Joseph Rotblat (Pugwash), 1994

July 1994, two interviews, both at Thinkers Lodge (the Eaton house), Pugwash, Nova Scotia.
Interviewer — Metta Spencer

METTA: You gave me that issue of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists which describes your own history. You had some very difficult decisions to make, didn’t you?

J. ROTBLAT: Very much so. I had some very horrible decisions to make.

METTA: I got a sense of the ambivalence right from the beginning.

J. ROTBLAT: Yes. You remember in the article I described this conversation with General Groves which was in March 1944. This was the time of the height of WW II and the main drive in the war against Hitler was taken by the Russians. The Russians were our allies.

METTA: Right.

J. ROTBLAT: Then, General Groves tells me that the ‘true’ purpose of the project is to subdue the Russians. So it was a completely different from what I thought the purpose of the project was, and many scientists like myself who started this thought they knew the reason why they were working on the project, would not have worked on the project if we knew it was to be used to wage war. It was a terrible shock to me.

METTA: Do you think that this was Truman’s intention from the beginning?

J. ROTBLAT: I am not sure of that. First of all, Truman was not there from the beginning… . He came in almost … .

METTA: That’s true. I meant ‘from the beginning of his presidency’.

J. ROTBLAT: Probably, whether it was his intention or not he certainly became convinced that America must show its might, its new might, before — by some demonstration against the Russians. According to some things which came out recently, the Japanese had made approaches to the Americans to end the war. they wanted to end the war and all that they asked for, they were prepared to do it unconditionally — there was one condition only: that the Emperor should not be touched. In fact, this was what eventually was agreed, and this was already done in May, three months before the Hiroshima Bomb. But Truman knew the bombs would be ready soon, so he didn’t want to do it, because he wanted the opportunity to demonstrate to the Russians the new American might. And this actually prolonged the war. People say the bomb shortened the war, but it actually prolonged it by about three months. And then he decided to go use both bombs during the war.
There is another reason too, why he wanted to publicly use the Nagasaki bomb when, if he waited a little longer, the Japanese would had surrendered in any case. The reason given is that there was an agreement in Yalta that as soon as the war in Europe war was over, the Russian army would go and join the Americans in the fight in the Far East. Truman thought that it would take a long time for the Russians to move their army but they did it very quickly. Then they occupied the ____ islands. So Truman became alarmed. He didn’t want the Russians to go too far in Japan. So he decided to jump the other bomb real quickly to end the war. So from the beginning, you see, the bomb was used as an important tool, as a decisive tool in this ideological war.

METTA: I guess the question would be what would have happened if Roosevelt had lived until the end of the war.

J. ROTBLAT: This is of course a hypothetical question. I can speculate on it. My impression, and I’ll tell you in a moment why, is that he would not have used the bomb as it was against a civilian population He seemed rather inclined to resolve it in a different sort of way. The reason why I’m saying this is based on his reaction to a proposal by Nels Bohr — I mention this in my article. Nels Bohr was a great physicist and and a great scientist. He was a consultant to the Manhattan Project. And he has always believed in openness, in openness in science which was his basic philosophy, and he believed, he could foresee. He talked with me about it at the time in May and June 1944. With prophetic vision he foresaw the consequences of nuclear arsenals and all that was going to happen, and he tried to prevent it. He said that what we have to do now is to tell the Russians about this weapon and invite them to join us, on condition that they join with us in a scheme to control, international control, of this new discovery. And Niels Bohr put this question to Roosevelt and it delighted him. And then he said we must go and talk to Mr. Churchill.

METTA: And so Churchill is the one who put the …

J. ROTBLAT: The interview was a catastrophe. Churchill was not properly briefed and Niels Bohr’s imperfect command of English — he had a defect of speech, so that people could not quite follow him, could not quite understand him. He spoke to Churchill and Churchill became impatient and all that he could understand was that this man wanted to give the secret to the Russians. So not only did he reject this scheme, he wanted to intern Nils Bohr. He wrote that this man is on the verge of ‘mortal’ crime. So, of course, when he rejected it, this little scheme fell through. So getting back to your asking me what would have happened, on this basis, I would say that Roosevelt would have ….

