WASHINGTON, DC – Although four nuclear security summits held at the U.S. President Barack Obama’s initiative since 2010 have produced remarkable legacy in strengthening the security of dangerous materials around the world, much more remains to be done to make the mankind safer in the face of a threat of nuclear apocalypse, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said on April 1, 2016 at NSS in Washington, DC.
As national leaders completed their fourth Nuclear Security Summit, we can reflect on what has been accomplished. Three previous meetings have produced a new level of cooperation between nations to account for and control the circulation of dangerous nuclear materials. President Barack Obama’s leadership in calling for these summits has made real and lasting contributions to the cause of nuclear security.
As the summits conclude, however, the international community should recognize that nuclear risks are growing, not receding. The increasing sophistication of trans-national terror organizations and emerging regional conflicts pose new challenges that must be considered.
Ending the nuclear threat will be the work of generations. Ultimately, nations must adopt a new model of security; one that replaces the idea that nuclear weapons guarantee security with a more permanent system of mutual cooperation at the regional and global level.
A new path for nuclear security is not unrealistic. Indeed, recent history offers a guide. It is fitting, therefore, that we will meet in Washington twenty-five years after the creation of the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program. This effort, authored by Senator Sam Nunn and Senator Richard Lugar, has produced results that few thought possible in 1991.
The security cooperation undertaken in these last twenty-five years demonstrates what can be achieved when the threat is clearly recognized. Kazakhstan has first-hand knowledge of this. The higher purpose of securing dispersed nuclear, chemical and biological weapons allowed former adversaries to think anew about security.
Consider the experience of Kazakhstan. As a newly independent nation in 1991, in an unstable region, we inherited the world’s fourth largest arsenal of nuclear weapons. But Kazakhstan’s history as a testing ground for Soviet nuclear weapons, where 500 nuclear weapon tests exposed more than one and a half million citizens and contaminated large areas of our country, led us to a different conclusion about security.
With the support of the people of Kazakhstan, we closed Soviet-era nuclear testing facilities at Semipalatinsk and shortly thereafter renounced all nuclear weapons on our soil by transferring them to the Russian Federation.
Working under the U.S. Nunn-Lugar program, we secured and transferred large quantities of weapons-grade uranium out of Kazakhstan to Russia and further to the United States for secure disposal. Sites relating to biological weapons were also eliminated.
Eliminating stockpiles of nuclear weapons and materials has made our region safer and more stable . But lasting security will only be achieved through structures that offer mutual security to all parties.
In Central Asia, this began with implementation of confidence building measures. Over time, this cooperation developed into the declaration of Central Asia as a nuclear weapons free zone. All of Kazakhstan’s neighbors have now joined us in rejecting nuclear weapons and the region is more stable as a result. The link between nuclear weapons and national security has been cut in Central Asia.
Our experience has permitted a broader dialogue on nuclear weapons. Our unique history allowed Kazakhstan to facilitate the initial discussions between Iran, the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, in search of a nuclear agreement, which included hosting two rounds of intense talks on the issue in Almaty back in 2013. Recently, a transfer of 60 tonnes of Kazakhstan’s natural uranium to Iran allowed Russia to receive enriched uranium from Iran as part of the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. On this difficult issue, engagement has worked.
The agreement recognizes the sovereign right of all countries to develop nuclear power. At the same time, the cause of concern – uranium enrichment that could produce weapons – must be contained. For this reason, the International Atomic Energy Agency has established the world’s first Low Enriched Uranium Bank under international control in Kazakhstan. The bank will ensure a secure supply of low enriched uranium to any country, thereby eliminating the need for costly and destabilizing enrichment facilities.
Since the last summit two years ago in The Hague, we have also converted a research reactor in Almaty to use low-enriched uranium as a fuel. This step goes in line with our strong and sincere commitment to increase safety procedures in using nuclear technology for a peaceful purpose.
The international community must now consider the path forward after the Nuclear Security Summits. What structures can be created to solve the long-term problem?
Last September, I called on the United Nations General Assembly to set a clear goal to eliminate nuclear weapons by 2045, the centenary of the founding of the UN. The UN has responded by approving the Universal Declaration for the Achievement of a Nuclear-Weapons-Free World.
Reaching this goal will require work by those who support us. But we must advance with each small step.
Start by banning all nuclear testing. The United Nations has declared August 29, the date of the closure of the Semipalatinsk test site, as the International Day against Nuclear Testing. The ATOM (Abolish Testing. Our Mission) Project that we initiated seeks to tell the world of consequences of nuclear weapons testing and calls for the early entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). People in more than 100 countries have already supported the project’s calls. Eight countries, including China, India, Pakistan, Iran, Egypt, Israel, North Korea and the United States must sign or ratify the CTBT, signed by 183 and ratified by 164 nations, for progress to be made. As co-chair of the CTBT Review Conference, along with Japan, Kazakhstan intends to work hard to achieve that progress and I call on all states, especially those on whose signature and ratification the CTBT entry into force depends, to show wisdom and responsibility and do the needed.
The test ban will not be a solution in itself. But putting it in force is one more step toward the ultimate goal of eliminating nuclear weapons in our world.