Kazakhstan News Bulletin Released weekly by the Embassy of The Republic of Kazakhstan
Vol. 3, No. 30, August 27, 2001
KAZAKHSTAN AND THE UNITED STATES:
PARTNERS FOR NONPROLIFERATION
WASHINGTON, Aug 27 "Twenty First Century: Towards Nuclear Weapons Free World", a major international conference will draw leaders from around the globe to Almaty, Kazakhstan, August 29-30, 2001. Leaders expected at the invitation of the Kazakh President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, include former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and former German foreign minister Hans Ditrich Henscher. A large U.S. interagency delegation including representatives from the Departments of State, Energy and Defense will take part along with prominent scientists from a number of U.S. National Laboratories.
This event is dedicated to the 10th anniversary of the closing of the Soviet's Semipalatinsk nuclear test site, the largest in the world, by one of the first decrees of President Nazarbayev.
This courageous and farsighted step of Kazakhstan was, as Deputy Prime Minister of Kazakhstan Vladimir Shkolnik said in a recent interview with the New York Times, "tantamount to "the governor of Nevada announcing that he would close Nevada's nuclear test site", without checking with Washington first.
The conference will also become a solemn occasion to pay respect to hundreds of thousands of people in Kazakhstan who have suffered and continue to suffer from the devastating consequences of 468 nuclear and thermonuclear explosions - including 26 above-ground tests, 124 atmospheric and 344 underground - carried out during exactly 42 years of operation of the Semipalatinsk testing range (August 29, 1949 to August 29, 1991). These explosions, with overall strength equal to 20,000 Hiroshima bombs, caused wide spread toll from horrific diseases, left a devastated economy and left enormous swathes of land uninhabitable and useless for generations.
The conference will also offer an opportunity for leaders and experts to determine ways and means to counter proliferation threats in the 21st century.
The fact that the conference is taking place in Kazakhstan make it only logical to talk about this young country's contribution to the cause of global nonproliferation, the role the United States has been playing, and the challenges we are facing.
Few people realize today that after the break-up of the Soviet Union Kazakhstan inherited the fourth-largest nuclear arsenal in the world. Instead of joining the ranks of nuclear-weapons states, Kazakhstan, however, chose the path of disarmament and peace, signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and became an active participant of proliferation control processes.
Through the decade of independence Kazakhstan has never strayed from its firm national commitment to the principles of non-proliferation. During that time hundreds of nuclear warheads were moved out of the country, and the testing infrastructure was completely destroyed.
In greater part this was possible because of close cooperation and the high level of trust between Kazakhstan and the United States. In this light, one cannot help mentioning the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program, also known as Nunn-Lugar program.
Perhaps, the most impressive examples of the cooperation between the two nations was the Sapphire operation, when in November 1994 about 600 kilograms of highly enriched uranium, enough to produce 20 to 30 nuclear devices, were transferred and safely transported from Eastern Kazakhstan to the U.S. by two U.S. C-5 cargo planes, which flew 20 hours with five mid-air refuelings.
Not surprisingly Sen. Richard Lugar (R IN), one of the most senior U.S. senators, in an address to Congress recently stressed the importance and success of many years of cooperation between Kazakhstan and the U.S. in the sphere of nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation.
Commenting on the conclusion of the work of Kazakh and U.S. experts at the BN-350 fast-breeder reactor in Aktau in July, Sen. Lugar said the project to reduce the risk of unauthorized leakage at one of the world's largest stockpiles of weapons-grade plutonium was 'one of the most ambitious nonproliferation projects undertaken in history'. Strengthening security of the enormous stockpile of plutonium more than 3 tons, enough to make some 400 nuclear bombs, - has also become possible due to the CTR program.
Today many prominent U.S. leaders praise Kazakhstan's contribution to global nonproliferation. In his address to President Nursultan Nazarbayev dedicated to the 10th anniversary of Semipalatinsk closure, President George H.W. Bush stressed 'the fact that Kazakhstan is a non-nuclear state is indeed of extreme importance and I praise your leadership in this sphere'.
The new U.S. Administration attaches great importance to continuing this bilateral nonproliferation cooperation. During his April meeting with Vladimir Shkolnik Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham said Kazakhstan "should be proud of what it did in nonproliferation and we applaud this success".
Kazakhstan's peaceful initiatives have also attracted attention of independent nonproliferation experts. For example, a branch office of the Monterey Institute of International Relations' Center of Nonproliferation Studies has been set up and running in the Republic since 1998. Another institution, the Almaty Nonproliferation Institute was set up in 1997. The Institute is the first independent non-governmental organization studying nonproliferation in Central Asia. The U.S. scientists are supporting the efforts of their Kazakh colleagues, working in the Institute. There is a growing number of experts who are the main driving force studying these problems, coming up with the initiatives of various international actions and conferences. One such initiative was the creation of a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone in Central Asia.
In the beginning of 2001, former Senator Sam Nunn and Ted Turner teamed up to launch the Nuclear Threat Initiative to further strengthen international operations to reduce the growing threat of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Charles Curtis, president of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, believes 'the world has not appreciated the historical step of Kazakhstan and has not rewarded the country for it'. The Initiative intends to develop cooperation with Kazakhstan within the framework of specific nonproliferation projects.
The challenges Kazakhstan and the U.S. are facing today are great. Beyond the nuclear challenge, there is the need to destroy and decontaminate the world's largest anthrax production and weaponization facility. According to the agreement recently signed with the United States, over the next two years the facility in Stepnogorsk in Northern Kazakhstan, built by the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War, will be completely eliminated and decontaminated.
Among the other challenges there is a need to provide for the permanent and safe storage of the huge weapons-grade plutonium stockpile at the BN-350, which, although secured for now, is still located in a very sensitive environment on the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea.
The past decade has proved, however, that together these two countries can do a lot to promote the cause of nonproliferation and disarmament.
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News Bulletin of the Embassy of the Republic of Kazakhstan