UNITED NATIONS - When leaders of the world's eight most industrialised nations -- the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia, known as the G8 -- hold their annual summit meeting in Hokkaido next month, they are likely to reject a seemingly backhanded invitation: a visit to the Peace Memorial Museum in the city of Hiroshima.
The museum, one of Japan's more sombre tourist attractions, is a grim reminder of the horrors of nuclear war, pictorially depicting the devastation caused to Hiroshima by a U.S. atomic bomb on Aug. 6, 1945.
A second Japanese city, Nagasaki, was nuked three days later. And within one year, 140,000 died as a result of the U.S. attacks.
Emiko Okada, a 71-year-old survivor of the atomic blasts 63 years ago, has sent letters to all eight leaders asking them to visit Hiroshima during their summit Jul. 7-9 in Toyakocho, Hokkaido.
Writing on behalf of some of the Hiroshima survivors, she says: "We are the people who can give you the best perspective on the horrors of nuclear weapons as we live through it, and many of us have suffered numerous physical ailments over the past 62 years and lost loved ones in the blast."
But none of the eight, not even leaders of the four declared nuclear powers among them, the United States, France, Britain and Russia, has any plans to visit Hiroshima.
According to the Japanese news agency Kyodo, three of the eight, including the heads of government of Britain, Germany and the United States, responded to the invitation, but regretted that time constraints did not permit a visit to Hiroshima.
The response from the White House read: "Although the President (George W. Bush) would very much enjoy an occasion of this nature, already established travel schedules and official obligations for this trip preclude us from adding events to his calendar." The only sympathetic response, according to Kyodo, came from Helmut Hoffman, head of Germany's Nuclear Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Division, who said: "Your letter is an appeal and encouragement to us (the German government) to press ahead with the vision of a nuclear weapons-free world."
Last August, a 'Peace Declaration' adopted by the city of Hiroshima detailed the impact of the U.S. attacks that fateful day, describing it as "hell on earth".
"The eyes of young girls watching the parachute (which opened in the skies before the blast) were melted. Their faces became giant charred blisters. The skin of people seeking help dangled from their fingernails."
Many who escaped death initially are still suffering from leukemia, thyroid cancer, and a vast array of other afflictions.
Addressing a conference sponsored by the Tokyo-based Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC) in Hiroshima last month, Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba said his city was one of the leading campaigners for a 20:20 vision on nuclear disarmament: a proposal to end nuclear weapons by the year 2020.
Because cities suffer the most in times of war, a group of mayors called Mayors for Peace launched the "Hiroshima/Nagasaki Protocol" during a preparatory meeting of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in Geneva last April.
The group challenged NPT diplomats to prepare for a "decisive decade for nuclear disarmament".
Akiba pointedly asked Geneva-based U.N. ambassadors: "Will you act in good faith to eliminate these heinous and totally unnecessary threats to our survival, or will you allow them to spread, most certainly to be used?"
If they did not move effectively to achieve a nuclear-weapon-free world by 2020, he told a meeting of ambassadors, "you will be partially responsible for the nuclear catastrophe I have no doubt will befall us before that date. I urge you not to underestimate the gravity and urgency of this decision."
John Burroughs, executive director of the New York-based Lawyers' Committee on Nuclear Policy, says the 20:20 vision of Mayor Akiba of Hiroshima and Mayors for Peace, with more than 2,000 members worldwide, is important.
"They underline the necessity of action that actually ends ongoing reliance of the world's most powerful countries on their nuclear forces as central instruments of national policy," Burroughs told IPS.
Recently, he pointed out, the rhetoric of achieving a nuclear weapons-free world has gone mainstream, due in part to the commendable efforts of former U.S. Secretary of State George Schultz, who is leading the campaign in the United States.
"However, while there is more readiness to promote steps like the test ban treaty and a ban on producing fissile materials for nuclear weapons, there is little sign as yet of decision-makers taking on board the mission of getting down to the brass tacks of marginalising and eliminating nuclear forces," he said.
Burroughs said popular support for getting serious certainly exists. As a representative of Mayors for Peace himself, he observed the latest sign of this at the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Miami, Jun. 19-23, which unanimously adopted a resolution entitled "Support for the Elimination of All Nuclear Weapons by the Year 2020."
The resolution recommends that the U.S. government "urgently consider" an agreement -- the "Hiroshima-Nagasaki Protocol" -- as a means of "fulfilling the promise of the Non-Proliferation Treaty by the year 2020."
This would meet the obligation set by the International Court of Justice in 1996 to "conclude negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control."
While the resolution was not debated but rather approved summarily as part of a set of resolutions dealing with international matters, Burroughs said, the very fact that it was not singled out for special attention illustrates that -- outside of "national security" circles -- the need for global nuclear disarmament is widely accepted.
As part of the ongoing campaign, mayors around the world will also be signing on to a "Cities Appeal" that will promote the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Protocol.
And in line with the original vision of a Nuclear Weapons Convention being negotiated by 2010, the mayors will call for all negotiations envisioned in the Protocol to be completed by the 65th U.N. General Assembly sessions in 2010.
© 2008 Inter Press Service