METTA: That’s a whole other book and I suppose it’s been written about in bits and pieces. I haven’t read systematically about that period but I am interested in trying to show the impact of the East West dialogue (of which Pugwash is a very important part) particularly on Soviet military policy. And you mentioned yesterday in the first part of our interview the impact on their willingness to participate in the ABM treaty. Is that right?


METTA: Now, I don’t know who this man is, but I suppose he’s not living now.

J. ROTBLAT: Millionshchikov? No, he died in 1982, on a Saturday. He was a very powerful figure. We had in the Pugwash movement some of very powerful people in the Soviet Union, who took it very seriously. The first person who came here as the head of the delegation in 1957, was Topchiev and he was again, a chemist and the vice-president of the academy. The academy was very powerful at that time. And they were also to an certain extent responsible for the military developments ‘…’, as there were many scientists under the academy involved in this project. Because they knew the problems and difficulties involved. And Topchiev also…
METTA: How do you spell that again?

J. ROTBLAT: Like Topchiev. Topchiev. You will find that in the history, you must have the history of Pugwash. He is also mentioned in there. If you like I could send you a copy…

METTA: I appreciate that. I’ll buy it.

J. ROTBLAT: You can’t. You’ll not get it in shops now. It is now out of print. It was published in 1972. I think I will send you a copy.

METTA: Thank you.

J. ROTBLAT: It describes the beginnings. He was an ardent communist but nevertheless he realized that all this would lead to atomic catastrophe.There were a few people there who realized this. These people learned from us all the time. Initially, I think, the exercise was largely a process of education of the Soviet and American scientists. In this room, we met, (names several people whose names I can’t make out) … People who were very much involved in the Manhatten project. I remember the first night we sat here and we discussed all these issues for the first time. It was eye-opening with the Russians.

METTA: It was eye-opening.

J. ROTBLAT: Yes. And so, I believe that this was a largely educational process, which again someone could see this education, as in the case of the ABM. At other times, we could not see it for a long time, but then subsequently we could see the effects . So I believe we really played quite a part. I don’t want to be immodest, but on the other hand I don’t think we should be too modest. We know from subsequent discussions with people — Georgy Arbatov, for example. From the beginning when he came to us, he became a supporter of us. Again, he was a very intelligent man…

METTA: Yes, I have met him several times and just yesterday I finished reading his memoirs. It was a wonderful book. I recommend it. It is one of the most interesting books I have read this year.

J. ROTBLAT: He, of course, was also one Gorbachev’s group. I believe — I haven’t got definite evidence — that it was our gradual discussions in Pugwash with people who were in high positions in the hierarchy that influenced Andropov, to begin with. He was a man who was very perceptive, unlike Brezhnev, Chernenko. He could listen. And of course Gorbachev was a protege of Andropov. We have [reason to believe that ____ through ___, Gorbachev’s thinking].

S: Arbatov talks about ways in which he thinks he had some influence. He intended to end the memoir at 1985, and skips the early period of Gorbachev, and omits a lot of the period when he might have been very effective with Gorbachev.

J. ROTBLAT: Gorbachev was a pupil of Andropov and took his ideas from Andropov. I know from ———-. Gorbachev sent a message to one of our meetings in which he did say that scientists were responsible for his new way of thinking. There is a record of that.

S: I spoke with Anders Boserup at two or three meetings and I know that the whole nonoffensive defense had some influence on Soviet thinking about reasonable sufficiency.

J. ROTBLAT: We developed this idea in PUgwash, with Robert Neild. I think that we were ____ in 1986, and then we had a forum of scientists under Gorbachev rule. I was involved in organizing that. It was not a Pugwash meeting, it was under the National Academy of Sciences. And there they specifically asked for a discussion of non-offensive defence. Under Velikhov.

S: Was this the one where there were Canadians present — Derek Paul and Erik Fawcett?

J. ROTBLAT: There were two forums. They were in the second one.

S: I think Derek was in both of them, if I’m not mistaken. Also, Academician Goldansky told me that in one of those forums, Erik Fawcett had made an intervention about the desirability of bringing Sakharov back and that prompted him to work on that.

J. ROTBLAT: Velikhov asked specifically for this to be on the agenda. This was one of Robert Neild’s. And following this, there was an exchange of letters.

