Book Review, “Panofsky on Physics, Politics, and Peace: Pief Remembers”
Updated: Mar 16
Introduction: Genesis of the Book
When Springer publishers approached Wolfgang K. H. Panofsky (hereafter called “Pief” as he was affectionately known to almost everybody) in February 2006 to ask him to write his autobiography, he was almost 87 years old. This was a very fortunate initiative because Pief had always been too modest and reluctant to write such an autobiography, and without an invitation from a respected science publisher, the wonderful book reviewed here would not exist. The broad community of scientists, politicians and friends who came into contact with this amazing man would have been deprived of this treasure of memories of Pief’s life experiences and observations. What is also extraordinary about the book is that its contents were almost entirely dictated from memory to his assistant, Ms. Ellie Lwin, in part from a hospital bed when Pief was treated for congestive heart and lung failure in late 2006. Putting mind over matter however, as he had many times before, Pief subsequently returned to his office at SLAC on a regular basis. Even on the last day of his life, September 24, 2007, he came in and held several meetings with administrative and scientific colleagues before driving himself home. Had Pief not agreed to write this book, somebody else would probably have been invited to do so, but nobody could have done such a beautiful and comprehensive job. We must also thank Ms. Jean M. Deken and her archives staff at SLAC for their great editorial assistance in helping Pief with gathering missing dates and facts relevant to the material.
Nature and Nurture: Pief’s Early Life
When one looks at the life and accomplishments of an individual, it is always interesting to consider how they were affected by both nature and nurture. In Pief’s case, there is no doubt that both played equal roles. Pief had a prodigious intelligence and memory and he came from an illustrious family. As he mentions in the first chapter of the book, he was born in Berlin on April 24, 1919, the second offspring of Erwin and Dorothea Panofsky who met at an art history seminar. Erwin Panofsky was a world renown art historian, Pief’s maternal grandfather, Albert Mosse, was a famous jurist assigned to assist the Japanese government to draft a constitution during the Meiji Restoration, his aunt, Martha Mosse, was the first woman to serve as police commissioner of the city of Berlin, and his uncle, Rudolf Mosse, was the publisher of the Berliner Tageblatt.
One year after Pief’s birth, Erwin Panofsky accepted a faculty position at the University of Hamburg where the family lived from 1920 to 1934. Pief’s elder brother of two years, Hans, was equally bright and both spontaneously developed an early interest in science and technology, unlike their parents who jokingly called them “Klempners” (plumbers) as they were growing up. When the reviewer, as a graduate student, first heard of Pief at Stanford in 1954, there was this legend that one of the brothers was called the “smart Panofsky” and the other “the dumb Panofsky” (both were supposed to have inordinately high IQs differing by only two digits). I never did know which Panofsky was which, and asked Pief a few months before his death if he could clarify the issue, to which he answered: “No comment”.
Flashing back to nurture, soon after the Nazis came to power in 1933, most professional German Jews like Erwin Panofsky lost their jobs and other civil rights, and Pief’s father had to leave Germany, even though he lived in one of the more liberal cities in the country. He eventually secured a double appointment at New York University as well as at Princeton, where the family of four settled in 1934. One might guess that without the Nazis, Pief would have become a successful and well known scientist in Europe anyway, but these developments and WWII certainly propelled Pief’s life into the much broader intellectual and political orbit that is the subject of this book.
Pief points out modestly in the Preface that his book is an “unsystematic account” of his life and work. This is only true to the extent that he does not cover in detail all that other biographers might include, namely family life and children, all his numerous friends and acquaintances, and his vast accomplishments and professional contacts. The book, however, benefits from describing all his major activities while not being too long, so that one does not get lost in the trees of the forest. Pief’s “essence” is all there, and the fact that he sometimes departs from chronological order by compartmentalizing his accounts by topics in separate chapters, makes the book that much more readable. The three major topics covered in the book are his own scientific experience, science advising and international science, and arms control. These will be reviewed here in sequence, with major emphasis on the first topic.
