WASHINGTON, D.C – U.S. legislators from both sides of the aisle, the Kazakhstan Ambassador to the United States, representatives of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (PNND), The ATOM Project and more than 200 others gathered in the Russell Senate Building Feb. 27 for an evening meant to encourage anti-nuclear weapons dialogue and, according to PNND who co-organised the event along with the Kazakhstan Embassy, “build parliamentary engagement in practical measures to advance nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, and achieve a nuclear weapons free world.”
According to PNND, in 2007, four high-level U.S. statesmen advanced the goal of a nuclear weapons free world as something that must be “sought collectively to reverse nuclear proliferation and achieve security, but noted that such a goal was like an extremely high mountain that would take some effort to climb.”
In the seven years since that time, that aim has been embraced and endorsed by U.S. President Barack Obama, as well as leaders of other nuclear weapon states, their allies and the United Nations.
However, much work remains to be done and organisations like PNND and The ATOM Project, along with like-minded leaders, such as U.S. Senator and PNND Co-President Ed Markey, are continuing the effort.
The Feb. 27 event included inspirational speeches by Senator Markey, Global Security Institute President Jonathan Granoff, Kazakh Ambassador to the United States Kairat Umarov, PNND Global Coordinator Alyn Ware, as well as ATOM Project Honorary Ambassador, armless artist and nuclear weapons testing survivor Karipbek Kuyukov.
Senator Markey, who hosted the event, urged those in attendance to embrace the cause, as well as highlighted other, better ways the U.S. can spend funds now devoted to its nuclear arsenal. In his speech, Markey announced he was introducing a bill into the U.S. Senate, which he did on Feb. 28, that would cut $100 billion over the next decade from the U.S. nuclear weapons budget. The Smarter Approach to Nuclear Expenditures, or “SANE” Act, is co-sponsored by Senator Jeff Merkley. Companion legislation has been introduced in the U.S. House by Representative Earl Blumenauer.
The SANE Act is similar to the one Markey introduced in the House of Representatives in 2012, before he was elected to the U.S. Senate.
“America faces a real choice: spend billions on nuclear weapons we no longer need or fund programmes that educate our children and help find cures to deadly diseases,” Markey said as he announced the bill in his Feb. 27 speech at the reception in the Russell Building’s historic Kennedy Caucus Room. “We need to stop pouring billions into the nuclear weapons programmes of the past and instead prioritize our nation’s pressing needs. The SANE Act will cut spending on outdated, wasteful nuclear weapons and related programmes over the next ten years and will strengthen our long-term economic and national security,” said Markey.
According to Markey and his supporters, the SANE Act will: reduce deployed strategic submarines from 14 to 8 and reduce the purchase of replacement submarines from 12 to 8 – saving $16 billion; cut warhead life extension programmes and defer the development of new ICBMs – saving $15 billion; remove the nuclear mission from F-35s and delay the new long range bomber – saving over $32 billion; and cancel nuclear weapon making facilities and missile defence programmes – saving $37 billion.
Programmes to modernize various nuclear warheads would be done away with under the bill, and work would be delayed on a new class of intercontinental ballistic missiles, resulting in an estimated $15 billion in U.S. taxpayer dollars. The legislation would axe all missile-defence activities, and cancel plans to build new facilities for fissile-material processing in order to cut an additional $37 billion.
In his remarks at the reception, Kairat Umarov also told the gathering of Kazakhstan’s efforts to be a leader in global nuclear non-proliferation and reminded participants that his country unilaterally disarmed what was then the world’s fourth largest nuclear and missile arsenal.
“One and half million people and a large area in Kazakhstan were harmed by these tests. That is why our people know the cost of nuclear testing. And our country, having firsthand knowledge of the impact of nuclear tests and having waived the right to a vast arsenal of nuclear weapons inherited from the Soviet Union has the moral authority to call for a world free from nuclear weapons,” Umarov told the gathering which also included staffers from both Democratic and Republican parties, non-proliferation and security experts as well as parliamentarians from around 15 countries who attended the PNND 2014 assembly which took place prior to the event.
Umarov also expressed support for The ATOM Project, an initiative launched by President Nursultan Nazarbayev to permanently end nuclear weapons testing and rid the world of nuclear arsenals.
“We have seen unwavering support for the [ATOM Project] initiative, not only in our country, but internationally. But we can and must achieve greater results. That is why we call on all people of goodwill to support The АТОМ Project and make the realisation of a nuclear weapons free world our primary purpose for a better tomorrow,” he said.
The ATOM Project’s immediate mission is to galvanise global public opinion against nuclear weapons testing in order to achieve the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). As of early March 2014, the 1996 treaty was signed by 183 countries and ratified by 162 nations, yet its entry into force depends on its signature and ratification by eight specific countries – China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan and the United States.
As of March 10, more than 80,000 people from more than 100 countries signed the ATOM Project’s online petition calling on the global leaders to make an important step towards nuclear disarmament.
The evening at the U.S. Senate concluded with a short documentary film by The ATOM Project and an inspiring speech by Karipbek Kuyukov.
He was born less than 100 kilometres away from the so called “ground zero” of the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site, a place where more than 100 above ground nuclear tests were conducted. He was born without arms as a result of his parents’ exposure to radiation resulting from Soviet-era nuclear weapons testing.
Kuyukov told the crowd that doctors were so horrified at the sight of him at birth that they suggested to his parents that he be given a lethal injection to end his life. He said he was grateful to his parents to this day for giving him that second chance to live when they decided to keep him as a baby. He also told of the premature deaths of his siblings and of the suffering of others in villages around theirs as a result of nuclear weapons testing.
He has since gone on to become a renowned visual artist and travels the globe on behalf of The ATOM Project sharing his story. He said he had travelled to the United States in the hope that his story will lead him to be the last person to suffer as a result of nuclear weapons testing.
“It is my mission to be one of the last to suffer from nuclear testing,” Kuyukov said of his desire to spare future generations from the horrors of nuclear weapons use such as birth defects, physical deformity, and premature death. He presented a collection of his artwork which he paints with his mouth and feet and through which he tries to encourage people to be more resolute in their efforts to build a world without nuclear weapons.
“I am on a mission and I have a vision,” Kuyukov said in English as he concluded his speech, drawing prolonged applause from the audience which could not help but be moved.