S: I would like to pin this down because I have not heard from any Soviet person that they got any of their ideas on that from the West, so I would like to bring that together.

J. ROTBLAT: I think I was in the chair at the time that this was discussed. It was at this session that Robert Neild spoke; definitely he did it there. The Russians were very interested in it and asked us questions. One person to ask would be Robert Neild. He would know which persons in the Russian—
There was an exchange of letters between him and Gorbachev. We would have his phone number. This is another example of influence.

S: Who were some of the military participants?

J. ROTBLAT: We had generals from there. One person was General Milshtein.

S: I have interviewed him. He was a bit abrupt with me. He did not want to tell me everything.

J. ROTBLAT: After he came back from Israel?

S: It was June, I suppose, when I talked to him.

J. ROTBLAT: There are a number of military generals and politicians. Did he mention _____? [Sounds like Paumey]

S: No, he didn’t mention him but I know who he is. I wanted to trace him. He’s retired now. He participated a lot?

J. ROTBLAT: Yes. And General [Bovin.] Did you trace him?

S: I know of Alexander Bovin.

J. ROTBLAT: I can look it up in my Generals. Most of them were scientists. There was a problem of their independence. They were kept under KGB surveillance. We knew who they were.

S: How did you know?

J. ROTBLAT: Let me give you an example. When we had our first meeting here, there was a Pavlichenko. He came as a translator because at that time Topchiev did not know English. Everything had to be done through a translator. He would translate and then change it. We had with us here Eugene Rabinowitch, the founder of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, and a chief editor. He had grown up in St. Petersburg, and he would say, this is not what he said. You could see it. And when we saw papers prepared by the people, and I saw something added that didn’t at all tally with the paper, then I knew that this was something added. So I would challenge him openly: This is not part of the paper. There was another person, [ Sokolov?] who also was KGB. It became painfully obvious. There was a meeting that we held in 1973. Vasily Emelyanov was here; he was the head of the atomic energy commission. He was put in as a convenor of one of the groups. ____ Sokolov didn’t like at all what was put ___, and he publicly rebuked Emelyanov. We could see it. We knew who the people were. Emelyanov couldn’t fight back. . . .

There were others who didn’t care a hoot about people like Pavlichenko and Sokolov. Oh, yes. Artsimovitch. [spells it] A brilliant scientist. He wouldn’t care! He would even speak up openly. A bit like Sakharov. He was the first person to produce __, the big machines that produce fusion. And Petr Kapitza — another person who would speak up. Tamm. Igor Tamm, another giant, who invented the _____. They spoke their mind.

S: Did they ever get in trouble for it?

J. ROTBLAT: Not directly. Sometimes people would stop coming to the meetings and one would presume that was the reason. We were very suprised at the openness even at the time of the Cold War?

S: What about Arbatov? I have been in meetings where he was present and he struck me as contradictory. He could be so angry toward the U.S. at times and then at other times —

J. ROTBLAT: We were too. Why would you expect him not to be?

S: As he put it, sometimes he denied that some of the things that Americans would say in conferences were true. He would be acting on the basis of information that he was given by his own people and he found out that the Americans generally were right. The numbers and so on. Did you find him very forthcoming?

J. ROTBLAT: Not so much. The people I have talked about were scientists. He was a politician — a different animal. With scientists it is much easier to be open. With politicians, this is the worst!

S: Tell me about Yakovlev.

J. ROTBLAT: He did not attend Pugwash meetings because he was ambassador — an official. But he came here. He visited this house in 1982. We had about thirty people who came. He was invited by— at that time Cyrus Eaton was already dead. But Ann Eaton. There is a book here about it. This is where I met him. He was able to speak.

S: Gian [Brenciaglia] said that Yakovlev wants to come back here.

J. ROTBLAT: Yes, I invited him to Berlin, but he couldn’t come. I spoke to him privately in those days — but this shouldn’t be here. (I turned off the tape recorder at this point.)

S: So, where were we? Can you recall particular meetings where there seemed to be a change of opinion in important people? You mentioned Millionshchikov.

J. ROTBLAT: Well, Millionshchikov was involved in Pugwash for a number of years. And things generally were developing gradually. It was not always a dramatic change, as it was in his case. But we could see in the way with the Russians that they gradually changed their tune. It happened in the Americans too, it wasn’t just one-sided. Some of the Americans who came to our meetings— for example, Linus Pauling was radical.

S: Did Primakov ever attend?

J. ROTBLAT: Oh, yes.

S: He is regarded with ambivalence in Russia. Some people at IMEMO saw him as self-serving and ambitious.

J. ROTBLAT: Yes. To us, he was always prepared to listen.

S: I heard good things abut him from foreigners. For example, Elise Boulding worked with him at the United Nations University in Japan and spoke highly of him.

J. ROTBLAT: … . . .

S: I was on his side when he was so active in trying to prevent the Gulf War. In Russia now, the people who opposed the war did so because they were militarists who supported Saddam Hussein and didn’t want to abandon that relationship.

J. ROTBLAT: I think there were others who opposed it on principle.

S: Very few. I have only met one, Sergei Plekhanov. [Actually, so far as I can tell now — in 1994— even he did not oppose it.]

J. ROTBLAT: You are speaking about the Russians now. Oh, I thought you were speaking about the Americans.

S: No. The Americans, plenty of them opposed the war on principle. But the peace activists in Russia supported that war almost universally. I know there were plenty of people in the West who did so because of their feelings for the United Nations. I did not support the war. Primakov made important trips to Baghdad and came back with an offer, a promise, and that offer was discounted, treated like nothing.

J. ROTBLAT: That was very sad. I know we had a split in our committee. ———— I felt very strongly against the war, so I initiated a move to make a public statement against the war, and there were two people who …. ___.

S: That’s completely consistent with everything I have found in Russia. It is understandable because the people who opposed the war were supporting Saddam, so it was difficult for people to oppose it on other grounds. I wrote an article about it. I have not sorted out to my satisfaction which side Gorbachev was on. Did Goldansky tell you?

J. ROTBLAT: I don’t think so.

S: I don’t think he knew his own mind. He would send out Primakov to do these deals and then when they were done, they were just brushed aside.

J. ROTBLAT: ____ It was basically that the Security Council would run the show. . . . They can’t go back to the old veto situation.

S: But this is one of the things that cost Shevardnadze his job, that he did not veto it. Public opinion in generally didn’t care because they were so preoccupied with what was going on in Riga and Vilnius that they didn’t care much, but vaguely the public was against the war. I think Tair was against the war, but most people —-. When Shevardnadze resigned, he gave several reasons, one of which was the the pressure placed on him to veto resolution 678.

J. ROTBLAT: It wasn’t up to him. He couldn’t veto Gorbachev’s agreement.

S: I bet you, if he had wanted to veto it, Gorbachev would have allowed him to do it. We will never know, but he knew that it was bad business for him to accept this and not veto it. It would cause him trouble back home. He was trying to be supportive to Baker. He said, take out this clause, don’t say in your resolution that we authorize military force, just say by all necessary means. But as soon as the resolution passed, Baker said this means military force. And Shevardnadze got in trouble for it back at home. The majority of public opinion was opposed to the war, but of the “democrats” almost all supported the war. . . . .
Was Pugwash involved in the discussions of the Test Ban Moratorium or about Seismic Testing?

J. ROTBLAT: Very much so. Testing has been one of our great issues from the very beginning. At the first conference that we had here in 1957, one of the items was testing. At that time…
I was one of the people first to point out the … in 1955…. in the United Kingdom and we discussed the meeting here. We said that the tests must be stopped. … meeting secretly.

S: Are those names still secret?

J. ROTBLAT: I think by now it is all right to tell them. Niznichenko of the Soviet Union, at that meeting — it was about the number of inspections. The russians said two.

S: There was not much difference, was there?

J. ROTBLAT: This was the official reason given. But when we said, “fine, we’ll find some other formula,” . . . Eric Press, an expert on seismic — ______________… It was purely a power thing. We realized that the senate would never agree, even if the Russians said they would agree. We said we should at least try to say something …..

S: Not to drag you aside, the senate and house have passed the bill. . . . . Bush wants to build the collider in Texas. . . .
You were talking about how the seismic objections to the monitoring was a pretext.

J. ROTBLAT: Yes that’s right. … It is quite clear that even this had no chance of getting through the Senate. … Yes, we have been pursuing this issue very much. We came out with an open letter to Bush and Yeltsin at their meeting in June. …

S: I remember speaking with Bill Epstein and he said he had gone to Moscow in about 1980 more or less and he was giving talks there and he tried to say that they should say they would accept as many inspections as the Americans would want as long as it was equal. He said several people seemed to go along with that idea but he was stopped by somebody in the foreign ministry.

J. ROTBLAT: There were also formulas for limiting the size and frequency of the bombs. … All this stuff about safety is purely an excuse.
(We talk further about the testing ban in the US Senate currently.)

S: You suggest I contact Robert Neild. Is there anybody else I should talk to? I never got proof from the Russians that their ideas about reasonable sufficiency were influenced by the West.

J. ROTBLAT: Arbatov would know, and the other person would be Sergei Kapitza.


(I am transcribing this my self, so it should be pretty reliable.)

METTA: You know something about Millionshchikov’s change of heart.

Rotblat: Well, this mainly has to do with the problem of the development of anti-ballistic missile defences. At that time, the official policy of the Soviet Union was in favor of developing anti-ballistic missiles. They looked at it almost as simply a moral issue: They said, “We want to defend our people.” The Americans at the time were against having such a defence system. We knew that the offensive weapons are much cheaper than the defensive weapons. You can always saturate the defenses, either with offensive weapons or with decoys, and the only result of having such a treaty is that it will increase the offensive capability. Both sides will again begin to build up their nuclear weapons against this, and we had, somehow, to explain this to our Soviet colleagues. At that time, the leader of the Soviet group was Mikhail Millionshchikov, who was a physicist and a very powerful figure in the Soviet Union -— he was also the Speaker of the Parliament, the Soviet. The Speaker in the Soviet is not like the Speaker in the House of Commons because the Soviets met only once a year, but he had even more power than this — almost in the middle of government. He was close to the views of the Soviet government. So when he put forward his views to us at the meeting that we held in India, as it happened at the time, it was in ’65 I think, he put forward his arguments why the Soviet Union should develop these defences. It was a good paper, I think, from Jack Ruina at the time that provided the counter-argument and we argued about this. We did not think that we convinced him. He just listened and explained why his views were right.
Then we met the following year — this time in Venice, and we took up this discussion again. It was clear to us that he had presented his views to the government and the generals back there and they again came out asking for more details — in which way would such a development affect the future arms race. It was clear to us that he himself wanted to be armed with such arguments that we could present back on the other side.
Metta: Aha! So he had taken your position when meeting the generals.
Rotblat: In Russia he took our position. In our meeting, he took their position! We could follow this. And a little later we managed to convince him. He accepted our position completely. We could see it definitely. Very often in Pugwash we seem to talk and that’s the end of it. We often have to wait for years before we can see any real effect of our debate, but this time we could see how it happened.

Metta: I was reading two biographies that were relevant. One was by Sagdeev, and then Sakharov’s, and also the papers by Matthew Evangelista, who has been writing on this subject in more detail than I will. Any way, there are several sources that point to Artsimovitch as also important in convincing the Soviet government not to go for ABM. Do you recall that?

Rotblat: Very much so, yes. Lev Artsimovitch had been coming to Pugwash before Millionshchikov. He was one of the earlier Soviet Pugwashites and he has always been a very independent person . Many of the Soviet scientists were either officials like Millionshchikov or Topchiev before him — that is, they more or less presented the official view — or they were just members of the party and just followed the party line. But a few always followed a very independent line and they argued with others in our meetings. They weren’t afraid to come out with their own views that were opposite to the official views and one was Lev Artsimovitch. ˆHe was very important in the early years and showed that this was a place where we should not just follow the government policy, whether East or West, but we come here to talk to each other and have our views presented and this helped a great deal in opening up the discussions to be much less formal, and more open and free — even if the views sometimes at the beginning appeared to be half-baked, which sometimes people would do. Artsimovitch was really important, and a few others like this — Igor Tamm, for example, was of that independent frame of mind. He was one of the few Nobel prize winners there. There was Tupolev, for example — the man who developed the Tupolev aircraft. He always spoke up without a worry of how it was going to be received. Looking back, it’s amazing that these people were allowed to come to Pugwash. Their independent views must have been known. I have a feeling the reason for this was that the Soviet government highly valued these meetings — not as a propaganda platform, because they knew this was not a propaganda platform. They wanted to have some kind of channel of communication where they could have a real debate rather than official negotiation. They knew that the West would look at Pugwash with disdain if they only sent the party hacks. It was important, if we were going to make any progress, that they should send independent people, scientists.