High School in Hamburg, University at Princeton and Caltech
Pief started his high school education in Hamburg at the Johanneum Gymnasium with essentially no science training. When he arrived in Princeton at age 15, his parents were able to enroll him and his brother directly into the university, temporarily on probation. As the reader may guess, probation was soon lifted since they were both excellent students. To their classmates who considered them somewhat as “oddballs”, they were Piefke and Paffke (from two German cartoons), and the name, “Pief” for short, stuck with him for the rest of his life. The book contains many details about his Princeton education, the most relevant perhaps to this review being his senior thesis on radiation measurements with a high-pressure ionization chamber which used isotopes produced at the small Princeton cyclotron. Familiarity with this accelerator perhaps had some influence on Pief’s future career. Other experiences at Princeton which enabled Pief to learn about American society are well worth reading in the book. His father befriended Einstein at the Institute of Advanced Studies and since neither one could drive, Pief became their occasional chauffeur at age 16!
After graduating from Princeton in 1938, Pief received a personal letter from Robert A. Millikan to join Caltech as a graduate student, with a teaching assistantship. He accepted this offer, which turned out to be a seminal decision. Pief eventually went to do his PhD thesis under Prof. Jesse DuMond, performing a precision measurement of the ratio of Planck’s constant to the charge of the electron, and also getting acquainted with the boss’ eldest daughter, Adele. Pearl Harbor happened in the middle of this, and by 1942, Pief got his degree, was teaching U.S. generals classes in electromagnetic theory, started defense work on an acoustic device called a Firing Error Indicator (FEI), got his U.S. citizenship, and married Adele. What a year!
Pief and the Bomb
Two years later, Pief’s work on the FEI which measured shockwaves from supersonic bullets attracted the attention of Luis Alvarez and J. Robert Oppenheimer who were interested in measuring the yield of nuclear detonations for the Manhattan Project. As a result, Pief was invited to work at Los Alamos as a consultant, and a year later a shock wave detection device he developed was supposed to be tested by him with others on July 16th, 1945 from a B-29 airplane over the Trinity plutonium bomb test in Nevada. Although the test did not take place as planned for last minute reasons of weather and safety, similar gauges were later used over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Pief discusses these events in some detail. It is clear that his awareness of the enormity and gravity of their long-term consequences shaped many of his actions for the rest of his life.
Accelerators and Physics at UCRL
After WWII ended, Pief agreed to join Alvarez at the University of California Radiation Lab (UCRL) directed by E. O. Lawrence, to work on proton linear accelerators, even though at that time he had no experience in nuclear physics or accelerator design. Ironically, his first two days at UCRL were spent inside the 184-inch cyclotron magnet as people noticed upon his arrival that he was the only person short enough to stand inside to make magnetic measurements. He then went on to lead the group which successfully designed and built the 32 MeV, 40-ft drift-tube proton linac. Several breakthroughs such as beam phase stability discovered by McMillan and Vecksler, cavity mode-mixing remediation due to the variable length of the drift tubes (calculated by Pief) and multipacting avoidance, led to the successful completion of this enterprise. However, while the linac was used to do physics, it did not lead to the construction of higher energy proton linacs at the time because of the parallel success of the less costly proton synchrotron. Note that while all these machines were already auguring the era of “big science”, the culture of the time was much less specialized than today in that the physicists who built these machines considered them to be the necessary initial stages of their particle physics experiments and were the same people who then went on to perform these experiments. Pief was very much a beneficiary of this culture, and later it made him an example of somebody who was equally knowledgeable about both fields, and could lead both enterprises from personal knowledge.
At the time Pief began to participate in particle physics experiments, it is noteworthy that he also accepted a heavy teaching load at UC Berkeley and decided to write his textbook on “Classical Electricity and Magnetism” with Melba Phillips. While he started to study proton-proton scattering at 32 MeV with the linac, his most exciting experiments turned out to involve pi mesons from the 184-inch cyclotron. From pi minus mesons impinging on protons and deuterons at rest, Pief and graduate students were able to identify the existence of the pi zero meson, and measure the masses of the pi minus and pi zero (as well as their mass difference) to about 1% accuracy by looking at the gamma rays emerging from the reactions (and their decays into electron-positron pairs). From these measurements, it was also inferred that the pions are pseudoscalar particles, namely that they have spin zero and negative intrinsic parity. Pief often indicated that this work may have been his best. Later on, using McMillan’s synchrotron, the measurements were confirmed by experiments done by him in collaboration with Jack Steinberger.
