What is Pugwash?

Scientists gathered at the First Pugwash Conference, Pugwash, NS [July 1957]

The Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs is an international network that brings together scholars, and originally scientists, to seek solutions to armed conflict and work towards the elimination of weapons of mass destruction.

The first conference was convened at what is now the Thinkers’ Lodge in Pugwash, Nova Scotia, in July 1957. Twenty-two prominent scientists from the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, Japan, Canada, and Australia gathered to assess the risks posed by weapons of mass destruction, in particular nuclear weapons.

This came on the recommendation of the influential Russell-Einstein Manifesto, released on July 9th, 1955. Issued by Bertrand Russell and signed by eleven influential scientists including Albert Einstein, the manifesto highlighted the dangers of nuclear weapons from the perspective of the scientific community and called on world leaders to find solutions to the risks of devastating conflict at the height of the Cold War. Cyrus Eaton, a Canadian philanthropist, offered to host the first conference in the town of his birth, and so Pugwash came to be.

In the following years, the Pugwash Secretariat continued to meet at such conferences, playing a critical role in facilitating Track II dialogue during the tense Cold War years. The Conferences’ work during its early years was formative in the development of several landmark treaties, including the Partial Test Ban Treaty (1963), the Non-Proliferation Treaty (1968), the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (1972), the Biological Weapons Convention (1972), and the Chemical Weapons Convention (1993). Scientific integrity and ethical considerations have remained at the heart of its work.

The central importance of dialogue and communication across divides continues to define Pugwash’s work today. Nuclear weapon risk reduction persists as the central focus of Pugwash, but time has also defined new areas of importance, including regional tensions and proliferation, as well as climate change, embodied in the 1988 Dagomys Declaration.

Forty years after the Russell-Einstein Manifesto was signed, the Pugwash Conferences and Joseph Rotblat were jointly awarded the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize “for their efforts to diminish the part played by nuclear arms in international politics and, in the longer run, to eliminate such arms.”

“We appeal as human beings to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest.”

Russell-Einstein Manifesto, July 1955

Today, there are Pugwash national groups in over thirty countries worldwide, in addition to youth and student groups connected to ISYP. National group members continue to contribute to projects and conference dialogues without any national government representation.

Learn more about Pugwash and its history on their website.