Open Letter to Presidents Biden, Putin, and Zelensky: Pursue Diplomatic Solutions to Avoid Nuclear War

Please sign this letter from college and university faculty and staffs.

Sixty years ago, the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world close to nuclear war. At present, threats to launch nuclear weapons by North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, former US President Donald Trump, and most recently by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin have sharply increased fears that the world is headed once again toward such a disastrous path. In October, Ukrainian President Zelensky called for a NATO preemptive strike on Russia and President Biden further ramped up the tension with talk of “nuclear Armageddon.”

The tragic loss of life in Ukraine is not limited to Ukrainians and Russians, but is embroiling the world population in an economic downturn, increasing food insecurity and famine, and diverting desperately needed national resources from productive civilian to destructive military ends.

After the acute Cuban danger, university faculty and staff were important voices in pulling back from the brink of nuclear confrontation and its possible catastrophic outcome, and of taking diplomatic paths toward nuclear disarmament. In June 1963, JFK delivered an historic speech at American University calling for active steps toward nuclear disarmament and ushering in a period of détente in relations between the super powers. MIT President Jerome Wiesner was Kennedy’s Science Advisor and an ardent advocate of nuclear disarmament. He mobilized support from physicist colleagues at MIT, Princeton, Cornell, and other universities.        

The US, UK, and USSR signed the limited test ban treaty in Moscow in August 1963: “A Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space, and Under Water.” Meanwhile, the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT I) led to the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty of 1972, which limited the deployment of missile defense systems in each nuclear country to its national capital and one ICBM site. The ground-breaking SALT I treaty was signed in 1972 by Richard Nixon, certainly no pacifist, and by Leonid Brezhnev.

Influenced in part by the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign, and despite continuing Cold War conflicts, Gorbachev and Reagan signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Its implementation eliminated, by 1991, major portions of the two countries’ arsenals, including 2,692 ground-launched, mid-range nuclear missiles.

The war in Ukraine has sharply raised the need for reining in, rather than intensifying, the risk of the use of nuclear weapons. Avoiding nuclear war requires diplomatic solutions to the Ukraine crisis.

We call upon you, as the leaders of the most involved nations, to initiate bilateral and multilateral talks aimed at rapidly negotiating a ceasefire, and then actively pursuing the difficult but necessary steps to effective peace treaties.

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Prof. Robert Redwine, Dept. of Physics, MIT

Prof. Jonathan King, Dept. of Biology, MIT

Prof. Balakrishnan Rajagopal, Dept. of Urban Studies and Planning, MIT

Prof. Valentine M. Moghadam, Sociology and International Affairs, Northeastern University

Prof. David Goldenberg, Dept. of Chemistry, University of Utah

Prof. Edward Loechler, Dept. of Biochemistry, Boston University

Prof. Gary R. Goldstein, Dept. of Physics and Astronomy, Tufts University

Prof. Robert Pollin, Dept. of Economics, Univ. of Mass

Prof. Suzanne Scarlata, Dept. of Biochemistry, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Prof. Peter C. Kahn, Dept. of Biochemistry & Microbiology, Rutgers University

Prof. Robert Berwick, Dept. of Computer Science, MIT

Bradley W. Filippone, Francis L. Moseley Professor of Physics, California Institute of Technology

Prof. Douglas H. Beck, Dept. of Physics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Ricardo Alarcon, President’s Professor of Physics, Arizona State University

Christopher Cummins, Henry Dreyfus Prof. of Chemistry, MIT

Prof. Daniel Holz, Dept. of Astronomy & Astrophysics, Univ. of Chicago

Prof. Richard G. Milner, Dept. of Physics, MIT

Ruth Perry, Ann Fetter Friedlaender Professor of Humanities, Emeritus, MIT

Prof. Helen Elaine Lee, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, MIT

Prof. Ceasar McDowell, Dept. of Urban Studies and Planning, MIT

Prof. Stuart Newman, New York Medical College

Prof. Alan Robock, Dept. of Environmental Sciences, Rutgers University

Pablo Jarillo-Herrero, MIT

Prof. Bjorn Poonen, Dept. of Mathematics, MIT

Nina Lytton, MIT Office of Religious, Spiritual and Ethical Life