Events leading up to the Loyalty Oath
By late 1949, we get to perhaps the most pivotal point in Pief’s life. Following the first Soviet nuclear test on August 29 and Truman’s decision to proceed with the hydrogen bomb, Lawrence and Alvarez decided that they wanted UCRL to contribute to the project and find ways to produce tritium or breed plutonium with large quantities of neutrons. After considering various methods, they converged on a proton and deuterium linear accelerator modeled after the earlier 32-MeV machine but at the much lower frequency of 12 MHz which had a diameter of 60 ft. Code-named the Materials Test Accelerator (MTA), its first stage (87 ft. long) was eventually built at an abandoned naval air station near Livermore (which later became LLNL). Somewhat reluctantly, because he was already having strong second thoughts about further nuclear weapons, Pief worked on the microwave cavities for the project. But then, other political events caught up with him at UCRL. These are too lengthy to recount here but eventually led to the Loyalty Oath whereby the university, in Pief’s words, would require its employees to “affirm their lack of Communist contamination”. Pief signed the oath but became very upset when others who had refused to sign it were threatened with dismissal, and as a result, he decided to resign from the lab. Alvarez tried to dissuade him but Leonard Schiff and Felix Bloch at Stanford got word of his resignation and successfully enticed him to come to Stanford. Would SLAC be here if all this hadn’t happened? We will never know. What we do learn from this incident and many other subsequent ones is that Pief never seemed to hold any grudges. Despite his fundamental disagreement with Alvarez, he maintained his friendship with him after he left Berkeley.
Stanford, the Microwave Lab and HEPL
When Pief and his family of six arrived at Stanford in early July of 1951, they moved into a big 1907 house in Los Altos where they lived forever after. The university and in particular the physics and electronics departments at the time were going through an unprecedented period of expansion. Pief joined both the Physics Department and the Microwave Laboratory. At the latter, he immediately got involved with the MARK III linear accelerator whose conception and early construction had started under the remarkable leadership of physicist William W. Hansen, with help from the inventors of the klystron, Russell and Sigurd Varian. Hansen died prematurely of lung disease in May 1949, but the construction of the MARK III continued successfully under the leadership of Ed Ginzton with a gifted team consisting of Marvin Chodorow, R. L. Kyhl, Richard Post, Richard Neal and many others. Actually, when Pief arrived, there were a number of problems with the traveling-wave accelerator sections (which arced at high gradient) and with the reliability of the klystrons and modulators. The arcing problem forced the designers to add more sections, all running at more modest gradients, thereby lengthening the entire accelerator to the point where there was no room left at the end of the building for experiments. Robert Hofstadter, who had come from Princeton in 1950, had to begin his physics research program with a spectrometer located at the halfway point of the accelerator. This problem led to Pief’s first challenge: extend the building so that it could accommodate an appropriate beam switchyard and end-station. The job required working with university architects, getting financial support from Ginzton, having the experimental area designed, etc., which taxed all his physics and administrative skills. A large mound of earth excavated for the job was piled up at the end of the new extension and served as a beam stopper. When the writer arrived at Stanford, it was known as Mount Panofsky! Emerging from the beam switchyard, there were two separate beam lines: one for Hofstadter’s electron scattering experiments (for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1961), and a second one for general use. This arrangement much later led to similar designs, albeit much larger, for SLAC.
Pief relates in considerable detail all his early experiences with his colleagues, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) which funded most of the work, the Physics Department where he soon carried a heavy teaching load, and his interactions with Ed Ginzton. Eventually, Pief and Ed decided to split their labor and responsibilities: the laboratory was divided into two parts, the High Energy Physics Laboratory (HEPL) of which Pief became director, and the Microwave Laboratory for microwave tube research, headed by Ginzton. Both together were named the W.W. Hansen Laboratories.
By then, Pief had a large family with five children, was teaching, carrying out and directing research, traveling a lot and getting increasingly involved in arms control work on a national scale. Pief himself wonders (and the reader does too) how he was able to keep so many activities going simultaneously. The main explanations one can find are that he worked extremely hard, that he was an extraordinary planner, and that he was also amazingly quick.
