Kazakhstan Pushing For Nuclear Nonproliferation, Yet To Renounce Civilian Nuclear Technology

By Odimegwu Onwumere
Donald Trump and Nursultan Nazabayev at The White House
Donald Trump and Nursultan Nazabayev at The White House

President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan is pursuing a policy of nonproliferation of nuclear weapons across the globe. Recently, the country was elected as non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, a feat analysts say Nazarbayev does not merit given his significant human rights problems amongst which are limits on the right to vote in free and fair elections, restrictions on freedoms of expression, press, assembly, religion, and association in Kazakhstan since 1990 he was elected to power, and the building of civilian nuclear technology in Astana christened Expo 2017, Odimegwu Onwumere writes

Kazakhstan advised countries of the world to embrace her nuclear weapons nonproliferation policy and that everyone should build a world devoid of nuclear weapons by 2045 – the UN’s centennial.

An account recently from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs while signing a treaty on nonproliferation of nuclear weapons conveyed that it was the decision of President Nursultan Nazarbayev to shut down the country’s second largest nuclear test site and repudiation of the nuclear bequest of the Cold War.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs told the world that their country’s decision was not a fluke, but a well thought out decision in order to tell the world that Kazakhstan was a sane country that had sorry tales from nuclear tests.

“Since the collapse of the Soviet Union left Kazakhstan with an enormous arsenal of bombs, the United States has spent more than $600 million (€440 million) to secure plutonium and uranium in Kazakhstan, under the auspices of Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR), a program designed to secure and ultimately destroy weapons of mass destruction throughout the former Soviet republics,” said a source that would prefer anonymity. Yet, critics were of the belief that no matter the efforts by the Kazakhstan on nonproliferation of nuclear weapons, she was yet to renounce her civilian nuclear technology and the United States was playing politics with this. They believed that this would aid proliferators, such as Pakistan was aided by China to achieve her nuclear weapons and India had Soviet nuclear technology support.

However, Kazakhstan had in 1991 hosted what was regarded as one of the leading nuclear test sites of the Soviet kingdom, as well as the fourth major nuclear collection in the world. Those who know better said that it was bigger than those of the United Kingdom, France, and China pooled together. Forecasters however praised Kazakhstan for choosing to assent to START-I, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty even though she was jammed amid two nuclear-armed giants. Not perturbed by this, Kazakhstan gave all nuclear “warheads to Russia instead of maintaining and building up an independent deterrent it could ill afford,” said critics. “This was vastly consequential – and highly controversial.”

Foreign Affairs Priorities
Nazarbayev was all hopes on 18 January this year to preside over an intense subject such as “non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and measures of trust” in the UN where other countries were fully represented. This was a subject she had been hammering on for years.

"Such was the feeling among our people that we closed the Semipalatinsk site even before we became an independent country on the breakup of the Soviet Union 20 years ago,” Nazarbayev had written in a New York Times op-ed from 2012 entitled "What Iran Can Learn From Kazakhstan”.

He opined further, “With independence, we became the world’s fourth-largest nuclear power. One of our first acts as a sovereign nation was voluntarily to give up these weapons. Since then, we have worked tirelessly to encourage other countries to follow our lead and build a world in which the threat of nuclear weapons belongs to history."

Kazakhstan was chiefly known for her concern against proliferation of nuclear weapons and making “nuclear nonproliferation” one of her principal foreign affairs main concern. According to data, “The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was adopted July 7, 2017 with the support of 122 UN Member States. It was the outcome of two sessions of a UN Conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.”

It was in New York that the conference took place from March and June-July 2017. While the conference was opened for all UN member states to take part, examination revealed that nine de facto and de jure nuclear weapons dominating states and their buddies boycotted the conference.

Meeting Of Two Presidents
While on a two-day diplomatic visit to the United States from January 16-18, 2018, Nazabayev met with United States President Donald Trump.

Before the meeting, Kazakhstan was the 57th signatory state to the treaty, where five of which endorsed it.

Kazakhstan’s stance was on how to end the menace called nuclear weapons and by August 29 last year, she instated a Low Enriched Uranium Bank.

This investiture was backed by the IAEA of which the EU was one of the biggest donors in the project. However, investigation revealed, "Nazarbayev not only embraced nuclear disarmament but made it a part of his country’s brand.

“Kazakhstan brokered the Treaty of Semipalatinsk, which established the Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone comprised of all five former Soviet republics of the region, and disposing of highly enriched uranium in cooperation with the U.S."

