On March 2, Kazakhstan Ambassador Kairat Umarov signed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (Ban Treaty) on behalf of Kazakhstan at the United Nations in New York.
Kazakhstan had already rejected nuclear weapons in the early 1990s, after inheriting the fourth largest nuclear weapons arsenal in the world following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The catastrophic humanitarian consequences of the 456 Soviet nuclear tests in Kazakhstan from 1949-1991 moved the government to reject nuclear weapons and to lead a number of regional and global initiatives. These included the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in Central Asia, and the declaration by the UN of August 29 as the International Day Against Nuclear Tests.
‘We have learned through the stories from second-generation nuclear test victim Karipbek Kuyukov and the ATOM Project of the health impact of the nuclear tests in Kazakhstan,’ said Marzhan Nurzhan (Kazakhstan), Convener of the Abolition 2000 Youth Network. ‘These tests have caused catastrophic consequences for the health of nearly 2 million people living in the ‘Polygon’ region (East Kazakhstan). And they will impact on the health of subsequent generations for hundreds of thousands of years to come. It is this experience which unites the people of Kazakhstan and the government in a common quest for the global abolition of nuclear weapons.’
Last month, nuclear disarmament advocates Gene Seidman and Alyn Ware met with Ambassador Umarov in New York to encourage Kazakhstan to sign the treaty and to participate at the highest possible level in the UN High-Level Conference on Nuclear Disarmament.
Kazakhstan had participated in the negotiations of the Ban Treaty in June-July last year, but appeared to have been waiting to sign the treaty until after their term as Presidency of the UN Security Council in January this year. Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev used this opportunity to chair a special session of the Security Council on nuclear disarmament and confidence building on January 18.
‘President Nazarbayev is aware that none of the nuclear-armed States or the allies under extended nuclear deterrence are prepared to join the nuclear ban treaty,’ says Alyn Ware, Global Coordinator of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament. ‘He therefore pitched the UN Security Council session toward initiatives and processes that might have some impact on the nuclear-reliant States and some possibility to engage them. In addition to common security alternatives to nuclear deterrence, President Nazarbayev has advanced a timeline for global nuclear disarmament – the 100th anniversary of the United Nations – that is difficult for the nuclear-reliant States to reject out-of-hand.’
Kazakhstan has also called on all governments to reduce military spending and reallocate funds to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals.
‘The $1 trillion planned to be spent over the next ten years on nuclear weapons could, amongst other things, help feed the planet, phase out fossil fuels to prevent further climate change, provide basic health care for 100s of millions, and ensure every child has a decent education,’ says Gene Seidman who is coordinating Count the Nuclear Weapons Money, a civil society action taking place in New York during the UN High-Level Conference on Nuclear Disarmament. ‘The Kazakhstan example demonstrates that countries currently possessing nuclear weapons can give them up and be more secure, more influential internationally and better off economically.’
President Nazarbayev highlighted this point in the UN Security Council session on January 18, when he told the nuclear armed and allied States that “Those nuclear bombs and rockets do not possess real power. The true protection is provided through the trust of the international community.”
‘My generation, and those to follow, deserve to live in a world free from the threat of nuclear weapons,’ said Marzhan Nurzhan. ‘We are working across borders, religions, nationalities, and political differences, uniting young and old to forge a global movement of parliamentarians, civil society and like-minded governments that will overcome the insanity of those with their fingers on the nuclear button.’