Russia. Relatively new Pugwash groups have been set up in Iran and Israel as well as India and Pakistan. Just as during the Cold War, however, Pugwash still attempts to act as an intermediary and encourages attendees to put aside opposing ideologies and divisive politics.

The slides from the presentation are available here (PDF).

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