Editorial – Pugwash : Physicists, nuclear weapons and scientists’ responsibility

By , & . Published on 22 October 2015 in:
Editorial, October 2015, , ,

Born during the Cold War, the Pugwash movement gathers physicists who promote the peaceful use of science.

Many scientists were shocked by what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, even among those who had supported or taken part in the Manhattan project. In 1955 Einstein teamed with mathematician and Nobel Prize laureate in Literature Bertrand Russell to sign and promote a manifesto encouraging scientists to work for a peaceful use of science and attach more importance to the survival of the human species rather than political beliefs: “Remember your humanity, forget the rest!”. This document, known as the Russel-Einstein manifesto, was actively promoted by Joseph Rotblat, the only physicist who left the Manhattan project before the end of the war, and it was signed by many prominent scientists from all over the world, including nine Nobel prize laureates, among whom Max Born and Frederic Joliot-Curie.

In 1957, twenty-two signatories of the manifesto met in the Canadian town of Pugwash. From that meeting the Pugwash movement was born, which received the Nobel peace prize in 1995, jointly with Joseph Rotblat. The movement is organised in National chapters and already twelve European countries have their own chapter.

The Pugwash community meets every other year, with delegates from all over the world and especially from geopolitical hotspots. Beyond official debates, these conferences offer unique opportunities to meet: former senior Israeli officials discuss with Palestinians, North Koreans dine with South Koreans… Here, the participants informally test ideas that could appear sooner or later on the official negotiation agenda.

During their career, physicists build trust and respect with colleagues across political boundaries.

Mutual trust and respect are important when negotiating an international agreement. During their career, physicists build such trust and respect with colleagues across political boundaries. This allows “underground” or “3rd way” diplomacy: before official negotiations between governments the groundwork has to be laid informally by people who trust each other and understand the technical difficulties of the issues being discussed. Could the recent breakthrough on the Iranian isotope enrichment facilities have happened without prior discussions by people with expert knowledge of nuclear science and technology? 

The world has changed dramatically since 1955 and nuclear weapons are unfortunately not the only threat to mankind anymore. Chemical weapons, biological weapons, killer robots, climate change are completing the techniques made available by science. There are many other areas where scientists can promote a peaceful use of science, by remembering their humanity.


The official website of Pugwash:
The website of the French chapter:
Other national chapters:

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