Editorial: Mayors for Peace as a force for advancing nuclear abolition and peace

The general assembly of Mayors for Peace, held in the city of Nagasaki, closed after adopting the “Nagasaki Appeal,” which calls for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Mayors for Peace, for which Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui serves as president, currently has a membership of more than 7,000 cities worldwide.

The Nagasaki Appeal states that, to help realize the early implementation of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, all members cities will strongly urge that their national governments adopt the nuclear weapons ban treaty. Because this treaty was just recently adopted at the United Nations, the mayors seem to feel fresh determination to take action for a world without nuclear arms.

The Nagasaki Appeal includes language that explicitly calls on all governments to sign and ratify the treaty, a much appreciated appeal by Mayors for Peace. It says: “In particular, we will strongly urge the governments of nuclear-armed states and those under the nuclear umbrella to do so.”

International conditions involving nuclear weapons have become a growing worry. In the United States, the new Trump administration has taken a backward-looking stance toward nuclear disarmament, and North Korea has made continual provocations by repeatedly carrying out nuclear tests and launching missiles. Amid these conditions, it is hoped that Mayors for Peace can make use of its diplomatic power, as local governments with shared interests and intentions, and help bridge the divisions that separate the world’s nations.

If nuclear weapons are used, the biggest victims will be cities and their citizens. Ensuring the safety of their people is the primary mission and responsibility of local governments. Thirty-five years ago, it was this sense of mission and responsibility on the part of local leaders that led to the establishment of the “World Conference of Mayors for Peace through Inter-City Solidarity,” the forerunner of Mayors for Peace.

Currently (as of August 1), the number of member cities totals 7,417 from 162 countries and this makes Mayors for Peace an enormous non-governmental organization (NGO). Despite its growth over the years, the organization still observes the original principles that were formulated when it was first established. At this year’s general assembly, in addition to the Nagasaki Appeal, the “Special Resolution Requesting the Early Bringing into Effect of the Treaty Prohibiting Nuclear Weapons” proposed by Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue, the vice president of Mayors for Peace, was also adopted.

The signing process for the first international law that comprehensively bans the use, threat of use, possession, and development of nuclear weapons will begin on September 20, and when the number of signatories reaches 50, the treaty will go into effect. Compared to the past, when Mayors for Peace was unable to present concrete actions as an NGO despite aiming to abolish all nuclear weapons by 2020, the organization’s goal has now become clear. The special resolution, therefore, can be said to represent the mayors’ strong determination with that goal in sight.

The challenge for Mayors for Peace is to what extent the mayors of the A-bombed cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, who serve as the president and vice president of the organization, respectively, can sway the stance of the Japanese government and whether they can present the outcome of their efforts to the other member cities.

The Japanese government still clings to the nuclear umbrella. It refused to take part in the U.N. conference to negotiate the nuclear weapons ban treaty by saying that any negotiations which did not include the nuclear weapon states would simply deepen the divide between the nuclear nations and non-nuclear nations. Since the treaty was adopted, the Japanese government has repeatedly stated that it would not sign the agreement.

Mayors for Peace also adopted a new action plan, leading to the year 2020, at this year’s meeting. Under this new plan, the mayors will do their utmost to advance the abolition of nuclear weapons by 2020. Of special note in the action plan are newly added strategies to address terrorist attacks, refugees, environmental issues, and various other global concerns.

In order to generate wider support for the voices of the people of the A-bombed cities, it is vital to position the problem of nuclear arms as a humanitarian problem like war and other forms of violence that cause tremendous damage. When the Land Mine Ban Treaty was enacted (through the Ottawa Process), many NGOs served as key players in the process that led to its establishment. It wasn’t the power balance among nations, but the persistent humanitarian-based approaches of NGOs that are thought to have been the most influential factor in realizing this treaty.

The Special Resolution conveys the mayors’ determination to have the catchphrase “Let Nagasaki be the last A-bombed site in the world” be known far into the future. Individual citizens must support that commitment.

Another challenge involves galvanizing public opinion. The mayors have proposed the idea of having prominent figures serve as nuclear abolition campaign ambassadors, but the selection of such people has not yet begun. How will the resolve of Mayors for Peace be reflected in the global community? Careful strategies must be crafted.

(Originally published on August 13, 2017)