The “general use” second beam line was exploited mostly by Pief, his colleague from Berkeley, Robert Mozley (and Mozley’s student Richard Taylor), and eventually a sequence of 13 other graduate students. A number of experiments were devoted to pions produced directly by electrons in contrast to those using gamma rays at Berkeley. Various people like Karl Brown, George Masek, Daryl Reagan, Peter Phillips and Lou Hand came to work under Pief’ supervision. With Karl Brown they designed a double-focusing spectrometer, with George Masek they electromagnetically produced muon pairs, and with Peter Phillips they designed the first single-cavity radiofrequency deflector. This experiment was also connected with what is known as the Panofsky-Wenzel theorem which specifies the properties of electromagnetic modes capable of deflecting charged particles transversely (interestingly, Pief forgot to mention this theorem in his book!). By 1956, he was joined at HEPL by Research Associate Burton Richter who, sensing the energy limitations of the MARK III, together with Princeton’s Gerard O’Neill and Carl Barber, designed and then built the pioneering electron-electron storage ring collider. This work was eventually superseded by Richter’s and others’ much more successful electron-positron colliders.
The Rise of SLAC
The success of the MARK III electron accelerator, both as a machine eventually reaching over 1 GeV in energy and as a rich source of particle physics research, inevitably led to the “next step” question. Speculations were started by Robert Hofstadter and were followed by numerous conversations involving him, Pief, Ginzton, Leonard Schiff, Richard Neal and others. A first report exploring the possibilities of a machine much larger than the MARK III was presented at the 1956 CERN Symposium on High Energy Accelerators by Pief and Neal. Meanwhile, a series of meetings was organized to come up with a proposal, the first of which was held in the evening of April 10, 1956 at Pief’s home. (Note in passing that quite by coincidence, April 10, 2008 was chosen as the date for an international symposium at Stanford to celebrate Pief’s life).
The formal “Proposal for a Two-Mile Electron Accelerator” which was written with the help of young English major Bill Kirk, came out in April, 1957, about 51 years ago. It was a relatively short report of 64 pages plus appendices, which was submitted simultaneously to the Office of Naval Research (ONR), the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). In retrospect, Pief considered the technical part of the proposal a little naïve but thought that the cost estimate was realistic. After submission of the proposal for
what was originally called Project M for “Multi-BeV” or “Monster”, there followed a long protracted period of ups and downs. Several controversies arose in the university, in the scientific community, and in the AEC (which was eventually chosen to be the funding agency), in the Executive branch of the government and in Congress. The description of these anxiety-producing but fascinating (in retrospect) events occupies over ten pages in the book and is much too long to recount here.
In the end, SLAC was created as a separate entity from the Stanford Physics Department (in Pief’s words “academically joint, administratively separate from the university”) and as a national facility. Upon the death of the two Varian brothers, Ed Ginzton who had directed the Project M research phase, resigned from Stanford to assume the leadership of Varian Associates, leaving Pief as director of SLAC. Pief used all his persuasive powers to overcome a number of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy’s positions, such as the AEC wanting to run the A&E firm, not wanting to let Stanford’s H&R policies prevail over the government’s, and insisting on allowing classified work on the site. Pief won out on all these points. President Eisenhower endorsed the project in 1959 and the Democratic Congress finally approved its construction on September 15, 1961 with a budget of $114M. The contract and a separate land lease of the Sand Hill site for 50 years were signed in April 1962, and ground breaking started in July 1962.
Of all his accomplishments, building SLAC was probably Pief’s “finest hour”. Again, the description of this period is much too long to recount here in detail but a few salient topics and incidents should be mentioned.
What made Pief such an effective director and project leader were his total commitment, his incredible intellect, his ability to delegate, his technical insights to jump in when a difficult scientific problem arose, the trust he created with his staff through his willingness to listen and his humility. Of course Pief does not advertise these qualities in the book, but the reader may discern them intuitively.
