The Nobel Peace Medal in Canada and the Obligations of Leadership

Tasneem Jamal

Ernie Regehr

The Ploughshares Monitor Autumn 2007 Volume 28 Issue 3

An international experts workshop on “Revitalizing Nuclear Disarmament” was held 5-7 July 2007 in Pugwash, Nova Scotia to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the first Pugwash Conference. Among the speakers was Ernie Regehr, Senior Policy Advisor with Project Ploughshares.

Central to the celebrations was a ceremony to present to the Pugwash Peace Exchange the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize medal awarded to Pugwash and Joseph Rotblat. The Pugwash Peace Exchange is a Canadian initiative to build an “interpretive, education and research facility, based on the history and work of the Pugwash Conferences.” The medal will be housed at this facility.

The 22 participants of the first Pugwash meeting were responding to the manifesto issued in 1955 by Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein. Troubled by the toxic mixture of nuclear weapons and escalating East-West suspicion and enmity, Russell and Einstein wrote:

Most of us are not neutral in feeling, but, as human beings, we have to remember that, if the issues between East and West are to be decided in any manner that can give any possible satisfaction to anybody, whether Communist or anti-Communist, whether Asian or European or American, whether White or Black, then these issues must not be decided by war. We should wish this to be understood, both in the East and in the West.

There lies before us, if we choose, continual progress in happiness, knowledge, and wisdom. Shall we, instead, choose death, because we cannot forget our quarrels? We appeal as human beings to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death.

In view of the fact that in any future world war nuclear weapons will certainly be employed, and that such weapons threaten the continued existence of mankind, we urge the governments of the world to realize, and to acknowledge publicly, that their purpose cannot be furthered by a world war, and we urge them, consequently, to find peaceful means for the settlement of all matters of dispute between them.

At the 2007 anniversary workshop it was again made clear that the “risk of universal death” is in fact much greater now than it was in 1957. While nuclear arsenals have been reduced from the peak reached in the 1980s, they are much larger than they were when Russell and Einstein issued their warning.

As they did in 1957, the 2007 Pugwash experts set out an agenda for nuclear disarmament that is achievable and most certainly urgent. As the conference noted, “Every minute of every day, more than 26000 nuclear weapons — many thousands of them on hair-trigger alert — are poised to bring monumental destruction if they are ever used.”

The recommendations from the workshop proposed measures

a) to reduce the risk of accidental use or use in response to a false warning of attack:

  • de-alerting all weapons systems, and
  • US and Russian development of a joint early warning system to reduce the dangers of miscommunication;

b) to restrict nuclear use scenarios:

  • mutual no-first-use commitments by all nuclear weapon states,
  • pledges never to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states that are signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty;

c) for the irreversible reductions of arsenals:

  • cutting US and Russian forces to no more than 1,000 warheads each — a step toward their ultimate elimination as required under the NPT;

d) requiring all NWS not to deploy weapons on foreign soil:

  • thus a call on NATO to remove all US nuclear forces from Europe; and

e) for action on the two most urgent and essential disarmament measures:

  • entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and
  • the commencement of negotiations on a fissile materials cutoff treaty (FMCT).

At a public dinner, then Foreign Minister Peter MacKay spoke in support of the “13 practical steps” toward nuclear disarmament that were universally agreed in the 2000 Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and which summarize the essential global nuclear disarmament agenda. The Bush Administration has since specifically repudiated the 13 steps, so the public endorsement by the current Canadian government is to be applauded.

For further reading, visit the Pugwash website.

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