During World War II, Niels Bohr met with both President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill to warn them that a nuclear arms race was likely if the Soviet Union were not engaged immediately in consultations on how nuclear weapons could be controlled after the war.
Physicists played critical roles in informing the negotiators of all post-war nuclear arms control agreements, especially those limiting nuclear testing and ballistic missile defenses. With the end of the Cold War, however, like others, physicists turned to other issues, the edifice of nuclear arms control began to crumble, and new nuclear arms races began to emerge, including with China.
During the past two years, under the auspices of the American Physical Society, a group of US physicists has given over one hundred physics colloquia and recruited 850 American physicists to a Physicists Coalition for Nuclear Threat Reduction in which physicists educate themselves and then help educate Congress about the renewed dangers of nuclear war and the possibilities for reducing those dangers.
European and other physicists might be interested in engaging in similar efforts in their own countries.
Frank von Hippel has spent almost 50 years working on nuclear arms control and nonproliferation as an activist and advisor. During the 1980s, he worked with Mikhail Gorbachev’s physicist advisors on ending the Cold War nuclear arms race. During 1993-4, he was responsible for nuclear issues in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.