Kazakhstan saw more Soviet nuclear tests than anywhere else. It is now leading the world in nuclear disarmament.
Since Kazakhstan rose from the ashes of the old Soviet Union in 1991, the nation has strived to establish a reputation for promoting peace, unity and development. Indeed, one of the first acts of the now long serving president Nazarbayev was to close the infamous Semipalatinsk nuclear test site in 1991; this being the start of a 20 year anti-nuclear campaign.
How fitting is it then that Astana, the nation’s capital played host to an international anti-nuclear forum on the 20th year anniversary of Semipalatinsk’s closure and Kazakhstan’s independence. The symbolism of the event cannot be downplayed and is cited as an example of the direction in which Kazakhstan would like to see the world move. ‘‘The world’s largest nuclear test site functioned on the Kazakh soil, conducted 456 nuclear tests. The total effects of these tests were equivalent to 116 Chernobyl accidents. The consequences will be felt for a long time. One of the first decrees that I signed as President of Kazakhstan was a document on closing the Semipalatinsk test site,” said the President proudly at a recent nuclear forum in Kiev. He is right to be concerned. Kazakhstan is a huge country, but much of it is uninhabitable. The Soviet tests caused innumerable cases of cancer, birth defects, abnormalities and crippled life expectancy. It is estimated one million Kazakhs are living with health problems directly caused by tests at Semipalatinsk.
Kazakhstan’s commitment to disarmament cannot be questioned as it is such an active member in the global movement against weapons of mass destruction and nuclear proliferation, often at massive expense. Last August saw the Secretary of State of Kazakhstan Kanat Saudabayev represent the state and head the delegation of the ‘anti’ movement at the ‘Nuclear Dilemmas: Present and Future’ conference. The conference concluded that as it was apparent that as a number of countries took consistent measures to reduce the nuclear threat, world opinion was against nuclear weapons, and the lofty target of a nuke free world remains a realistic (if ambitious) one.
This conference was just one of many events that have been organized to address this issue. October 12-1 saw Astana and Semey hold the International Forum for Nuclear-Free World. The forum played host to over 200 guests ranging from governments, international bodies, academia and NGO’s and addressed specific concerns about the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty coming into force and how to implement nuclear weapon free zones. In addition, the conference adopted the ’Astana Declaration for a Nuclear-Free World’ in further promotion of the ideal of a nuclear free world.
“The way towards nuclear-free world lies through integrating efforts of all people of the planet. It is crucial to establish global authoritative and powerful anti-nuclear movement. It is important to declare it at today’s Forum and begin its organization on all continents of the planet,’ declared Nazarbayev at the forum and who better to ask on the matter than the Kazakh leader, as his country has led the way in disposing of a truly massive nuclear arsenal as one of it’s first points of interest. It now seems just as intent of relieving the rest of the world from its very own sword of Damocles. “We made a principle decision in favour of nuclear free history of our country and the whole world,” Nazarbayev emphasized.
But what now for Kazakhstan? As keen as the President is to promote Kazakhstan as leading the global effort to enter a nuclear free world, it seems unlikely nuclear states; (especially the emerging nations) are going to disarm any time soon. In the UK the fact there is a discussion on whether or not it should continue it’s ‘Trident’ nuclear program indicates the security council is more reluctant to step out of the shadow of the ‘Cold War era’ where such weapons were viewed as a legitimate deterrent and military necessity. The ideals of this emerging economic power are admirable and this was another Kazakh sponsored event the government view as an important step in the build up to ensuring positive progress is made at the Nuclear Security Summit next year in South Korea, but you cannot help but wonder if Kazakhstan after ridding itself of its Soviet nuclear past would be better served making further steps in the progress and improvement on its own flawed judicial system, human right record and establish a genuine democracy as it’s more immediate challenges.