The EU in appraisal to the role Kazakhstan was playing against nuclear weapon characterised her Low Enriched Uranium Bank project by a “success for international cooperation” on nuclear non-proliferation.

Presidents Trump and Nazarbayev discussed business and other issues around the world. Amidst their diplomatic attraction, Kazakh presidency was much concerned about the situation of nuclear weapons as has been the case in areas like Afghanistan, Central Asia and in the Middle East.

Nazerbayev was apprehensive about the proliferation of nuclear weapons in North Korea, and the fragile diplomatic relationship that exists between the United States and Russia. Nazabayev told Trump, “The North Korea problem can be solved only by joint efforts of the USA, Russia and China. And we, the neighbours of Russia, are concerned about the political relations between the US and Russia that have gone down to zero.”

Security Council for 2017-2018
Nuclear weapons nonproliferation became a hyper-subject of interest when Kazakh president appeared at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), earlier in the year. While at the UN Security Council, Nazarbayev stressed that the strength of the world ought not to be in nuclear bombs and missiles, but in correlating with the world society as genuine defence.

In his words, "Only nuclear disarmament and confidence-building measures through the complete elimination of nuclear arsenals constitute the only and absolute guarantee against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons."

In a bid to cling a non-permanent seat on the Security Council for 2017-2018, Kazakhstan had secured 138 votes against Thailand’s 55 in a landslide victory in 2016.

It was the first time the country was to be given such an opportunity in which (Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Kuwait, Poland, Peru and Netherlands) were elected non-permanent members of the Security Council.

Nazerbayev who has been in power since 1991 the country attained her independence from the former Soviet Union, was grateful to Trump that his country was recognised to the echelon of global diplomacy.

US Politics With Nazarbayev
While serving as President of the United States, Barrack Obama had praised Nazarbayev for embracing nonproliferation agreement. In 2012, news had it that the duo met in South Korea, where Obama observed before the media that he wanted to “congratulate (Nazarbayev) on his leadership”.

Obama’s decision was formed due to what he saw as Kazakhstan’s choice to give up nuclear weapons. But upon the praise by the immediate past and present government of the United States, critics were skeptical why Nazarbayev should be recognised at the UNSC given “A U.S. State Department report from 2015 detailed a list of “significant human rights problems” in Kazakhstan since 1990 he was elected to power.”

They went further to say, “Among them: limits on the right to vote in free and fair elections, along with “restrictions on freedoms of expression, press, assembly, religion, and association, since Nazarbayev hugged power.”

It was observed that the United States was not really pushy to make Nazarbayev relinquish power as far as their diplomatic ties are intact. This notion rang a bell when the United Sates' President Trump was President-elect; what he did first was to praise Nazarbayev.

According to Kazakh readout of the call, analysts said, "Donald Trump spoke over the phone with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev earlier this week, praising the dictator for the country’s “miracle” during his reign.

"During the phone conversation Wednesday, Mr. Trump congratulated Nazarbayev on the country’s 25thanniversary of independence, with the Kazakh president offering his own commendations to the businessman-turned-politician on his “historic presidential win.”

Civilian Nuclear Technology
Upon her nonproliferation of nuclear weapons bequest, critics have accused Kazakhstan as the leading maker of uranium ore in the world and she had also, not relinquished civilian nuclear technology.

They said that Kazakhstan hosted the Expo 2017, at the capital, Astana, and the international exposition’s theme was “Future Energy”, featuring nuclear energy rather outstandingly. According to Ariel Cohen, Ph.D., a senior nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council and director of the Center for Energy, Natural Resources and Geopolitics, at the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, “To combine its lucrative nuclear energy business and uniquely determined nonproliferation foreign policy, Nazarbayev’s government also came up with an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)-sponsored low enriched uranium (LEU) bank – the very first of its kind in the world.”

Cohen feared that by producing this, “Kazakhstan seeks to store low enriched uranium (the fuel for civilian nuclear reactors) in their country instead of in other countries under a guarantee of international supervision to assure the uranium hexafluoride is only processed for peaceful civilian purposes, and then shipped back to the customer. The LEU bank is operated by the IAEA in agreement with nuclear powers, including the United States, and neighboring Russia and China, who hold key strategic positions when it comes to transportation of the nuclear material.”

  • Odimegwu Onwumere is a multiple awards-winning journalist based in Rivers State, Nigeria. He can be reached via [email protected]