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Matthew Clark — October 1983

Eric Fawcett, professor of physics at the University of Toronto and president of Science for Peace, has just returned from the 33rd Pugwash Conference. The conference was titled “Avoiding Nuclear and Other Wars and Reversing the Arms Race,” and was held August 26-31 in Venice, Italy. He very kindly talked to me for some time about the conference and allowed me to read through the papers which it produced.

Pugwash is a group of scientists from East and West who meet periodically to discuss science and world affairs. The first Pugwash Conference met in Pugwash, Nova Scotia in July, 1957 in response to an appeal from Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein and other prominent scientific figures.

According to Fawcett, Pugwash doesn’t really have members — ‘participants’ might be a better description. Scientists and scholars are invited to attend a conference largely on the basis of personal contact with other Pugwash participants. Since 1957, when the first Pugwash conference was held, seven hundred or more people have been involved. The most recent conference in Venice was attended by 151 people from 34 countries and 6 international organisations. Many of them, said Fawcett, had also participated in a previous conference he had attended.

This year’s conference was divided into five Working Groups: I) Strategic and Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces; 2) European Security; 3) Security in the Mediterranean and Middle East; 4) The Arms Race, Arms Transfers, and Disarmament; and 5) Third World Security. Each of these groups met extensively and produced a paper which reported the views of the group. In addition, a final document was prepared, consisting of brief summaries of all five reports.

The summary of the first working group, on Strategic and Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces, begins by deploring the lack of progress in the U.S.-U.S.S.R. arms control negotiations in Geneva. “(Cruise and Pershing II) deployments and the likely responses by the Soviet Union would increase tensions and reduce crisis stability, and they might well lead to the complete collapse of nuclear arms-control negotiations covering intercontinental as well as intermediate-range systems.” If there is no agreement by December, the report urges that NATO defer the deployments “to allow more time for negotiations…” The report also suggests that the Soviet Union could “increase the chance of NATO restraint (as well as the chance of an early agreement)” by beginning to reduce its SS-20s before December. I think most of us would not urge’ just a delay in the NATO deployments; we demand that they be cancelled completely.

The summary goes on to comment on a number of more technical issues: the Soviet Union’s offer to dismantle a number of SS-20s is “a step towards a solution”; the British and French systems must somehow be taken into account; intermediate-range nuclear forces will eventually have to be considered along with intercontinental nuclear forces; the verification problems raised by cruise missiles would “seriously jeopardise future prospects to limit nuclear armaments”’; “launch-an-warning” strategies

significantly ,increase the chance of accidental nuclear war; anti-ballistic missile and anti-satellite technologies are dangerous, and Reagan’s “leak-proof’ ABM system is “simply unrealistic. “

The Working Group on European Security made several concrete proposals: the removal of all nuclear weapons from a strip extending 150 kilometres or more on each side of the NATO/WTO boundary, the creation of nuclear-free zones in various parts of Europe, NATO’s matching of the Soviet Union’s no-first-use pledge, and a shift in conventional forces to a more defensive role.

The other three Working Groups all produced interesting papers, but I have summarised what I found most directly relevant to our own concerns.

In order to maintain an atmosphere in which the participants will be able to speak freely and candidly, the organisers of Pugwash Conferences tend to avoid publicity, and recommendations are made known to governments primarily through individual influence. Furthermore, no one is required to assent to the group’s statements. The final report of the most recent conference, for example, states that it “should not be interpreted as a consensus of all the Conference participants, among which a wide variety of views was represented.” On the other hand, the reports must reflect at least the general attitudes of those who attend. Fawcett told me that the participants do speak freely and that they share a great sense of common purpose.

Fawcett’s general reactions to the Pugwash process were complex. In these times especially, he said, it is crucial to maintain channels of communications across political boundaries; Pugwash is one of only a few opportunities Eastern and Western scientists have to speak to each other. He generally liked the recommendations produced over the years, but he found it frustrating that year after year the same proposals were made, and year after year ignored.

There is, however, strong evidence that the Soviet Union takes Pugwash seriously, Fawcett said. Their delegation includes government officials of very high rank and influence, and three Soviet proposals are in line with Pugwash recommendations: a temporary moratorium on further deployment of SS-20s, the explicit declaration of a no-first use policy, and an offer to remove battlefield nuclear weapons from a 250 km zone east of the NATO/WTO boundary if NATO agrees to corresponding action.

In addition, the community of concern and scholarship created by Pugwash can help the development of the scientists’ disarmament movement in both the East and the West.

Matthew Clark is Toronto peace activist, and past chairman of the Toronto Disarmament Network. He is also on the steering committees of the Spadina Peace Group and UCAM (University of Toronto Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament).