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60 years after the Russell-Einstein Manifesto

russelleinstein60 years ago today, on 9 July 1955, Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein issued a manifesto renouncing nuclear weapons and war. “We have to learn to ask ourselves,” they argued, “not what steps can be taken to give military victory to whatever group we prefer, for there no longer are such steps; the question we have to ask ourselves is: what steps can be taken to prevent a military contest of which the issue must be disastrous to all parties?”

Highlighting the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, they pointed out that their use in conflict by their possessors would not only exterminate everyone in their own major cities, but would “gradually spread destruction over a very much wider area than had been supposed.” 

It is this understanding that has led 159 governments to sign statements at the General Assembly and nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty meetings recognising the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons and demanding that they never be used again under any circumstances. It is this that has led 112 countries so far to endorse the Humanitarian Pledge to “fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons”. And it is this that motivates the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) to call for a ban on nuclear weapons.

The Russell-Einstein Manifesto called not just for the abolition of nuclear weapons, however. It also recognised that prohibiting “modern weapons” does not mean that war must be allowed to continue. It should be part of the process—a first step leading to the abolition of war itself. In a resolution accompanying the manifesto, they urged governments to publicly acknowledge that their interest cannot be furthered by a world war and to thus “find peaceful means for the settlement of all matters of dispute between them.”

WILPF has been working for the abolition of war since the first world war and for the abolition of nuclear weapons since their invention in 1945. We continue to this day to expose and challenge the tools and practices of war, armed conflict, and armed violence through our work on small arms, explosive weapons, killer robots, nuclear weapons, the arms trade, military spending, and much more. We urge all governments and peoples to seek nonviolent solutions to conflict and tension and to redirect expenditure on militaries and weapons of war to social good.

“There lies before us, if we choose, continual progress in happiness, knowledge, and wisdom,” wrote Russell and Einstein. “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.”