The signers of a recent anti-war statement believe you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know the United States should not go to war with Iraq – you just have to be a chemist or theoretical physicist.

Forty Nobel laureates have signed a statement opposing “a preventive war against Iraq without broad international support.” The statement was released in a press conference Tuesday morning at the Santa Barbara home of Walter Kohn, co-winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize in chemistry and former UCSB professor of theoretical physics. Alan Heeger, former UCSB chemistry professor and co-winner of the 2000 Nobel Prize in chemistry, also attended.

The 74-word statement acknowledged that war “may indeed lead to victory in the short term,” but included warnings of “unintended … medical, environmental, moral, spiritual, political and legal consequences.” Forty of the 130 living American Nobel laureates signed the statement, with six expressly declining to sign while the rest chose not to respond.

Kohn and Heeger emphasized that the statement is not an objection to military action of any kind but a demand that any action be precipitated by international support. The laureates pointed to United Nations approval as the ideal scenario, but stopped short of saying that U.N. approval was the only way war would be acceptable.

“I look back on the Kosovo situation, which was neither supported nor opposed by the U.N. but was then taken on by [the North Atlantic Treaty Organization],” Kohn said. “That was a situation where I would say there was enough support to make it OK.”

The laureates were joined at the press conference by Dr. Steve Daniels, chairman of the Santa Barbara chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, who helped compose the statement.

“Iraq has not attacked us, and there is no evidence of plans to do so,” Daniels said. “We believe an American attack would defy international law and violate the U.N. Charter, which allows war for self-defense only.”

Daniels also expressed concerns that a U.S.-only war on Iraq would increase anti-American sentiment and terrorism and exacerbate the Israel-Palestine conflict.

The statement included signatures from former war men Hans Bethe, the 1967 Nobel winner in physics who helped build the first atomic bomb as a member of the World War II Manhattan Project, and Charles Townes, former director of research for the Dept. of Defense Institute for Defense Analysis.

“I would have thought the odds were about 1,000-to-1 that Charles Townes would sign,” Kohn said.

Heeger said that former UCSB Professor of physics and 2000 Nobel Prize winner Herbert Kroemer was approached to sign the statement but declined because he is not an American citizen.

Former President Jimmy Carter, the 2002 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, was also contacted but only said he would give the statement further consideration.

“It would be hard for him to endorse the statement,” Kohn said. “It would be quite extraordinary for a former president to speak out against current policy.”

Beyond addressing the long-term dangers of U.S. aggression, Daniels commented on the potential human costs of the war itself.

“We were horrified to learn about the U.S. contingency plan to use nuclear weapons, even if Iraq does not,” Daniels said. “Even our so-called ‘conventional’ weapons are so powerful that we can’t anticipate anything but thousands of casualties, both military and civilian.”

All three men stressed that, while military action may be necessary at some point, it is currently far too dangerous for the U.S. to go it alone.

“We have other sources of information beyond the U.N. weapons inspectors, like human and satellite surveillance,” Heeger said. “If we have information, it must be enough to generate broad international support.”

Daniels agreed that for the U.S. to act alone would send a poor message.

“It would lead to an insecure world for our children and grandchildren where might makes right,” he said.

Kohn stressed the need for patience.

“Nobody whose intellect I would respect would say that we face a clear and present danger. President Bush keeps saying, ‘I’m out of patience; time is up.’ But the direction of a democratic nation is not determined by the level of patience of one person.”