Today, November 10, is World Science Day for Peace and Development! What a great idea, United Nations!
After World War II, the United Nation adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 27, the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications, was declared to be one of those rights.
The 1999 World Conference on Science: Science for the for the Twenty-First Century was held in Budapest and committed itself to using science to benefit mankind. Since then, UNESCO (The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization) has affirmed that commitment to the role of science in bringing peace and safety to all on November 10 every year. In 2000, and in a follow-up report in 2002, UNESCO has detailed what the issues are, and how peace and development can be furthered by science.
But why did the UN hedge on its description of peace? Can we meaningfully talk about quality of life for all people, the effects of climate change and poverty, the unforeseen effects, good and bad of technology to happiness of mankind- and not mention the effects of militarization and war? This is especial bizarre because of the role of science and technology in building and selling the weapons of war.
The main report put out by the 1999 conference is the “Declaration of Science and the Use of Scientific Knowledge.” The report itself acknowledges war, but doesn’t come out to say that scientists could work towards ending it.
The Introduction tiptoes around the issue of war:
“However, scientific and technological progress has also made possible the construction of sophisticated arms that have the potential to destroy life on the entire planet.” And so? There is no response in the report to its own statement.
The Introduction does quote Einstein. “Military applications of science have been of enormous consequence. Therefore, scientists can no longer claim today that their work has nothing to do with social issues. It is interesting to recall the plea made by Albert Einstein back in 1931: ‘concern for humankind itself and its fate must always form the chief interest of all technical endeavours. . . . Never forget this in the midst of your diagrams and equations’.” But then, this quote hangs alone, with no connection to the rest of the Introduction.
The follow-up report in 2002 “Harnessing science to society,” makes NO mention of the effects of war and the incompatibility of war with peace.
There is more overt mention in the earlier (1988) resolutions adopted on the reports of the Special Political Committee of the General Assembly:
“43/61. Science and peace
The General Assembly,
Considering also the political and economic decisions have a decisive effect on the direction of scientific research and the use of the results obtained thereby,
Recalling that scientific and technological achievements must be used to advance socio-economic progress and the effective enjoyment of human rights throughout the world,
Considering further that the arms race absorbs a substantial proportion of the scientific talent and financial resources used in related research and development, which, in a more peaceful and secure world, could be used to solve other pressing problems facing mankind…”
But even this needs to be stronger. Neither scientists or politicians should be shy about being absolutely overt about the need to prevent war, and the political and scientific will that will be needed to do this.
It would help to have our leading organizations and journals and professional groups spell it out- we will not have peace without war, and scientists can help bring that peace.