On April 27, representatives of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty’s 190 member countries will meet in New York for a four-week review of the 45-year-old pact. The attendees would be wise to consider an important fact: Although the NPT requires its members to “pursue negotiations in good faith” on nuclear disarmament, a wide legal gap still remains when it comes to eliminating nuclear weapons. It is time for the NPT’s signatories to initiate disarmament negotiations.
This year also marks the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, on August 6 and 9, when citizens everywhere will have an opportunity to pay their respects to the hundreds of thousands of people who were killed or wounded on those tragic days. This is also an occasion to honor the survivors, by supporting their call to eliminate all nuclear weapons, thereby ensuring that no one will ever suffer as they have.
We, the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, are but two voices among representatives from more than 6,600 cities in 160 countries and regions worldwide who support this historic goal. Our organization, Mayors for Peace, was created in 1982 as a way to transcend national borders and work together toward the abolition of nuclear weapons. More mayors are joining our cause every year, and our determination to pursue nuclear disarmament will only deepen in the years ahead.
It is fitting that mayors, driven by their sense of responsibility to protect their citizens’ safety and welfare, take a keen interest in this cause. The horrific, indiscriminate, and long-term consequences of nuclear weapons for humanity and the environment cannot be overstated – especially when they target densely populated areas.
The danger that nuclear weapons will be used again, either intentionally or accidentally, will exist for as long as they remain available, a conclusion reached at three major international humanitarian conferences and strongly affirmed by the United Nations. And it is scandalous that vast sums are being devoted to maintaining and modernizing these weapons at a time when budget constraints undermine efforts to address pressing human needs around the world.
The number of nuclear near-misses – accidents and miscalculations that have almost led to disaster – is shocking. Moreover, such weapons and their related facilities and components are attractive targets for terrorists. It is a matter of no small public concern that international security still depends on “nuclear deterrence” – a doctrine based on mutual distrust that aims to keep the peace through the threat of mass killings. Worse, there have been suggestions of their actual use.
Military planners who consider the use of nuclear weapons have probably given scant thought to those living in the cities on their target lists. For too long, the residents of cities have been used as pawns on a global nuclear chessboard, with little concern for the full implications of playing the game. But, as the public is educated about the specific threats that nuclear weapons continue to pose to the cities in which they live, that stance will be increasingly difficult to maintain.
At the same time, people worldwide must stop regarding one another as untrustworthy enemies. That is why Mayors for Peace, together with a wide range of civil-society groups, is striving not only for the abolition of nuclear weapons, but also to cultivate a shared sense of belonging to a single human family, regardless of our cultural, religious, or ethnic differences.
Until now, nuclear-weapon states’ national governments and bureaucracies have preferred to limit the disarmament debate to symbolic measures that imply no deadlines or additional legally binding obligations. They claim that the security environment is not mature enough to take bold steps toward nuclear disarmament. We disagree.
Concerted efforts – involving national and local governments, universities, workers’ unions, political parties, environmental groups, young people, women’s groups, lawyers, and the business community – can change the world. But it is world leaders – in particular, those whose countries maintain nuclear weapons – who must take the first step toward building confidence and initiating meaningful cooperation on disarmament. Along the way, they can lay the groundwork for a new kind of security system – one that does not rely on nuclear deterrence.
It is crucial that representatives at the NPT review conference work together to bring the rule of law to nuclear disarmament and close the gap in the NPT that has permitted the most inhumane of all weapons of mass destruction to continue to exist. Mayors for Peace and its civil-society partners will do everything we can do to support them. The tragic tale of our two cities should never become the tale of your city.
This article is published in collaboration with Project Syndicate. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.
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Author: Kazumi Matsui is the mayor of Hiroshima, Japan. Tomihisa Taue is the mayor of Nagasaki, Japan.
Image: A child pays respect at the cenotaph at Hiroshima Peace Park. REUTERS/Thin Lei Win