Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs


The purpose of the Pugwash Conferences is to bring together, from around the world, influential scientists, scholars and public figures concerned with reducing the danger of armed conflict and seeking cooperative solutions for global problems. Meeting in private as individuals, rather than as representatives of governments or institutions, Pugwash participants exchange views and explore alternative approaches to arms control and tension reduction with a combination of candor, continuity, and flexibility seldom attained in official East-West and North-South discussions and negotiations. Yet, because of the stature of many of the Pugwash participants in their own countries (as, for example, science and arms-control advisers to governments, key figures in academies of science and universities, and former and future holders of high government office), insights from Pugwash discussions tend to penetrate quickly to the appropriate levels of official policy-making.

The Pugwash Conferences take their name from the fishing village of Pugwash, Nova Scotia, site of the first meeting in 1957 which was attended by 22 eminent scientists (seven from the United States, three each from the Soviet Union and Japan, two each from the United Kingdom and Canada, and one each from Australia, Austria, China, France, and Poland). The stimulus for this first Pugwash meeting was the “Manifesto” issued in 1955 by Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein, and also signed by Max Born, Percy Bridgman, Leopold Infeld, Frederic Joliot-Curie, Herman Muller, Linus Pauling, Cecil Powell, Joseph Rotblat, and Hideki Yukawa, which called upon scientists of all political persuasions to assemble to discuss the threat posed to civilization by the advent of thermonuclear weapons. The 1957 meeting was hosted by the American philanthropist Cyrus Eaton at Thinkers’ Lodge in Pugwash, his birthplace, and Mr. Eaton continued to provide crucial support for Pugwash in its early years.

From that beginning evolved both a continuing series of meetings at locations all over the world – with a growing number and diversity of participants – and a decentralized organizational structure to coordinate and finance this activity. By September 2002 there had been over 275 Pugwash Conferences, Symposia, and Workshops, with a total attendance of over 4,000 scientists and other individuals.

Pugwash convenes between 8 and 12 meetings a year, consisting of the large annual Conference, attended by 150 to 250 people, and the more frequent Workshops and Study Group meetings, which focus on specific issues and typically involve 20 to 50 participants. A basic rule is that participation is always by individuals in their private capacity (not as representatives of governments or organizations).

The current President of Pugwash is Prof. M.S. Swaminathan of India (scientific pioneer of the agricultural ‘Green Revolution’ and chair, M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, Chennai, India), the Secretary General is Prof. Paolo Cotta-Ramusino of Italy (Professor of physics at the University of Milan), and the Executive Director is Dr. Jeffrey Boutwell of the US (former Associate Executive Officer at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences).

Formal governance of Pugwash is provided by a 28-member Council, which generally meets once a year, and by a 6-member Executive Committee (see list below). Council members are elected every five years at the Quinquennial Conferences, held since 1962, which approve the long-term goals and bylaws of Pugwash. Prof. Marie Muller (Professor of international politics at the University of Pretoria) is Chair of the Pugwash Council.

Pugwash has four small permanent offices, in Rome, London, Geneva and Washington, DC, which operate with a total of only three full-time staff persons and a few part-time and volunteer staff. There are some 50 National Pugwash Groups around the world, each organized independently, and in several cases sponsored and/or administered by academies of science, which help to identify suitable participants from their countries and rotate the work of hosting meetings (with funds raised locally).

The costs of operating the Pugwash offices and operations are met by a combination of contributions and grants from individuals, foundations, governments, and the National Pugwash Groups, and donated services from individuals (all the officers of Pugwash serve pro bono). The meeting costs for workshops and the annual conference are most often covered by the host national Pugwash Group, while international Pugwash frequently provides travel support to participants, especially from developing countries.

The first two decades of Pugwash coincided with some of the most dangerous years of the Cold War, marked by the Berlin Crisis, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the repression of the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia, and the Vietnam War. In this period of strained official relations and few unofficial channels, the fora and lines of communication provided by Pugwash played useful background roles in helping lay the groundwork for the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963, the Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972 and SALT I accords, the Biological Weapons Convention of 1972, the Intermediate-range theater Nuclear Force (INF) Treaty, as well as the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993. Despite subsequent trends of generally improving East-West relations and the emergence of a much wider array of unofficial channels of communication, Pugwash meetings have continued to play an important role in bringing together key scientists, analysts and policy advisers for sustained, in-depth discussions of the crucial arms-control issues of the day, particularly in the areas of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

The Pugwash Workshops on Nuclear Weapons have brought together government and military figures with scientists and policy analysts to keep open lines of communication on such sensitive issues as: initiatives to limit missile defenses that led to the 1972 ABM Treaty; the Euromissile and Star Wars controversies of the 1980s; the dangers posed by the breakup of the Soviet Union regarding fissile material and the decommissioning of nuclear systems; the emergence of India and Pakistan as nuclear powers and the threat of additional proliferation; and the ramifications of US plans for national missile defense (NMD) and the implications of NMD for nuclear stability and arms control.

The Pugwash Chemical and Biological Warfare Workshops, which began in 1959, were instrumental in bringing together technical experts, official negotiators, and industry and academic experts to help lay the framework for the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention. Earlier, Pugwash helped arrange the first visit in 1987 of Western chemical weapons specialists to an East bloc chemical production complex (in East Germany), and Pugwash contacts were instrumental in setting up the first access by a US expert (Matthew Meselson) to the medical records associated with the disputed 1979 anthrax outbreak in Sverdlovsk.

The Pugwash Workshops on Conflict and Regional Security have covered a wide range of conflict situations, from track II diplomacy to end the Vietnam War in the late 1960s to an ongoing series of meetings on the Middle East peace process to the more recent Pugwash Study Group on Intervention, Sovereignty and International Security that seeks to find common ground between western and non-western perspectives on issues of humanitarian intervention.

The Pugwash Workshops on Energy, the Environment and the Social Responsibility of Scientists have capitalized on the global network of Pugwash scientists to hold specific meetings and consultations on the major scientific and technological issues facing the international community. The workshops have covered broader issues such as global climate change and future world energy needs as well as more specific topics such as two recent workshops held in Cuba on public health and medical research.

While Pugwash findings reach the policy community most directly through the participation of members of that community in Pugwash meetings and through the personal contacts of other participants with policy makers, additional means of disseminating policy analysis and ideas are also used. Published twice a year, the Pugwash Newsletter contains reports of meetings, communiqués of the Pugwash Council, news of national Pugwash groups, and selected papers, and reaches over 2,000 policy makers, Pugwash participants, the media, and libraries (while also being posted regularly on the Pugwash web site, at www.pugwash.org).

The Pugwash Occasional Paper series focuses in-depth on particular issues of concern to Pugwash. Recent issues have covered global perspectives on issues of humanitarian intervention and the ramifications of missile defenses for nuclear stability.

Pugwash Issue Briefs are aimed primarily at policymakers, leaders of NGOs and international organizations, and the media, and contain detailed and specific proposals aimed at influencing policy and public opinion. Recent editions include Nuclear Terrorism: The Danger of Highly Enriched Uranium (September 2002) and US-Cuban Medical Cooperation: Effects of the US Embargo (June 2001).

* Since the official publication Les Prix Nobel no longer contains descriptions of organizations receiving the Peace Prize, this “History of Organization” is from Pugwash’s web site and is published here with the permission of Pugwash. The text was updated in 2003.

To cite this section
MLA style: Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs – History. NobelPrize.org. Nobel Prize Outreach AB 2023. Wed. 6 Dec 2023. <https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/1995/pugwash/history/>

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