Presentation Speech by Francis Sejersted, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee
Your Majesties, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Our world has for fifty years now been living in the knowledge that weapons exist powerful enough to wipe out human life on earth. The atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki meant the end of the Second World War, but also changed man’s relation to his surroundings. Man’s creature, his liberating technology, turned against him. The huge threat was clear enough for anyone to see who could bear to look. Indeed the United Nations’ first resolution, unanimously adopted by the General Assembly on the 24th of January 1946, concerned the establishment of a commission to propose the elimination of nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction.1
It may be worth reminding one another of the fact that nuclear weapons have been used in war, admittedly in an extreme situation, but not by an irrational despot or under the naïve illusion of their relative innocence. Extreme situations may arise again. What guarantee is there that nuclear weapons will not be used again? In the short term, the risk can be lessened by reducing nuclear arsenals. But the longer-term aim must be to destroy all such weapons, as the United Nations argued in 1946. Since we have no way of banning knowledge concerning nuclear weapons, the only guarantee that they will never be used is, in the last analysis, probably a world without war.
It is considerations of this nature which principally underlie the unwearying activity of our Laureates: in Joseph Rotblat’s case, since his departure from the Manhattan Project in 1944,2 and in the case of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, since the first meeting in 1957. It is a great pleasure to me to welcome our Peace Prize Laureates. We do so in admiration of your efforts over a long period of time, and recognising that your activities remain as necessary today as they have ever been.
In his own eyes, Alfred Nobel was principally a practical man of science. He also lived at a time of scientific optimism. As many as three of the prizes he founded, to be awarded to those whose work had been of the greatest benefit to mankind, accordingly went to scientists. Ironically enough, however, his own scientific work was not unquestionably beneficial to humanity. Dynamite made more powerful weapons possible. As the morally aware man he was, Nobel was troubled by this, and in his efforts to justify his activity, he also toyed with the doctrine of deterrence. More powerful weapons would keep man from waging war.
When he wrote his will, however, exactly one hundred years ago, the peace he envisaged was of a completely different kind. Nothing is said about peace based on fear, deterrence, or a balance of power. The conditions for peace are now seen as disarmament and fraternity, in other words the elimination of fear and the promotion of a peaceful mentality rooted in the human spirit. It is work for this kind of peace that Nobel wanted the Norwegian Nobel Committee to honour. The will is based on a concept of peace with a moral content. That does not mean discounting the need to take practical politics into account, but is a reminder of their limitations, and of the equally self-evident place of moral considerations in international politics, as in any of this world’s other complicated sets of circumstances. To set any sector of human activity apart from the moral sphere is to deny our humanity.
Without over-doing the comparison, we can see parallels between Nobel and today’s laureate, Joseph Rotblat. Both were scientists who clearly recognised their responsibility, as scientists, to society. Rotblat is a prominent nuclear physicist who was quick to realise the alarming potential of releasing nuclear energy. During World War II, he took part in realising that potential, an activity which, as a moral person, he felt bound to justify by arguing that Hitler must be prevented from developing an atom bomb first. When it became clear that Hitler would be unable to develop a bomb, Rotblat left the Manhattan Project before it had achieved that object. What this shows is not just a man with personal integrity and great moral courage, but also the interesting idea that it was not necessary to develop the atom bomb, even when one knew that it was theoretically possible. It was not necessary to let the genie out of the bottle. Man must not imagine that he has no choice when he can in fact choose.
However, the genie was let out of the bottle. Since then, alongside his commitment to nuclear disarmament, Rotblat has engaged in nuclear physics which, when put to medicinal uses, can find beneficial applications. He has among other things, worked on radiation biology and the efforts of radiation. Rotblat has arrived at a critical view of the deterrence strategy with which he justified his original engagement in the Manhattan Project. He was one of the eleven scientists who in 1955 signed the Russell-Einstein Manifesto, drawn up by Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein, which told us that we must think in new ways to avoid military confrontations the results of which would be destructive to all parties. The Manifesto was the immediate point of departure for the Pugwash movement. Rotblat has been the leading figure in that movement, of which he is today, at the age of 87, the very active president.
The Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs are first and foremost an organisation of scientists. This makes them one of the clearest manifestations of the independent social and moral responsibility of scientists for what they, and they alone, are capable of developing. Even today, recognition of that responsibility is not a matter of course. The message from Pugwash to science is a double one: it must engage actively in the struggle against the harmful consequences of earlier scientific discoveries, and it must assess in advance the consequences of new ones. Modern science is taking enormous strides. The idea of its moral responsibility may be more relevant today than ever before.
