door Stefania Bianchi ©

Some two hundred Belgian mayors added their support Tuesday (April 19) to the worldwide campaign to abolish all nuclear weapons by 2020 and for the withdrawal of U.S. nukes from Europe .

The mayors are calling on the Belgian government to step up its own disarmament obligations, and for the ”urgent” need for nuclear disarmament around the world during the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference that begins at the United Nations headquarters in New York May 2.

In addition, the mayors are demanding that Belgium takes the initiative in setting up an international conference aimed at negotiating a treaty for a worldwide ban on nuclear weapons.

The have asked the Belgian government in a resolution to contribute to the realisation of a stricter disarmament agenda during the review conference, which will assess the current state of nuclear weapons around the world.

The mayors are also calling for the gradual withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons from Europe . The U.S. is the only country to have nuclear weapons positioned in other countries.

The NPT entered into force in 1970. It aims to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament.

In spite of significant reductions in the numbers of nuclear warheads held by the U.S. and Russia since 1990, both countries still keep thousands of warheads.

‘For Mother Earth’, a Belgian non-governmental organisation (NGO) and member of Friends of the Earth International says there have been a ”terrifying number of near misses” both during and after the end of the Cold War ”in which the fate of civilisation and most living things has depended on correct decision-making by highly stressed military personnel or on presidents whose sobriety has sometimes been questionable.”

The group adds that with the recent acquisition of nuclear weapons by India and Pakistan , the subcontinent is moving toward a highly dangerous ”hair trigger” status.

The initial call to ban nuclear weapons came from the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan.

Their cities were reduced to rubble by atomic bombs dropped by the United States in August 1945. Hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives and even today thousands suffer the devastating after-effects of radiation and emotional pain.

In 1982, then mayor Takeshi Araki of Hiroshima proposed a new Mayors for Peace programme, and called on mayors around the world to support the initiative.

Since then some 763 cities in 110 countries have added their support to the campaign.

Earlier this year Tadatoshi Akiba, the current mayor of Hiroshima, visited the European Parliament to explain his ”2020 vision” and to ask members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to add their support for the complete abolition of nuclear weapons by the year 2020.

Following the visit, some Belgian mayors called on their colleagues to join the Mayors for Peace. As a result there are now 196 Belgian members of the network.

Patrik Vankrunkelsven, mayor of the Belgian town of Laakdal , says the international community must focus on its own standards if it wants any credibility. ”We do not appear convincing if we prohibit Iran and North Korea from acquiring nuclear weapons while we in NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) continue to use a nuclear deterrent for our own security,” he said in a statement Tuesday.

”We are even developing new, more useable nuclear weapons and hardly getting rid of any older ones. Belgium must give a clear signal as soon as possible and ask for the removal of the nuclear weapons,” he added.

Bruno De Lille who will become mayor of Brussels during the NPT conference in New York , said it was particularly important that Brussels supported the campaign. ”As capital of Europe and host city for NATO headquarters, we certainly do not want to be left behind. Instead we take on our responsibilities today,” he said.

Pol D’Huyvetter from ‘For Mother Earth’ says Belgium ‘s part in the campaign is important, but acknowledges there is still a long way to go.

“The success of the campaign in Belgium will for sure be an inspiration and encouragement for campaigners and mayors across Europe and the world,” he told IPS Tuesday.

“The next months and years we will continue to reach out and cooperate with local governments, and hopefully we will reach the critical turning point in favor of nuclear abolition very soon. It is clear that we need to turn the table as soon as possible as international events are now not in our favor,” he added.