Foreign Policy


Foreign Policy

City Hall: 2150–2178 Martin Luther King Jr. Way

City governments generally focus on local matters like overseeing building codes, public safety, budgets, and filling potholes. To these Berkeley has added another: foreign policy. Though Berkeley, like most cities, has limited international clout, it has adopted foreign policy initiatives since the 60s.

Despite being criticized for acting like a sovereign nation, Berkeley has declined to cooperate with immigration officials, tacitly offering sanctuary to those fleeing repressive regimes and other undocumented immigrants. The City has declared a downtown Marine recruitment center “unwelcome” and agreed to independently comply with UN Treaties shunned by congress. Though the city has no an anti-missile defense, and is host to the world’s most advanced nuclear research, Berkeley has declared itself a “Nuclear Free Zone.” A “No Drone Zone” in the city’s air space has been proposed. Berkeley has over a dozen sister cities in distant lands like Mali, Malaysia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Cuba, Eritrea, and Montana’s Blackfeet Nation.

Gus Newport, mayor from 1979 to 1986, represented Berkeley in El Salvador, Havana, Mexico, Vienna, and Gaza, causing presidential candidate Rev. Jesse Jackson to dub him “Mayor to the World.” Berkeley’s foreign policy has its costs. One city employee, secretary to the Peace and Justice Commission, estimated that he spent as much as 25 percent of his time researching issues like oppression in Burma or labor conditions in Liberia.

Local historian Charles Wollenberg traces the origins of the city’s foreign policy to its bold anti-war stance during the Vietnam War. Subsequently, Berkeley was the first city to demand divestment from South Africa’s apartheid regime and the banning of Styrofoam cups. Wollenberg observes: “There are things that begin in Berkeley that become national jokes, but there are things that begin in Berkeley that become national trends.”

Contributed by Robert Kehlmann, 2013

  • Nuclear Free Zone sign, photo (2011) Faith Buchanan, Daily Californian

  • City Council Protesters (2008), S.F. Chronicle, photo Brant Ward

  • Mayor Tom Bates in Berkeley's sister city, Palma Soriano, Cuba (2012),

Photo credit abbreviations:
BAHA: Berkeley Architectural Heritage Assn.
BHS: Berkeley Historical Society