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  • Editor's Note

The year just gone by, 2017, marked the 60th anniversary of the first international conference on nuclear weapons held in Pugwash, a town in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. The gathering, convened outside governmental channels in July 1957, brought together 22 scientists from the United States, the Soviet Union, Canada, and seven other countries to discuss how to achieve "a world free of nuclear weapons." In subsequent years, the Pugwash conferences expanded a great deal, encompassing far more countries and becoming increasingly institutionalized. Pugwash came to be a fixture of sundry organizations and movements during the Cold War that sought to eliminate nuclear armaments. In 1995, after the end of the Cold War, the Pugwash network and its chief founder, the physicist Joseph Rotblat, jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize.

This special issue looks in detail at the origins and first decade of the Pugwash conferences, covering their role in the Cold War standoff and discussing the form they took and the impact they had in particular countries. A considerable body of scholarship has emerged over the years about the Pugwash conferences, notably the work of Matthew Evangelista and Lawrence S. Wittner. But the literature up to now has focused predominantly on the U.S.-Soviet context, giving scant attention to the role of Pugwash in other countries. By highlighting the experience with Pugwash in several European and East Asian countries—Austria, Czechoslovakia, Japan, the People's Republic of China, the Federal Republic of Germany, and the United Kingdom—the articles here bring out the global significance of the Pugwash conferences and the activist network they spawned.

The conferral of the Nobel Peace Prize on Pugwash and Rotblat in 1995 marked a turnaround from the way the conferences were often seen during the Cold War in official Western circles, where suspicion abounded. U.S. policymakers worried that the conferences all too frequently veered close to Soviet positions on nuclear disarmament and other salient issues, reinforcing Soviet propaganda. These concerns may have been overstated at times but were not entirely unjustified. Declassified records in the former Soviet archives confirm that senior officials in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) regarded the Pugwash conferences as valuable opportunities for Soviet propaganda efforts and strove to exploit them toward that end. Soviet participants in Pugwash could not have traveled outside the USSR and taken part in the conferences without being strictly vetted by the CPSU International Department and the Soviet State Security (KGB) organs. Many of those who represented the Soviet side at Pugwash served as mouthpieces for Soviet propaganda and sought to imprint Soviet views on the conference resolutions. In at least a few cases, Soviet participants also sought (if only in vain) to recruit Pugwash "friends" as agents of influence. Rotblat [End Page 1] acknowledged in 1998 that the Cold War–era conferences featured Soviet participants "who were obviously sent to push the party line," but he insisted that "the majority [of the Soviet delegates] were genuine scientists and behaved as such." Most of the Western participants were well aware that the USSR was a repressive dictatorship and that the Soviet delegates could not be independent of the Communist regime. Nonetheless, they believed the issue of nuclear disarmament was so urgent that it outweighed the potential risks and pitfalls of Pugwash.

The Nobel Peace Prize Committee's decision in 1995 to honor the Pugwash organization was preceded more than three decades earlier—in 1962—by the awarding of the Peace Prize to Linus Pauling, who had won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1954. Pauling, with Rotblat and Bertrand Russell, was one of the main founders of the Pugwash conferences. In 1985 the Nobel Peace Prize went to the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), an international federation of medical professionals set up in 1980 to highlight the dangers of nuclear war.

Both of these earlier awards sparked controversy in the United States. Pauling had been under investigation by U.S. congressional committees in the 1950s for possible membership in the Communist Party and was widely seen as too deferential to the Soviet Union. When his Peace Prize was announced, some mass-market...


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