Metta: Sakharov never came?

Rotblat: Yes, he came later on, after he was released from Gorky. He couldn’t come before. In a meeting he was supposed also to have come in 1990 but he died in December 1989. He was in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1989.

Metta: So that was the only time?

Rotblat: He was at another meeting before that, yes.

Metta: But not during the time when Millionshchikov and —

Rotblat: No, of course not. For one reason, they wouldn’t allow him to come. We tried to bring him but we did not succeed. And then we protested when he was sent to Gorky. A number of academicians branded him as a traitor, more or less, at the time, 1973, when he was ——. But again, there some of them, like Peter Kapitza, he would not sign such a condemnation. When he was in exile in Gorky we couldn’t do anything at all. We were in touch with him by correspondence. We had letters from him but physically he didn’t come until after Gorbachev came.

Metta: One thing I wrote in connection with this was that perhaps the least noticed advantage of participating in something like Pugwash is not just to hear what the other side says but also to have a chance to see how your own team behaves. Some of the things that Sakharov wrote. For example, he said something critical about Millionshchikov. He asked him to sign something on behalf of some skyjackers and Millionshchikov wasn’t very interested, and he dismisses him. He also said some slighting things about Petrovsky. And I say that, had he been in a position to see these people abroad, then he might have had a higher regard for them. He would have seen that they were much closer to his views than he knew otherwise.

Rotblat: I wouldn’t generalize it to all the Soviets. Certainly this would be true of the people we mentioned just now. I would say that certainly he would see it. On the other hand he would have been very angry at the way some of these KGB fellows who used to come, how they humiliated the other to scientists occasionally. For example, there was Vasily Emelyanov. He was very emotional, he was a Communist, but he also was amenable to being convinced. He was a scientist and would listen to reasoned arguments and then could be convinced. In 1973 he was a convenor of one the working groups. The group prepared a statement, as we often do and he was one of the people who signed the statement. The KGB man arrived late, after this was done, and he more or less compelled Emelyanov to withdraw his name from the statement. It was a very sad experience, very humiliating for Emelyanov. I don’t think he ever got over it. So what I am saying is that sometimes the pressure was put on — of course, not in the discussion itself. What the Russians were afraid of was that a document is going to be produced which would go openly against their policy. There was a difference. A scientist — he was a Communist himself — he agreed to produce a document and yet he had to give in to the KgB. … It shows that very often pressure was put on these people and very often they did not succumb. If Sakharov were present there, he would have been really angry.

Metta: Do you remember what the issues were that were being discussed at the Cambridge conference that he did attend?

Rotblat: As usual, we discussed the usual problems of how to stop the arms race and how to improve the relations. He came out with some ideas that were not quite — not all of us agreed with, concerning nuclear energy. He was in favor of nuclear reactors. But he had this very strange idea of putting it underground. He thought it would be safe — and they wouldn’t be safe if they were above ground.

Metta: This was quite late, he still had this opinion.

Rotblat: Right. This was the Cambridge meeting.

Metta: This would have been after Chernobyl.

Rotblat: Oh, yes. If we had such accidents, it wouldn’t be so bad underground.

Metta: Meltdowns too!

At the July 1994 meeting Calogero and Rotblat mentioned that Pugwash had previously been involved as a go-between during the Vietnam War. A French biologist had known Ho Chi Minh, who had lived in his apartment building or something when in Paris. He thought there was a chance that they would want to negotiate. He went to Hanoi and set up contacts between Kissinger and Ho. It went on a while and then broke down. But a while later (Calogero didn’t recall how long) they went into true negotiations and ended the war. Robert McNamara was writing his memoirs, but he stopped it and switched to writing a book about Vietnam. This will appear in one or both books.

See also
Joseph Rotblat (2 visits), 1994, 1995?

The Russian Quest for Peace and Democracy, by Metta Spencer, published by Lexington Books