Hiroshima’s Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba will travel to the United States next week on a trip that will include a speech to American mayors about the anti-nuclear and peace movement. Akiba has good connections in the United States and could have opportunities to take the ties to higher levels in preparation for an important U.N. nonproliferation next May.
More than 100 of the U.S. mayors are already members of the Mayors for Peace movement headed by Hiroshima’s Akiba and Tomihisa Taue, the mayor of Nagasaki, the only two cities to suffer nuclear attacks. While that count sounds impressive, there is certainly room for growth. In Europe, for instance, Belgium, Germany and Italy each have more than 300 mayors apiece in the group, which had more 2,900 members worldwide as of June 1. In the Pacific Northwest, where I’m from, the membership includes Seattle, Portland, Tacoma, Olympia and Eugene.
Seattle’s Mayor Greg Nickels told me once that while he was a member, he hadn’t found a particular local tie to become very active with the group. But Nickels’ leadership of mayor on global warming indicates how cities can have outsized influence in larger issues. While traditional diplomatic thinking would exclude cities from international influence, even the most traditional scholars would concede a potential political role for cities, at least indirectly.
Akiba has done considerable work with U.S. mayors. Akron’s Donald L. Plusquellic is a vice president of Mayors for Peace internationally and Akiba has visited with the U.S. mayors at least once before.
Perhaps promisingly, Vice President Joe Biden will also visit the Conference of Mayors gathering, along with a number of Cabinet members. There is considerable talk in both the United States and here about the possibility of President Barack Obama visiting Hiroshima as part of the long-term goal of abolishing nuclear weapons that he unveiled in Prague earlier this year. Obama gave a groundbreaking speech in Prague earlier this year about eventual disarmament, and Akiba has praised Obama’s position. If Akiba has the chance to talk with Biden or other top White House officials, he will surely push with characteristic seriousness and focus for an Obama visit.
For the White House, such a trip could be a powerful symbol of a new U.S. attitude toward the world and of a real interest in disarming, not just asking other countries to refrain from developing nuclear weapons. By almost any calculation, real movement by the nuclear powers to live up to their Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty obligations to work to disarm themselves is key to maintaining the treaty and preventing a large, dangerous surge in the number of nuclear-armed countries.