International Meeting
2000 World Conference against Atomic & Hydrogen Bombs

Ken Wyatt
Chairman, Secretariat Committee
International Nuclear-Free Local Authorities

Municipal Nuclear Free Zones: Building Blocks for Peace in the New Millennium

We are never without wars driven by racial, religious or ethnic intolerance, denial of human rights, material deprivation or environmental degradation. Our memory is marked indelibly by the images of terrible suffering from the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These images never fade and they drive our determination to ensure that such crimes against humanity are never repeated.

It was the recognition, in the Cold War era, that towns and cities everywhere were vulnerable to the devastation suffered at Hiroshima and Nagasaki that drove the development of the municipal nuclear free zones movement in the early 1980s. This vulnerability to weapons of mass destruction remains and jeopardises our efforts to build sustainable, peaceful and prosperous communities.

Over nearly two decades the International Nuclear Free Zone Local Authorities movement has changed. With the break up of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s and the collapse of Communism in central and EasternEurope, the priority of campaigning against nuclear weapons gave way to other prioritiesand in some countries the organisations built to promote nuclear free zones took up a wider agenda for peace addressing more immediate concerns. This was particularly true for countries like Italy(Israeli-Palestinian conflict), Portugal (East Timor) and the Netherlands.(Bosnia).

In other countries, like Spain, and Germany the movements lost momentum. Although the municipal policies remain in place they are not actively promoted. Yet others, like Japan and in the USA the nuclear weapons focus remains. In the UK and Ireland, post Chernobyl, the agenda broadened to take in municipal concerns about the safety of nuclear power plants. In Australia campaigning priorities reflected indigenous concerns like their huge uranium extraction industry. Elsewhere, in the newly independent states and Russia, some cities seized with enthusiasm the idea of nuclear free zones as an inspiring goal and carried through there resolutions of support. Kiev, Yalta and Archangel are examples which our Manchester Secretariat has been informed about.

Against a backdrop where the prospect of global nuclear war appeared to recede, and the question of nuclear disarmament looked less urgent, perhaps it is not surprising that nuclear free zone work evolved into different campaigns reflecting more local and immediate concerns.

Nonetheless the maintenance of the structures of the nuclear free zone local authority movement is important. I believe that this was demonstrated in 1995 when France resumed nuclear weapon testing in the Pacific. It was during the International Union of Local Authorities (IULA) Congress that International Nuclear Free Zones representatives lobbied delegates successfully and the IULA Council passed a resolution condemning nuclear testing and calling for renewed efforts to achieve nuclear disarmament. It was demonstrated at the Hague Appeal for Peace Conference in May 1999 when International NFZ Authorities were able to play an important part in the drafting of a Municipalities for Peace resolution from the Conference.

I believe the value of the International NFZ movement can be demonstrated again alongside the efforts of other important municipal alliances for peace like the Peace Messenger Cities and the Hiroshima and Nagasaki led Mayors for Peace through Inter-City Solidarity. In the 1980's International Nuclear Free Zone Local Authorities pursued a policy of 'detente from below' showing solidarity with our sister cities in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe through our friendship, cultural and twinning links. After the latest Balkan conflict over Kosovo, and US proposals for a national missile defence system, Russian and Chinese suspicion and alarm over Western/NATO intentions is once again high. It is timely for municipalities everywhere to renew their friendship links to promote efforts to secure peace, goodwill and sustainable security and breakdown fear and suspicions which create the climate for conflict.

The abolition of nuclear weapons and their delegitimisation remains the priority. International NFZ Authorities have worked for this for almost two decades and will continue to do so by:

* promoting awareness of the 1996 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the illegality of nuclear weapons;

* promoting within local government support for the Abolition 2000 municipalities resolution;

* publicising the growth of international public opinion in favour of negotiations for nuclear weapons reduction and abolition. In 1998 opinion polls in Japan, Russia, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Canada, US and UK (1997 and 1999) consistently recorded between 60 and 80% of ordinary citizens wanted the nuclear weapon states to enter into disarmament negotiations to abolish nuclear weapons;

* supporting international activist and NGO efforts to continue to build nuclear free zones at all levels and promoting awareness of the spread of nuclear weapon free zones.

* more recently supporting the US World Forum initiative to secure leading Cities' support for an International Mayors appeal to Presidents Clinton and Putin to further cut their nuclear stockpiles; and

* campaigning for an end to plutonium production and trading to reduce the risks of nuclear proliferation through the spread of nuclear bomb making material.

It is time to reinvigorate this work but local leaders at a municipal level have to be confident that this is what people want. Opinion polls say that it is, but local politicians also need to feel more directly the wishes and aspirations of their constituents.

Standing here in Hiroshima and speaking at this impressive conference the commitment of citizens to work for a nuclear weapon free future is clear. But in Britain, for example, the overall level of citizen action on this vital question needs raising. There are some very encouraging signs with CND activity increasing and more debate in the press and media about the failure of the UK Government to push the nuclear disarmament agenda forward despite its pledge to work for a nuclear weapons free world.

So my message to conference delegates is build citizen support for making countries, local municipalities and ports nuclear-free; for banning nuclear arms on foreign territories; for the withdrawal of foreign military bases and troops and for the replacement of military alliances with co-operative alliances like the Organisation for Co-operation and Security in Europe. The International NFZ local authority network, and nuclear free zone councils will continue to play their part to achieve our shared vision of a nuclear weapon free world, but citizens must not leave it to municipalities or national governments. Grassroots action by local citizens is vital if political momentum for nuclear weapon abolition at all levels is to be increased.

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