Today more than ever, the world needs leadership in the field of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. Kazakhstan keeps providing this leadership, writes Jonathan Granoff.
Jonathan Granoff is the president of the Global Security Institute.
In 1949, the first of over 450 nuclear explosive tests, surprised the residents in towns and villages in the northeast corner of Kazakhstan. The sky lit up with a blinding flash of light followed by an enormous mushroom cloud. In houses books falling from shelves and the crashing of dishes could be heard. They had not been forewarned.
For the next forty years, silently, in the bodies of at least one and half million citizens the consequence of the radioactive fall-out of those hundreds of explosions inflicted numerous diseases such as cancer and horrible birth defects. Not only did the explosions cause cracks in houses and roads.
It caused the crack of tragedy in the hearts of millions. The people of Kazakhstan, because of those nuclear tests in the windswept steppe test site at Semipalatinsk, know all too well the reality of nuclear weapons
Millions of activists worldwide in the late 1980s protested nuclear testing, prominent amongst those protests was the Nevada-Semipalatinsk Movement, bringing together the voices of citizens of the USA and the then Soviet Union.
The protesters in Kazakhstan demonstrated enormous courage for they were still living in a system where political repression posed serious dangers.
But times changed and that became very clear when Kazakhstan’s First President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, came into office. He did not ignore or avoid addressing these dreadful devices and their national and global impact.
He set out to bring his sense of responsibility as a witness to the reality of nuclear weapons into meaningful action, not only for his nation but also for the world.
First and foremost, he supported the brave activists who protested the testing in Kazakhstan and he signed the historic Decree shutting down the Semipalatinsk test site on 29 August 1991.
It should be noted Kazakhstan was then still part of the Soviet Union. In his speeches, Nazarbayev has always emphasized that the closure expressed the will of the people.
This bold gesture helped stimulate a moratorium on testing which has to this day restrained the five permanent members of the Security Council and holders of more than 97% of the world’s nuclear arsenals (the P5) – United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, and France from further testing.
It also gave momentum to the global movement to create a treaty to end all nuclear testing, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). 29 August is now the International Day against Nuclear Tests. It was established on December 2, 2009 at the 64th session of the United Nations General
Soon after the Soviet Union collapsed, Kazakhstan, under the leadership of Nazarbayev, set a precedent in world history by abandoning the world’s 4th largest nuclear arsenal and the status of a de facto nuclear power.
This decision was crucial not only for the formation and further development of Kazakhstan but also had far-reaching global consequences. Kazakhstan had inherited more than 100 stationary-based missiles with about 1,400 nuclear warheads.
In addition, 40 strategic Tu-95 MS bombers with 240 cruise nuclear missiles were deployed in Kazakhstan. Giving up this powerful arsenal gained the nation enormous international good will and recognition, and the moral credibility to demand progress on legal duties of all nuclear weapons states to negotiate the universal elimination of nuclear weapons.
Nazarbayev’s strategic decision was instrumental in stimulating confidence in the maturity of independent Kazakhstan. It remains an action of national pride and international respect.
Kazakhstan also set out to address the nuclear non-proliferation problem. In 2017, under the leadership of Nazarbayev, it created the world’s first bank for low enriched uranium under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
This unique mechanism provides countries around the world with the opportunity to develop peaceful nuclear energy without the need to create their own uranium enrichment programs, which represents a proliferation danger.
Kazakhstan has also become an active participant in absolutely all basic international treaties and institutions in the field of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and a strong contributor to stability in the world.
For example, under Nazarbayev’s leadership, it was a leading contributor in the creation of the Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (CANWFZ) signed into force by Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan on 8 September 2006.
Current President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev is continuing the country’s nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament commitments. The world needs leadership today in this field more than ever.
The Nursultan Nazarbayev Foundation has established the “Nazarbayev Prize for Nuclear Weapon Free World and Global Security”, which is awarded every 2 years on 29 August for outstanding contributions to non-proliferation and disarmament.
It was first presented in 2017 to King of Jordan Abdullah II. In 2019, the laureates were the Executive Secretary of the CTBTO Preparatory Commission, Lassina Zerbo and former IAEA Director-General Yukio Amano (posthumously).
In 2012, Nazarbayev announced the launch of the ATOM Project (Abolish Testing – Our Mission). ATOM is an online petition to world governments to forever abandon nuclear testing and to bring the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty into force as soon as possible.
Speaking at the 70th session of the UN General Assembly in September 2015, Kazakhstan’s First President called for making the construction of a world without nuclear weapons the main goal of mankind in the 21st century and the adoption of the UN Universal Declaration on a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World.
In 2016, in his Manifesto: The World, The 21st Century”, Nazarbayev sets forth a comprehensive vision to move toward a world without reliance on militarism and war, but based on a cooperative human-centred approach to security. Now, a recognized official UN document, it contains realistic policy proposals worthy of serious debate today.
The solution of many problems in the field of global security, conflict prevention and resolution, and especially nuclear disarmament depend on the availability of environments and platforms for honest debate and dialogue.
President Nazarbayev thus established the Astana Club – a forum where annually more than 50 world renown politicians and experts discuss current security issues in Eurasia and beyond.
In November 2019, as part of the fifth meeting of the Club, Nazarbayev initiated the creation of an authoritative political platform, the Global Alliance of Leaders for a Nuclear-Free World.
GAL is an alliance of leaders that will allow for an open dialogue with members of the “nuclear club” and make a feasible contribution to strengthening global security.
Kazakhstan, within the framework of the GAL, will act as a neutral dialogue platform for both nuclear and non-nuclear states.
Those who have already supported the project and expressed their readiness to contribute to the implementation of this initiative include former heads of state, heads of international organizations and famous experts: Heinz Fischer (Austrian Federal President 2004-2016), Mohammed El-Baradei, IAEA Director General 1997-2009, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate), Lassina Zerbo (CTBTO Executive Secretary), and others of similar stature.
Nazarbayev, stimulated by perestroika and President Mikhail Gorbachev’s new thinking, developed a vision of a peace loving, open minded, dynamic nation respectful of the rule of law that could be a responsible actor in world affairs.
A bold perspective given the turbulence of these times, it requires diligent and courageous perseverance and a people of enormous dynamism to help advance it, including finding a path to ensuring that the ethnic and religious diversity of their nation can remain harmonious and not lead to conflict as it has been the case so many times in other places. Again, Kazakhstan is providing a good example.