The line organization Pief chose for the lab was nimble and efficient and it survived for almost forty years. People like his business manager Fred Pindar, his head of administrative services Robert Moulton, his first deputy director Matt Sands, and research division associate director Joe Ballam are often mentioned for their contributions. One of the people Pief held in enormous regard was Richard (Dick) Neal, head of the technical division, who was in charge of the construction of the entire accelerator and who carried an enormous load. The busy reader may want to look up some of the unusual stories regarding the engineering of the disk-loaded waveguide, the alignment system, the colemanite for accelerator shielding, the discovery of the 14 million year-old Paleoparadoxia fossil during the beam switchyard excavation, and the controversy which arose with the neighboring city of Woodside over our 220 KV power line. The latter conflict turned out to generate a schedule cliff-hanger which was finally solved amicably, in large part because of Pief’s negotiating skills.
Two specific areas where Pief made personal technical contributions to the accelerator are noteworthy. One was his idea to enable the linac operators to instantly detect where the beam was poorly steered in the 3 km accelerator, producing radiation along the way. For this he proposed an argon-filled 3 km long coax cable along the machine which would get ionized and break down at the location where the radiation was produced. The breakdown pulse profile was constantly displayed on a scope in the control room. The device functioned very well and was called PLIC, for “Panofsky’s Long Ion Chamber”. Pief’s second personal contribution took place immediately after the first 15 GeV beam was steered down the accelerator in April and May 1966 and exhibited a detrimental behavior called “beam breakup” which shortened the pulse as the current was increased.
Several explanations were offered, mostly having to do with a transverse microwave beam-induced instability, but Pief together with then postdoc Myron Bander was the first to propose a correct analytic solution for this cumulative instability growth with length, current and time (in the book, the reviewer believes Pief somewhat erroneously labels the instability as re-generative, an adjective which is generally reserved for the beam breakup seen at much higher currents in a single section). More theoretical work on the cumulative instability was then continued for several years by Richard Helm, in collaboration with many experimentalists including the author, until mitigation to full specifications was attained about four years later.
The construction of the accelerator was completed in the summer of 1966 within schedule and within budget. The official dedication took place the next year in September 1967.
Physics Research at SLAC in the First Ten Years
Another of Pief’s visionary contributions to the success of SLAC was his realization that if physics research was going to start promptly upon completion of the accelerator, the instruments had to be developed in parallel with the machine, and strong groups of physicists had to be hired early on to design and build them. [Many of these physicists, together with a strong particle theory group, made up the original SLAC Faculty]. Hence, by 1967, the Research Yard already consisted of three fully equipped end-stations: three spectrometers in End-Station A, a one-meter bubble chamber and spark chamber in End Station B, and a two-meter bubble chamber (from LBL) and eventually a streamer chamber in the central C-Beam.
Pief devotes an entire chapter of the book to a description of the particle physics developments preceding the inception of SLAC: pions, muons, kaons, neutrinos, the eightfold way, P and CP violation and so on, and then goes over all the early SLAC experiments. The one which he probably “enabled” the most through his contributions to the spectrometer designs was the deep inelastic scattering experiment in End Station A which led to the discovery of the quarks and the Nobel Prize (in 1990) for Taylor, Kendall and Friedman. Other experiments described in less detail include the use of photoproduction, polarized electron beams with the Yale group, muons, positrons, and of course the enormous production of bubble chamber pictures.
Paralleling these experiments, Burton Richter and David Ritson from the Physics department proposed that an electron-positron colliding beam facility be built at SLAC, storing both 3 GeV (maximum) electrons and positrons emerging from the linac at about 1.5 GeV. A committee headed by Jackson Laslett recommended that the project be approved by the AEC but it took 5 years, starting in 1965, before Pief was able to convince the government to authorize construction of the SPEAR facility, eventually out of equipment funds. This project with two large detectors turned out to be a huge success leading to the so-called November 1974 revolution, the discovery of the J/psi resonance at 3.1 GeV, and gradually over the next four years of the Tau lepton by Martin Perl. Both these discoveries led to later Nobel Prize awards for Richter, Sam Ting (MIT) and Perl, and were a huge success for the lab.
Other Accelerator Activities under Pief
The success of SPEAR as a particle physics research tool also spawned its first use as a source of synchrotron radiation around 1974. Pief was instrumental in authorizing early “symbiotic” runs for this purpose, establishing the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Project (SSRP) under separate university management. About 15 years later, when SPEAR particle physics ended, these runs became fully dedicated and the activity was renamed the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory (SSRL). A separate electron injector was built and eventually, SSRL was incorporated into SLAC under Burton Richter’s directorship. It is an enormously successful enterprise, now in its third incarnation (SPEAR 3), attracting photon physics scientists from all over the world, and it has also spawned the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) currently under construction, using the last third of the SLAC linac.
