Pugwash Anniversary

Pugwash, Nova Scotia was a magnet this July. The Pugwash movement gathered at its "hometown" to celebrate a fiftieth anniversary as guests of this ever-hospitable community. The main event was a closed workshop for some 27 nuclear weapons experts from Canada, China, Croatia, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, Russia, Sri Lanka, the UK, and the USA. Their meeting followed Chatham House rules, which means that we may tell you what was said, but not by whom.

Regional Nuclear Weapons NEWS

The greatest interest was focused on reports from the two main nuclear weapon states, the US and Russia, that have established no new disarmament treaties since 2002's SORT. Today even the most ambitious speakers hope merely to extend the existing treaties START I beyond its 2009 expiry and SORT beyond its 2012 expiry. Qualitative proliferation is continuing in both countries, with Russia planning 17 new missiles per year with multiple warheads.

Tensions have increased between the US and Russia over the US plan to base missile defences in Poland and the Czech Republic. This summer Putin proposed an alternative - Russia's participation in a system to be based in Azerbaijan. Probably his offer was symbolic, for he was addressing public opinion and ascertaining whether Bush would openly say no. Had Bush bluntly rejected the proposal, this would have indicated that his missiles are meant for use against Russia, not Iran. In fact, he temporized.

Despite the lack of disarmament progress, support for nuclear weapons has been declining in the United States, even in the Strategic Command. In January George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn published an article in the Wall Street Journal calling for nuclear disarmament. The Bush administration will ignore all such calls, but a future breakthrough is possible. The climate change crisis is going to require a great infusion of resources that are now being spent on nuclear weapons. Pointing this out may mobilize support for dramatic change within the next few years.

Several speakers reported on anti-nuclear campaigns in Canada, Britain, Asia, and the Middle East. The most optimistic account held that with Gordon Brown at the helm, the UK may not go ahead with its Trident subs, and may indeed reduce its nuclear arsenal to 160 and the number of its carriers to three.

The Canadian Pugwash group was well represented, of course, and reported on its campaign lobbying embassies in Ottawa. It argues that when any non-nuclear weapon state in NATO allows nuclear weapons to be based on its soil it violates the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Several European countries hold incoherent policies regarding these weapons, calling on the one hand for nuclear disarmament, while not disputing the official NATO doctrine that they are necessary. If two or three of these states can be induced to take a stand together, they might create a new policy by insisting that the weapons be removed from their soil. The Canadian group hopes that such a campaign will spread overseas.

The conversation turned to Asia, where there is good news and bad. Although China is a nuclear power, its leaders regard the use of such weapons as immoral and favor their complete elimination. From early on, they adopted a policy of no first use, and have never wavered from it. The Chinese are not anxious about India, but rather about the United States and its relations with Taiwan.

Turning to India and Pakistan, speakers conveyed bad news. Both countries are still eagerly developing their arsenals. In India, for example, anyone suggesting that production of the bombs should even be capped is regarded as unpatriotic. The only possible way to curb this arms race is to show that India has enough bombs for deterrence. The government has not said how many they desire, but surely 24 would be more than enough. If Russia and the United States were to reduce their own arsenals markedly, this would make a big impact on public opinion throughout Asia.

Next we came to the Middle East. Someone asked whether there are any American nuclear weapons in the region. Apparently not. In 1991, tactical weapons were removed all over the world and taken to the United States. If US nuclear weapons are in the Middle East, which is questionable, they are either on submarines or cruise missiles.

However, the Arab countries have their own nuclear aspirations, which are whetted by awareness of the Israeli bombs. There is an obvious need for a conference to discuss all aspects of nuclear weapons throughout the region. All eyes are now watching the US-Iran conflict and hoping for negotiations.

Mobilizing Public Action

Compared to other Pugwash meetings, there was an unusually urgent interest in mobilizing the public against nuclear weapons. Private meetings of experts are not enough. Everyone had seen the Al Gore movie about climate change and now wanted to create similar shows to increase awareness of nuclear dangers. One Pugwashite is actually making a $2.5 million film under the auspices of Jeff Skoll's Participant Productions. It will be released in Sundance in 2008 or 2009. There was even talk about making television dramas to increase awareness.

The Public Events

Besides the workshop, there were some other events in the village where four famous global activists gave public talks: Jayantha Dhanapala, formerly UN Under-Secretary General for Disarmament; Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba of Hiroshima; Professor M. S. Swaminathan, now president of the Pugwash Conferences; and Canada's new senator, Lt.-General Roméo Dallaire, who is patron of the new local Pugwash Peace Exchange, which hosted the public events and orchestrated the logistics of this conference. Senator Dallaire and Mr. Dhanapala engaged in a dialogue at the high school on the first night, and on the final evening Senator Dallaire and Mayor Akiba spoke in that same hall, where one of the village's famous lobster banquets was served to hundreds.

Everyone can join the new organization, the Pugwash Peace Exchange, which will interface between the private international body and the tourists who come to town every summer in search of memorable experiences. Soon there will be a centre displaying historical information about the movement's work against global threats.

Peace Magazine Oct-Dec 2007

Peace Magazine Oct-Dec 2007, page 6. Some rights reserved.

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