By Sikander Shah
Kazakhstan, which has voluntarily renounced the world’s fourth largest nuclear arsenal and shut down the largest nuclear test site at Semipalatinsk, has been a strong advocate of and active participant in the global non-proliferation process and the efforts to reduce the nuclear threat.
Kazakhstan’s model of disarmament has become an example to be followed, thanks to the political will and consistent efforts of President Nursultan Nazarbayev and his determination to work tirelessly to achieve the goal of a nuclear-free world.
In comparison with the nearest neighbours in the region the Kazakh president is a moderately authoritarian leader, but rather wise and completely consistent. These qualities of his personality are recognised even by his opponents. Perhaps, Kazakhstan’s history of participation in the NPT is the best illustration of the Kazakh president as a politician. Probably we should refrain from personalising a milestone in setting the world free from nuclear weapons, but to be honest we should applaud President Nazarbayev.
In 1991, he was not even thinking to bargain or set conditions for giving up Kazakh nuclear programme – these tactics will come into international politics later, firmly removed from the country all that could represent any threat to global safety. It could be a long debate about whether Kazakhstan has a different course of action, but the fact remains.
In a region where there is activity of extremist organisations (Hizb-ut-Tahrir, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Uyghur separatists), there were more than a thousand nuclear warheads, complete with ballistic missiles SS-18 making “Satan” a monstrous nuclear power. All of this did not add peaceful life to the world capitals on both sides of Atlantics. 148 minings scattered on a vast territory, with hundreds of ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads, radius of which exceeded ten thousand kilometres hardly could bring to this world peace and prosperity. Moreover, all “charm” of owning such an arsenal by Kazakhstan population is fully felt by the decades in a row – the Semipalatinsk test site was the largest venue of the Soviet Union for nuclear weapon test. 752 nuclear explosions in forty-two years brought for the local population gene mutations and incurable disease and poisoning environment in the wake of nuclear radiation. Kazakh Foreign Minister Saudabayev says: in the early nineties most of the Kazakh elite were in favour of retaining the nuclear capability. These politicians believed that “Satan” with a nuclear warhead on board overnight introduce unknown Kazakhstan to the club of nuclear powers. However, immediately after the fall of the communist regime, Nazarbayev closed the Semipalatinsk nuclear testing ground and after four years all nuclear warheads and their delivery vehicles, including strategic bombers Tu-95, were removed from Kazakhstan.
This unprecedented move, in effect, gave a moral right to the Kazakh politicians to take their country into a kind of symbol of the movement of non-proliferation and this right can not be challenged. In Astana, they rightly observe that the further spread of weapons of mass destruction around the world and the pursuit of international terrorism to acquire it, became the most serious threats to the safety of the entire planet.
This example of the former Soviet republic demonstrates that the renunciation of nuclear weapons provides an even more effective and reliable security and favourable conditions for development, rather than the possession of weapons of mass destruction.
The symbolism of his position Kazakhs easily converted into actual leadership of the non-proliferation – and here, as again, it does not seem very logical. The weapon is long gone in Kazakhstan, the country is provided by safety guarantees for the club of leading nuclear powers, however it is Kazakhstan which regularly brings the issue of a new non-proliferation treaty on the international agenda. This, in particular, on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which was adopted in 1996, but will enter into force only after being ratified by nine countries, including China, Iran, Israel and the U.S. This international legal instrument should in theory make it difficult to qualitative improvement of nuclear weapons by nuclear weapon states. In addition, the document banning nuclear test poses a barrier to nuclear proliferation and growth of nuclear arsenals by the so-called threshold countries.