As strange as it may seem, as early as 1968, the premature (in retrospect) promise of rf superconductivity led to the possibility of converting the room temperature pulsed 20 GeV (7 MV/m), 0.1% duty cycle linac to a 100 GeV (33MV/m), 6% duty cycle linac running at 2 degrees Kelvin. Pief authorized the R&D needed for this conversion, which led to a rather optimistic but costly project. After two years of intense research, when the maximum gradient in S-Band niobium cavities barely reached only 2 MV/m, Pief called a meeting and to the dismay of the participants, put an end to the project. Despite their disappointment, it turned out that his “executive” decision was correct at the time: the 33 MV/m gradient is just becoming possible 40 years later!
Another design project was then encouraged by Pief to double the energy of the linac to 40 GeV by recirculating the beam through the machine a second time (Project RLA for Recirculating Linear Accelerator). This research led to a full proposal and budget estimate but it was turned down by the AEC in 1973 as being premature and too costly. The pressure then to “find another way” led to the SLED invention (SLAC Energy Doubler), using resonant cavities downstream of the klystrons and pulse compression techniques. Its gradual implementation over several years together with higher power, longer pulse klystrons led to a relatively inexpensive method to more than double the energy of the linac to 50 Gev.
Meanwhile in 1976, the success of SPEAR led to the proposal of the much larger colliding beam machine called PEP which was the last new accelerator to come into successful operation under Pief’s management, in 1980. A year before Pief’s retirement in 1984, he still managed to strongly support the SLAC Linear Collider (SLC) project proposed by Burt Richter. Its construction was started in 1983 and provided first successful collisions at the Z boson resonance in 1989, the same year as the Loma Prieta earthquake.
All of these developments are vividly described in the penultimate chapter of Pief’s book. In this chapter he also gives a fairly detailed account of his personal involvement and the ill-fated history of the SSC (Superconducting Supercollider). The author of this review would add to this controversial story a point which Pief doesn’t mention, but seemed to the author like “the original sin”, i.e. not to insist that the SSC be sited at Fermilab, where much of the infrastructure already existed.
Pief ends this chapter with some general observations on how the international “landscape” of high energy physics has changed over his lifetime and how these changes and increased costs are affecting the approval of the International Linear Collider (ILC).
Science Advising and International Science
Pief’s familiarity with the Manhattan Project, his involvements at UCRL, his arrival at Stanford, his drafting of the “Screwdriver Report” on fissile materials detection with Hofstadter, and his overall eclectic scientific expertise propelled him as early as 1954 into a very long series of activities and panels having to do with science advising, first at the NSF, later with the Air Force, culminating with the President’s Science Advisory Committee (PSAC) under George Kistiakowski during the Eisenhower Administration. As a result, in 1959, while he was taking a sabbatical at CERN, he got involved in his first negotiations with the Soviets. These negotiations eventually culminated in 1963 with the adoption of the Limited Test Ban Treaty with the USSR.
Pief stayed on PSAC until 1964. His experience and thoughts on the roles, responsibilities, conflicts of interest and accountability of science advisors are discussed in great detail in the book and should be read by anybody who decides to accept such a position in any government agency.
In addition to his service to various U.S. government panels, and to Stanford University in Prof. Franklin’s dismissal controversy, Pief also began to play a major role in international scientific organizations such as the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP), and was invited to many conferences to give talks and reports.
In the late 1970’s, partially because of his efforts, various government-to-government collaborative science agreements were signed by the US with the Soviets, the Japanese and the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and annual cooperative meetings were held on high energy physics. Pief attended many of these and played major roles in the collaborations. With the PRC, he and TD Lee deserve personal credit for having encouraged and helped the Chinese to build the BEPC electron-positron colliding beam facility in Beijing. To get them started in this direction, in the summer of 1982 Pief invited a delegation of about thirty Chinese physicists and engineers to SLAC to produce a preliminary design of the machine. This relationship has survived for over 25 years despite occasional problems, including the 1989 Tiananmen events which Pief personally deplored. Pief with others was responsible during the October 14th, 1998 U.S.-PRC meeting in Beijing for briefing Premier Zhu Rongji to approve the BEPC II upgrade.