It is characteristic of the Pugwash movement that it has always combined ideals and long-term aims with concrete work aimed at more immediate targets. It has only to a limited extent sought public and media attention, and it is not tied into the political decision-making process. What it has been able to make the most of is the fact that scientists have a shared frame of reference and speak the same language across ideological, religious or national dividing lines. At the countless conferences and seminars beld all over the world, scientists and decision-makers with different points of departure have got together to discuss strategies, not only for nuclear disarmament, but also for general disarmament and other ways of promoting peace. Although working largely behind the scenes, the Pugwash movement has been close to decision-makers. It has served as a channel of communication for them and, by virtue of its expertise and insight, a supplier of premises for their discussions.
The Pugwash movement probably played a not insignificant part in the processes which led to such important arms-limitation agreements as the nuclear test ban treaty in 1963, the non-proliferation treaty in 1968, and SALT I and the convention on biological weapons in 1972.3 Through its unwearying long-term efforts, it has also been a major contributor to the change of mentality so essential to the nuclear disarmament that has taken place since the end of the Cold War. START I and START II and the agreement to make the non-proliferation treaty permanent have meant a significant reduction in the nuclear threat.4 But existing stocks remain far too large, new nuclear arms are still being tested, and the danger that such weapons will spread remains considerable. The Pugwash movement has shown itself well able to adapt to the new world. The Pugwash Conference in Hiroshima this year said that, although there were favourable developments, the situation was unsettled. We have opportunities, but they must be grasped and made use of before developments again take an unfavourable turn. Precisely the kind of work that Pugwash has been and is engaged in is therefore still just as necessary, if not more necessary than ever before.
We are living today in what has been called “the global village”. The fate of each one of us is intimately linked to world developments. Events on the other side of the world concern us as never before. At the same time, the “global village” is what the German sociologist Ulrich Beck has called a “risk society”.5 We share a common fate in that we are all exposed to the same risk, the same threats to our common environment. This is creating an atmosphere of fundamental unease. But what do we do when we see no chance of avoiding the danger? In the long run says Beck, we can stop thinking about it: “this eschatological ecofatalism allows the pendulum of private and political moods to swing in any direction. The risk society shifts between hysteria and apathy”. The greatest achievement of our laureates may be that, more distinctly and consistently than anyone else, they have steered clear of both pitfalls. While painting a clear picture of the great dangers, they have at the same time insisted that there is a way out. The have kept the vision of a nuclearfree world alive, while working unwearyingly for specific arms-limitation measures in the short term. By doing so, they have enabled us to adopt a rational attitude both to the dangerous situation and to our own disquiet.
The work which the two laureates, Joseph Rotblat and the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, have done and are doing for disarmament and peace is considerable. The Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to honour them for that work, and at the same time to express the hope that it will be continued, so that the disarmament which has begun may at some future time really lead to a more peaceful world free from nuclear arms.
2. The Manhattan Project to design and build atomic bombs was organised under U.S. Army control in 1942. At the desert laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico, the plutonium and uranium bombs were put together. Rotblat arrived in Los Alamos in February 1944 and left in December 1944.
3. The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963 was the agreement between the United States, the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom to ban testing in the atmosphere, in outer space, and under water.
n 1968 the nonproliferation treaty (NPT) was approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations and ratified by more than 137 states. The non-nuclear powers undertook not to secure nuclear weapons, and the nuclear powers undertook to get rid of theirs. In 1972 the U.S. and the USSR signed the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I), limiting testing and deployment of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). A separate Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) limited their launching sites. SALT II, which they signed in 1979. Called for further limitation of offensive nuclear weapons.
The Biological Weapons Convention, calling for the destruction of biological weapons and no development or stockpiling of new ones was endorsed by the United Nations in 1972.
4. In 1991 the U.S. and the USSR signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I), and in 1993, START II, calling for reductions in these offensive weapons. The U.S. ratified START I in 1992 and START II in 1996, but these developments were stalled, mainly due to Russian objections to the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). In May 1995 NPT was extended indefinitely with the five nuclear powers, the U.S., Russia, the United Kingdom, France and China, reaffirming their commitment not to produce nuclear weapons.
Their work and discoveries range from cancer therapy and laser physics to developing proteins that can solve humankind’s chemical problems. The work of the 2018 Nobel Laureates also included combating war crimes, as well as integrating innovation and climate with economic growth. Find out more.