On August 28–29, Astana hosted an international conference at Independence Palace called “From a Nuclear Test Ban to a Nuclear Weapons-Free World.” According to Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, more than 200 participants from more than 75 countries joined representatives from some two dozen international organizations, including the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The Astana conference was jointly organized by several Kazakhstani groups (the Majilis—lower house—of the Parliament, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Nazarbayev Center) as well as the international organization of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (Caspionet, August 30).
The focus of the conference, like the initiative to establish the International Day Against Nuclear Tests, aimed to generate momentum in favor of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and other nuclear disarmament measures. Kazakhstan was one of the first countries to sign the CTBT, but the treaty has yet to secure sufficient ratification to enter into force.
The Astana conference participants called for universal support for the CTBT, an end to any further nuclear weapons production, decreasing the role of nuclear weapons in national security doctrines, creating new nuclear weapons-free zones, and no further nuclear tests. They proposed introducing regulations to ban investments of state funds in companies producing or delivering nuclear weapons. The conference participants also advocated creating new regional zones free of nuclear weapons, especially in the Middle East, Northeast Asia and the Arctic (Caspionet, August 30).
About two thirds of the conference participants also travelled to Semey and Kurchatov in eastern Kazakhstan. They interacted with Semey’s scientific, health, education and cultural institutions, while in Kurchatov they visited the National Nuclear Center, one of Kazakhstan’s most prominent scientific enterprises, as well as a museum in Kurchatov, the former command center of the Semipalatinsk nuclear weapons testing range that Kazakhstan voluntarily closed on August 29, 1991. They also laid a foundation capsule of the future Museum of Peace (Tengrinews, August 29).
A Japanese member of parliament, Hiroyuki Moriyama, said that his country, which has problems storing all its nuclear waste, welcomes Kazakhstan’s offer to establish a nuclear fuel bank. He also noted that many of the objections raised by anti-nuclear activists in Japan would not necessarily apply in Kazakhstan. For example, Kazakhstan does not have earthquakes. Moriyama, who was born in Hiroshima, announced his intention to nominate Nursultan Nazarbayev for a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons. According to the Kazakhstani press, citizens from the United States, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan also declared their intent to nominate Nazarbayev for the prize (Tengrinews, August 29, 30).
Kazakhstan is trying to extend this campaign to the grassroots level. The country launched a new Internet-based project: ATOM, whose abbreviation stands for the first letters of four words in English: “Abolish Testing—Our Mission.” The website has a petition that any individual can sign calling on the world’s governments to adopt the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Kazakhstani officials explained that the ATOM project aimed to decrease global nuclear threats, spread knowledge about the consequences of nuclear weapons tests and mobilize the international community to end nuclear testing. The ATOM project uses social media to promote dialogue among survivors of nuclear explosions as well as NGOs and other Internet users (Central Asia Online, August 29).
In his opening address to the conference on August 29, Nazarbayev called on participants “and all the people of the world to support the ATOM project and make building of a nuclear weapons-free world our most important goal.” He characterized having nuclear weapons as “absolute blasphemy” since their use would be equivalent to committing global “suicide,” which “is condemned by all global religions.” Like U.S. President Barack Obama and many other advocates of nuclear abolition, Nazarbayev stressed that a “nuclear-free world is not achievable overnight. But we should proceed toward it and encourage all nations to support the cause” (Tengrinews, August 29).
In his speech, Nazarbayev identified several urgent challenges in the area of nuclear disarmament and arms control (Caspionet, August 30). First, several countries had still not ratified the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), including Israel, India and Pakistan. Second, while praising the recent New START Treaty adopted by Russia and the United States, Nazarbayev noted that other nuclear weapons states have not followed their example. France and Great Britain are modernizing their nuclear arsenals, while China, India and Pakistan appear to be increasing the size as well as upgrading the capacity of their own nuclear arsenals.
Third, the CTBT has yet to be ratified by all the key countries. Annex 2 of the treaty states they all must adopt the CTBT for the treaty to enter into force. The Russian delegate at the conference, Valentina Matviyenko, the chairman of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of Russia, noted that the United States was one such country whose government has failed to ratify the CTBT. Opponents of the treaty in the U.S. Senate argue that the CTBT lacks adequate means of verification and would unduly constrain the United States from resuming testing following a national emergency.
Fourth, the nuclear powers have not accepted all the various regional nuclear-free zones established in recent years. For example, Britain, France and the United States refuse to recognize the Kazakhstani-backed Central Asia Nuclear Free Zone due to objections to some of its provisions. The zone was established in March 2009, following ratification by Astana of the Treaty of Semipalatinsk, signed in 2006.
Fifth, Nazarbayev joined other global nuclear security experts in complaining that international regulation of the world’s nuclear energy programs remains inadequate. Despite the March 2011 disaster at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant, Nazarbayev lamented the lack of clear and explicit nuclear security standards, which increases the dangers of nuclear terrorism. He singled out the need to secure more national ratifications of the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material to ensure that it can enter into force in 2014 (Tengrinews, August 29).
Noting that “parliamentarians from all countries of the world are present at the conference today,” Nazarbayev said that the “forum can be called a prototype of the global anti-nuclear parliamentary assembly,” an institution he proposed establishing (Kazinform, August 29).
Nazarbayev was clear to stress he favored the continued use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Kazakhstan wants only to ban the use of nuclear technology for military purposes. He argued that nuclear power was essential for “tackling poverty, unemployment and food shortages for” millions of people. His only condition was that the United Nations and the IAEA continue to monitor such projects to confirm their non-military application (Tengrinews, August 29).
Kazakhstan—a leading global producer and exporter of natural uranium—is trying to assume a more central role in the international civilian nuclear energy market, including by offering to host the world’s first IAEA-supervised nuclear fuel bank. However, the late August conference on nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation hosted by Astana was just the latest illustration that Kazakhstan will at the same time continue to champion these global security issues and use them to raise the country’s profile on the international stage.