G20 leaders should feel uncomfortable – in fact, it is they who in the first place must call for early signing of the CTBT. However, at the last summit in Washington, Kazakh president made a statement that the existing nuclear nonproliferation treaty was, to put it mildly, not very effective. Nazarbayev, without any diplomatic equivocation, said that even those who signed the treaty and ratified it – India and Pakistan -, in fact continue efforts to create nuclear weapons. There are still about twenty threshold States, said the Kazakh leader and offered to renew the treaty and make it mandatory. It should be noted that the U.S. did not support this proposal and forced Nazarbayev to state fact, that each year a lot of serious issues are discussed at the Conference on Disarmament, but for a number of years the situation has not changed and does not even shift from a “dead spot” due to lack of political will to overcome the differences. In this regard one should admit with great respect the perseverance of Kazakhstan, who is this year’s OSCE chairmanship, using any platform, and this is usually the highest of all possible, in order to encourage “non-signers” of CTBT to review its solution.
For several sessions of the General Assembly the Kazakh side has publicly drawn to Washington, Delhi, Islamabad and Pyongyang to join the Agreement, which stands signed (including the five nuclear powers) by 182 States, while 153 states ratifying it. To enforce the treaty, it must be ratified by 44 of the most developed nuclear states.
However, only 35 states in this list have ratified the CTBT (including the UK and Russia). At the September ministerial meeting in New York State of Secretary of Kazakhstan, Kanat Suadabaev said that early entry into force of the Treaty could be the catalyst for the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. At the same time Kazakhstan is trying to mobilise all resources, including media, NGOs and public diplomacy to persuade governments that have not yet acceded or ratified the Treaty to do so in the nearest future. In late October at the International Conference on World Free from Nuclear Weapons: strategies of nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation and export control in Oslo, the representatives of Kazakhstan claimed that they consider it is very important as soon as possible to develop an international legally binding instrument which provides safety by nuclear powers to those who do not have nuclear weapons. Only such guarantees can be effectively counter the aspirations of individual non-nuclear states to acquire nuclear weapons, considered by them as a guarantee of safety, said the Kazakh foreign minister. In his opinion, it will give “the necessary impetus to the creation of new zones free of nuclear weapons.” Followed by Kazakhstan – the initiator of the creation in Central Asia a zone free of nuclear weapons – joined Turkey – at the last general debate in the UN General Assembly, the Turkish leader Abdullah Gul issued a statement urging the international community to exert efforts for the speedy establishment of the Middle East zone without nuclear weapons.
Nazarbayev’s initiatives have found strong support from the Ukraine whose Foreign Minister Konstantin Grishchenko, at the same 65th session of UN General Assembly, said that Kiev supports the need for the development and adoption of the Treaty banning the production of materials for nuclear weapons. One of the key states – holders of nuclear weapons, and this time limited to general promises: the U.S. president Barack Obama has proposed only a slight reduction in the production of nuclear materials. However, despite the current situation surrounding the CTBT, the experts, including the Americans believe that the fundamental purpose of the treaty can be achieved by certain actions. First the experts say, it is necessary to tighten the international norms against nuclear explosions and programmes to develop nuclear weapons. Second, the countries that are outside or on the boundaries of the current legal framework (in particular the U.S., India, Pakistan and North Korea) should be persuaded to enter into these frames. Thirdly, equality before the law of both nuclear and non-nuclear states should be guaranteed. The observers point out, that all three of these aims, can be only achieved by exerting pressure on all sides – from the public, governments and legislatures.
Actually, Kazakhstan is actively involved in the policy of this pressure. The Kazakh Republic is ready to support concrete actions inherent in the NPT mechanism to provide all Member States of the Treaty promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy in compliance transparently and undoubtedly under the strict supervision of the IAEA, said recently by Kanat Saudabayev. The significance of these claims confirmed by the absolute readiness of Kazakhstan to real actions: the republic is the largest producer of uranium and has the potential for its processing from high to low. Therefore, the proposal to the IAEA of official Astana to host on its territory nuclear fuel bank and accept the obligations of its storage looks so far the most constructive of voiced over the past decade. Kazakhstan is ready to host additional reserves of low-enriched uranium under the IAEA auspices and assist all states in receipt of guaranteed nuclear fuel for peaceful energy development programs.