Arms Control (1981-2007): the Unfinished Business
The control and drastic reduction of nuclear weapons was a challenge Pief confronted daily -- to the last day of his life. He involved himself in each and every controversy in this area, and even though he sometimes seemed discouraged, he never gave up. What struck the author (and sometimes disappointed him) when Pief talked to him about some aspect of this subject, was that Pief never departed from rational arguments and would not allow himself to become a polemicist. In a world that is often irrational, and where an uninformed public can be driven by very superficial political arguments, being totally fair doesn’t always produce fast results. But by consistently behaving himself in this manner, Pief always retained the respect of his friends and adversaries.
As early as 1965 Pief was recruited to serve as a member of JASON, an ad hoc group of academics who get together every summer to advise the U.S. government on matters of general and national security interest. In 1981, he joined the Committee on International Security and Arms Control (CISAC) of the National Academy of Sciences, a committee he chaired from 1985 to 1993. CISAC started out by holding bilateral discussions with the Russians but these were later extended to very productive contacts with China, and then with allies such as France, Italy, Germany and the UK. In Italy these contacts developed into the multinational Amaldi conferences which Pief attended.
What positions did Pief take? Pief fundamentally believed that after 1945 and certainly during the Cold War, nuclear war was no longer a possible strategy for any nation, that nuclear weapons could not serve any military function for any nation, except to deter another nation from attacking it with nuclear weapons. For this, the reader is referred to his article written with his friend Spurgeon Keeney on “MAD vs. NUTS”, Mutual Assured Destruction vs. Nuclear Utilization Target Selection.
In summary, Pief supported the Limited Test Ban Treaty (LTBT), the Threshold Test Ban Treaty (TTBT), the Ban on Peaceful Nuclear Explosions (PNE), the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), the Anti- Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM), and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) which unfortunately was never ratified by the U.S. Congress. When President Reagan proposed his Star Wars project, Pief opposed it on technical grounds, arguing scientifically that it would not really work and that the “offense would always outstrip the defense” because it would be less expensive and more effective. During his CISAC chairmanship, Pief argued eloquently against lumping nuclear, chemical and biological under the single WMD label, and against threatening to use nuclear weapons to deter the use of the other two weapons. He also conducted the study for the management and disposition of excess plutonium which came up with recommendations to fabricate mixed oxide fuel (MOX) combining plutonium and uranium oxides for use in reactors, or to mix the plutonium with highly radioactive fission products which would then be disposed of in a geological repository. Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin signed the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA) to dispose of 34 tons of plutonium via the MOX process, but because of mutual disagreements over bureaucratic issues, no disposition has yet taken place, seven years later.
Pief ends his book with a strong admonition to the world. There are still close to 30,000 nuclear weapons on the planet today. Such a number is far in excess of any security need. The risks of inadvertent launches due to faulty communications, desperate regional conflicts, proliferation and theft, are enormous and could be totally devastating for humanity. As long as the U.S. relies on these weapons or continues to reinvent new missions for them (like bunker busters) or new designs (like the Reliable Replacement Warhead, the RRW), other countries will see these weapons as symbols of national power and will be tempted to acquire them. In this connection, in 2006 Pief had met with the Iranian Ambassador at the UN, and until the last day of his life, he was upset that the United States was not negotiating directly with that country on the nuclear problem.
Pief notes that a declaration of “No First-Use” of nuclear weapons has so far been embraced only by China but by none of the other nuclear weapons states. He believes that if adopted by all of them, it would at last motivate and enable them to strive for drastic reductions, revitalize the entire nuclear weapons arms-control drive, and eventually lead to a worldwide prohibition of possessing nuclear weapons. He writes, “The United States, as the unquestioned leader – measured by non-nuclear armaments and economic strength – should have the strongest possible interest in leading the reining-in of nuclear weapons on an irreversible basis.”
The world could not honor this wonderful scientist and human being more than by heeding his advice on dealing with this ominous threat to humanity.