• by Jayantha Dhanapala
  • Friday, August 12, 2011
  • Inter Press Service

As the Pugwash Council Statement said at the conclusion of the 59th Conference convened by the Nobel Peace Prize winning Pugwash Conferences on Science & World Affairs, 'The Pugwash community draws inspiration from the positive legacy of the city of Berlin and looks to a future where we continue to create peace and security through dialogue and co-operation. If walls can come down here, there is hope for those who struggle elsewhere that it is possible to create common ground and a more secure world for future generations.'

Appropriately, the idea of the Berlin Conference grew out of an official visit I made to Germany in 2008 as the 11th President of Pugwash over a luncheon meeting with Ambassador Peter Gottwald at the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I saw it as a means of Germany asserting its rightful role in global disarmament apart from reinforcing the German link with Pugwash.

The idea was nurtured by Professor Gotz Neuneck — the sole German on the Pugwash Executive Committee - in his conversations with the German Foreign Ministry and when I visited Berlin again in October 2009 for the 50th anniversary of the Vereinigung Deutscher Wissenschaftler (VDW e.V.) — the Federation of German Scientists — which was the national Pugwash group. The emergence of the new German Coalition Government with Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle boldly committed to the removal of US nuclear weapons from German soil, and the European Leadership Network for Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament and Non-Proliferation led by former UK Defence Secretary Lord Desmond Browne and which included veteran German politicians like Egon Bahr, were catalysts in the preparations for the Conference.

The theme of the Berlin Conference was 'European Contributions to Nuclear Disarmament and Conflict Resolution' focusing on the European role in multilateral affairs. The United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, in a message to the Conference thanked Pugwash — 'for over a half century of efforts to bring scientists and policy-makers together to advance common interests in peace, security and human welfare worldwide' and pledged to pursue the priority he was giving to nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation with the support of Pugwash and civil society.

Following the precedent set at the earlier Pugwash Conference held in The Hague in 2009, the first day was devoted to the Simons Symposium on the theme European Security and Nuclear Disarmament with a keynote address by Hon. Guido Westerwelle, the Foreign Minister of Germany. Pugwash’s convening power was illustrated by the high level speakers at the plenary sessions culminating in the session on 'Further steps on US-Russian nuclear disarmament' at which Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov of Russia and Under Secretary of State, Ellen Tauscher of the USA spoke and followed by active audience participation.

The themes of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, revisiting of the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE), strengthening of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the role of Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) systems in US-Russian relations and the role of Europe in the path to Global Zero dominated the discussions.

The next three days were devoted to meetings of the six Working Groups on Nuclear Disarmament and Non-proliferation( after the 2010 NPT Review Conference) ; Prospects of Peace and Security in the Middle East; Regional Stability in Central and South Asia: the Situation in Afghanistan and Indo-Pakistani Relations; European Security and Disarmament (nuclear and conventional arms control and disarmament); Social Responsibility of Scientists; and, Climate Change, Resources and Conflict Prevention. Plenary Sessions were held on 'Iranian Nuclear policy', 'What future for Palestine? How can Europe Help?', 'What Progress on the CTBT?', ' Eliminating WMD in the Middle East', 'Prospects for Conflict Resolution in Afghanistan', 'Improving Relations Between India and Pakistan' 'Problems and Opportunities in the Changing Middle East', the report of the Secretary General and the Presidential address.

A hallmark of all these discussions was the high-level participation of key personalities from the regions and experts in the different areas who served on the panels and were available for questions from the audience in an atmosphere of transparency and constructive dialogue. These were current and former policy makers but what was significant was that their views were blended with public opinion in an effort to democratize conflict resolution as we learn the lessons of the 'Arab Spring'.

The traditional Dorothy Hodgkin Lecture was a power point presentation by Dr.Tatsujiro Suzuki, Vice-Chairman of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission and a former Pugwash Executive Committee member. His subject was highly topical 'The Fukushima Nuclear Accident: lessons learned (so far) and possible implications'. Dr.Victor Gilinsky former Commissioner of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission at the time of the Three Mile Island accident was the discussant comparing the two accidents and the action taken.

Among the side events were two dinner time presentations on the proposed Arms Trade Treaty due to be concluded in 2012. The International Student/Young Pugwash convened a meeting of 32 people from 18 countries with a focus on the Middle East to run parallel with the Pugwash Conference in Berlin and the Pugwash Council had the pleasure of meeting with them over dinner one evening. This follows a Pugwash tradition and ensures that there is a constant and mutually beneficial interaction between the younger generation and the older Pugwash members.

A key to the success of the Conference was of course the support given by the German Pugwash Group — the VDW led by its President Prof.Ulrich Bartosch and Dr. Reiner Braun to whom Pugwash owes a deep debt of gratitude. As I stated in my Presidential Address at the Berlin Conference — 'The document 'Principles, Structure and Activities of Pugwash' adopted at Bari in 2007 for the current quinquennium provides us all with a compass. In particular let me quote the section on Principles:

'The Pugwash Movement is the expression of the awareness of the social and moral duty of scientists to help to prevent and overcome the actual and potential harmful effects of scientific and technological innovations, and to promote the use of science and technology for the purpose of peace.

Its main objective is the elimination of all weapons of mass destruction (nuclear, chemical and biological) and of war as a social institution to settle international disputes. To that extent, peaceful resolution of conflicts through dialogue and mutual understanding is an essential part of the Pugwash activities, that is particularly relevant when and where nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction are deployed or could be used.

It is clear from the report of Pugwash activities on our website, and the proceedings of this conference, that we have faithfully followed this mission within our capabilities, limited as they are by our financial and human resources. It is also clear from the message of the United Nations Secretary General to this Conference that the United Nations (UN), and indeed the rest of the world, looks to us for leadership in fulfilling this mission.'

Let us continue to learn to 'think in a new way' and 'remember our humanity' as the Russell-Einstein Manifesto of 9th July 1955 urged us to do.

(Jayantha Dhanapala is a former Ambassador of Sri Lanka and a former UN Under-Secretary-General of Disarmament who is currently President of the Pugwash Conferences on Science & World Affairs. Further details of the Berlin Conference can be obtained from the Pugwash website at www.pugwash.org)

© Inter Press Service (2011) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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