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Global expert networks during the Cold War: The Pugwash example

"Thinkers' Lodge" in the Canadian village Pugwash. Site of the first Pugwash Conference in 1957.

Cold War historians are becoming increasingly receptive to the historical roots of globally active expert networks. This calls for a specific approach: Transnational networks of scientists cannot be grasped appropriately from a narrow historical or monocultural perspective. Rather, the complex interactions of scientists who are networked world-wide with governments, non-governmental organisations, and international organisations on both sides of the Iron Curtain, can only be fully understood when situated and anlysed in the global context.

The threat of nuclear warfare was at the centre of the conflict between East and West. In this situation, nuclear scientists committed to promoting peace and willing to speak out against nuclear war, began to take a new and more prominent role in international politics. The scientist´s global orientation was intrinsically linked to the pecularity of the nuclear, since “radiation does not respect borders”. For the purpose of understanding both homogenizing global forces and their accompanying local manifestations it is necessary to dig deeply into diverse but highly specific historical contexts. Therefore, the local conditions in which scientists became Pugwash activists are cental to understanding their actions and the role of Pugwash.

Among the various national and transnational groupings working against nuclear war, Pugwash stands out. Even today, it evokes the July 1955 manifesto that was drafted by Bertrand Russell and co-signed by Albert Einstein just before his death. The movement took its name from the location of its first meeting, in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia in summer 1957. From the beginning, the movement aimed to bring together eminent scientists, scholars, politicians, diplomats and government advisers across the hostile frontiers of the Cold War. The “Pugwashites” wanted to go beyond the exchange of diplomatic notes or military force, instead using the shared language of science to evaluate the risks of nuclear weapons, contribute to resolving regional conflicts and exert influence on national governments with the goal of promoting world peace. Since its inception in 1957, the membership structure of Pugwash has changed, as have the scientific disciplines and professions from which its membership is drawn; likewise, its objectives, methods and modes of cooperation, its role within the debates of global politics and the problems with which it is concerned have changed over time. Members of the research network “Writing Pugwash Histories” analyse these changes during the Cold War from three distinct but interrelated angles:

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