WASHINGTON, DC - Monday, April 16, 2012 -
On March 26 and 27, South Korea hosted the second World Nuclear Summit, which followed an inaugural gathering of world leaders in Washington in April 2010, where they had discussed the issues of non-proliferation and nuclear safety.
This year’s high-profile event, attended by dozens of heads of state and government including the presidents of Russia, China, and the United States, highlighted Kazakhstan’s special place on the non-proliferation agenda.
Twenty years ago, Nursultan Nazarbayev, elected as the first president of a sovereign Kazakhstan, ordered the closure of the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site, where the first Soviet atomic bombs exploded back in 1949. This decision further materialized in a joint U.S.-Russian operation to remove remaining nuclear materials from the dismantled facilities.
In his speech at the plenary session of the Seoul Summit, President Nazarbayev reiterated his country’s commitment to the fundamental principles of non-proliferation and formulated a series of proposals aiming to strengthen nuclear security. Recalling the disastrous accident at the Fukushima power plant in Japan, he suggested adopting three guiding principles, such as “universalism,” “transparency and rapid response” as well as “equality and trust.”
Universalism means consolidating scientific knowledge in the nuclear field in order to ensure homogeneity of safety rules in different countries using atomic energy. Transparency and rapid response should permit wide distribution of information concerning minor or major nuclear incidents, together with the possibility to rapidly intervene in crisis situations. The last principle mentioned by Nazarbayev considers all countries equal before the benefits of nuclear energy and encourages international cooperation based on mutual trust.
In this regard, Kazakhstan’s leader noted that his country and the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) were already at the final stage of technical consultations to set up the International Low-Enriched Uranium Bank on Kazakh territory.
“All countries should be endowed with equal rights to access nuclear technologies and have the possibility to use guaranteed stocks of low-enriched uranium […]. This is our concrete contribution to the strengthening of nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament,” Nazarbayev said.
The idea of an international institution working under IAEA supervision to ensure controllable enrichment activities was first proposed by the Kazakh leader at the 2010 Washington Summit organized at the initiative of U.S. President Barack Obama. In September the same year, Kazakhstan hosted an international conference against nuclear terrorism, followed in October 2011 by the Forum for a nuclear-free world.
In January 2012, Kazakh and U.S. military experts organized joint exercises staging a serious radiological incident during the transportation of fissile materials. At the same time, Kazakhstan joined the G8 Global Partnership against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. It also sponsored the creation of a regional center for nuclear security based on the Kazakh National Nuclear Institute.
Another success of Kazakhstan’s nuclear diplomacy was last year’s ratification of amendments to the 1979 Convention on the physical protection of nuclear material. At the suggestion of President Nazarbayev, the final Seoul Declaration was supplemented with a paragraph calling on all signatories of the Convention to promptly adopt the 2005 amendments, which will allow their enforcement starting in 2014. The participants in the summit also decided to adopt a recommendation to implement individual measures on the reduction of highly enriched uranium in the production of nuclear power plants by 2013.
Moreover, the heads of state and government agreed to increase their subsidies to the Physical Nuclear Security Fund operated by the IAEA. In order to stabilize the format of regular gatherings on nuclear issues, the Seoul Declaration included Nazarbayev’s suggestion to hold formal meetings with a two-year interval. The next nuclear summit is scheduled to take place in the spring of 2014 in the Netherlands, whereas the Kazakh leader invited his colleagues to the Kazakh capital Astana for any future summit.
On the sidelines of official talks, Nazarbayev held a series of bilateral meetings. In a tête-a-tête with South Korea’s Lee Myun-Bak, he reconfirmed the two countries’ strategic partnership, highlighting successful projects in the oil and gas industry as well as substantial improvements in trade relations. Nazarbayev later received compliments from Barack Obama who spoke of Kazakhstan as a role model on nuclear issues and thanked his counterpart for providing support to NATO’s military operations in Afghanistan.
The Kazakh leader insisted on the importance of building strong relations with the international community and individual states by giving up the use of force provided by the atom. “We have reached strategic partnership [with the U.S.]. The U.S. already invested more than $20 billion in Kazakhstan, in terms of FDI [foreign direct investment]. I think it is a clear demonstration […]. I call on all countries aspiring to nuclear weapons, including Iran, to follow Kazakhstan’s example and obtain benefits for their people”, Nazarbayev concluded.
(This article was first published in the Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst (www.cacianalyst.org), a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program Joint Center.)