Nuclear disarmament, which UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has described as a “global public good of the highest order” holds the key to peace and security. However, despite some progress, an estimated 18,000 nuclear weapons continue to threaten the very existence of humanity. That’s right: we in Kazakhstan believe nuclear weapons are the threat, not the saviour of mankind.
And we have good reasons to believe so.
Radiation-induced cancers and birth defects will affect many, often over decades after the exposure of those affected. And they will affect their descendants generations later.
When Kazakhstan was part of the USSR, almost 500 nuclear tests were conducted between 1949 and 1989 at Semipalatinsk, including 340 underground and 116 atmospheric explosions. Altogether, the cumulative power of nuclear explosions at Semipalatinsk equals more than 2,500 Hiroshima bombs. As a result, the area of the test site of more than 18,000 square kilometres was contaminated with radiation to one degree or another and, according to the UN, as many as 1.5 million people suffered and died from radiation-related health problems that can be attributed directly or indirectly to the nuclear tests.
Twenty-four years ago, upon its independence, Kazakhstan, under the leadership of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, renounced the nuclear weapons arsenal it inherited from the Soviet Union and shut down the infamous Semipalatinsk nuclear test site. Kazakhstan’s leadership has proven that our people have the courage, the vision and the steadfast commitment to developing a nuclear safe world.
In his recent remarks at the United Nations General Assembly’s 70th Session, President Nazarbayev looked ahead 30 years to its centennial in 2045 to propose far-reaching reforms.
Among the initiatives in his five-point programme is a proposal to achieve total nuclear disarmament worldwide. “In the year of the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I would urge that a world without nuclear weapons becomes the main goal of humanity in the twenty-first century. I propose that we adopt the Universal Declaration of the United Nations on the achievement of a world free from nuclear weapons. There is an acute need to establish nuclear-weapon-free zones in other regions of the world, particularly the Middle East. The nuclear powers must provide guarantees of the non-use of force for all countries that renounce possession of nuclear weapons,” the Kazakh President said in New York.
“We consider the creation of a global anti-nuclear weapons movement an important task. Every person on the planet can and must contribute to the nuclear test ban,” he added.
In Kazakhstan, we believe the nuclear test ban, and more generally, a world without nuclear weapons, are achievable goals if global leaders have and apply the political will and share the aspirations and expectations of the people of the world to remove this gravest of threats looming over our planet.
With such political will, more than expected is possible. A recent example is the agreement over Iran’s nuclear programme reached between Tehran and the P5+1 group of international parties.
In 2013, Kazakhstan hosted two rounds of talks on the Iranian nuclear program in Almaty to provide fresh impetus to the challenging negotiations process. Two years later, we were glad to welcome the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action regarding Iran’s Nuclear Programme.
At the same time, in line with 34th U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower’s famous idea of using “Atoms for Peace,” we believe it is essential to guarantee the right of states to peaceful nuclear energy and non-discriminatory access to nuclear fuel. That is why we supported and signed the Agreement on the Establishment of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Bank of Low Enriched Uranium in Kazakhstan. This is an event of global significance and an important step towards the safe and peaceful use of the atom. The world should acknowledge it as an important measure for the safe and peaceful use of the atom. As a result of the bank, countries seeking to develop peaceful nuclear power will no longer need to fear a disruption in the ability to procure uranium internationally for their needs, provided they observe all the rules for peaceful nuclear development.
However, working towards nuclear disarmament is not only a duty of governments; we should not underestimate our personal responsibility. Today, we have to mobilise global public opinion more widely than ever in order to eliminate nuclear weapons. Behind important political decisions often stand the voices and actions of citizens who pressure or encourage governments to do more to address the people’s concerns.
Have you ever noticed that other people do not look like you? Or do not think like you? Or do not act like you?
Karipbek Kuyukov is one such person. He was born in a small village, 60 miles from the infamous Semipalatinsk nuclear test site where the Soviet Union conducted almost 500 nuclear weapon tests. Those tests and the resulting radiation in the area exposed his parents to harmful effects and resulted in Kuyukov being born without arms.
He has overcome many obstacles to become an anti-nuclear weapons activist and renowned artist whose works have been shown around the world. Today, he often paints portraits of the victims of nuclear testing and, as the honorary ambassador to The ATOM Project, speaks out against nuclear weapons at conferences and events held in such places as the United Nations and the United States Congress.
“Everywhere I have been to, people have known about Kazakhstan and about the unprecedented nuclear disarmament peace-making initiatives of our head of state,” said Kuyukov. “I weep when I hear those calling for more nuclear weapons. I fear for our planet and humanity when I read news stories about countries expanding their nuclear arsenals. After all the horror, all the fear and all the danger, after the recent terrorist attacks, have we learnt nothing? How many more, like me, must suffer?”
The ATOM Project is an international campaign, initiated by President Nazarbayev at an international conference on nuclear disarmament issues hosted by Astana in August 2012. It is designed to raise global awareness surrounding the human and environmental devastation caused by nuclear weapons testing by joining together to show the world’s leaders that the world’s citizens deserve and demand a world without nuclear weapons testing.
If billions of people understand the very meaning of nuclear weapons, the world community will get enough spirit and power to get rid of nuclear weapons forever.
More than 210,000 people from more than 120 countries have signed The ATOM Project’s online petition to world leaders. One on the goals of The ATOM Project is to deliver this petition to the leaders of the world’s nuclear powers and to the leaders of the countries that have either not signed or ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), seeking the goal of ensuring the entry into force of this treaty as the legal means of putting a permanent stop to nuclear weapons testing globally.
CTBT was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 10, 1996 but it has not entered into force due to the non-signature and non-ratification by eight specific states – China, Egypt, North Korea, India, Iran, Israel, Pakistan and the United States.
Kazakhstan and Japan have been appointed co-chairs of the Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of the CTBT for 2015-2017. During Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Astana on Oct. 27, he and President Nazarbayev issued a strongly-worded joint statement to advance the CTBT entry into force.
“As countries which experienced and are fully aware of the threat of nuclear weapons, Kazakhstan and Japan share the moral authority and responsibility to raise the awareness of the people throughout the world about the humanitarian catastrophes nuclear weapons have brought about. With this special mission in mind, Kazakhstan and Japan are determined to work together closely, pursuing a world free of nuclear weapons,” the leaders said in the statement.
“We welcome the progress made on the universalisation of the CTBT: 183 states have signed the treaty, 164 states have ratified it.Yet we remain strongly concerned that the CTBT has not entered into force and urge the remaining eight Annex 2 states, whose ratification is necessary for the entry into force of the CTBT, to sign and ratify the CTBT without further delay,” the two leaders said in the statement.
“We appeal to all states to make the utmost effort to achieve the prompt entry into force of the CTBT. We dedicate ourselves individually and jointly to realising this honourable goal,” stated the two leaders.
The use of nuclear weapons either by states or rogue terrorist actors is one of the most serious threats to global security and stability in our time. Former Secretary General Kofi Annan of the United Nations said that an act of nuclear terrorism “would thrust tens of millions of people into dire poverty.”
The international community must take joint actions to create a nuclear-weapons-free world to prevent potential disaster. Even accidental use of such weapon can destroy our planet.
Therefore, we must not waver in resolve and should redouble our efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons. Sooner or later, humanity will rid itself of this sword of Damocles. My hope is to witness this achievement in my lifetime.