“Nuclear” August calls for renewed commitment to nuclear security and disarmament

August 6 is Hiroshima Day, the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.

There are two key dates on the world calendar which symbolise the anti-nuclear movement. Both of them are in August. The first one is Hiroshima Day. It was Aug. 6 when the city suffered the world’s first ever nuclear attack and now it has become an eternal symbol of the fight against weapons of mass destruction. The first International Conference for the Prohibition of Atomic and Hydrogen Weapons took place on Aug. 6, 1955 in Hiroshima.

The second date is Aug. 29, the International Day Against Nuclear Tests, approved by the United Nations on the initiative of President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev. On Aug. 29, 1949, the USSR tested its first nuclear weapon, the RDS-1 nuclear bomb at the test site in Semipalatinsk. On the same day in 1991, symbolically, the test site was closed by the decree of President Nazarbayev.

Being historically on different sides of the barricades, both Kazakhstan and Japan eventually united in a common aspiration to achieve a nuclear weapon-free world. After all, our states suffered the most from nuclear weapons.

Astana and Tokyo support each other in all peacemaking initiatives. In particular, the President of Kazakhstan and the Prime Minister of Japan did a lot for the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), becoming permanent irritants for those countries that continue to think in terms of the Cold War era or cherish nuclear ambitions. The document has already been signed by 183 and ratified by 166 states, but has not yet entered into force, as it needs the endorsement of eight specific so called Annex II states with nuclear capabilities. In particular, the treaty was signed, but not yet ratified, by China, Egypt, Iran, Israel and the United States and has not even been signed yet by the the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), India and Pakistan.

Not all of them implement the provisions of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). At the UN Security Council, the President of Kazakhstan proposed to tighten the provisions on the withdrawal of individual states from its regime (for example, the DPRK withdrew from NPT) At the same time, the Security Council should develop measures of influence on states that do not comply with the non-proliferation regime.

An important step in this direction was the development of a new document – the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). Kazakhstan took an active part in drafting the document text, which was the result of two sessions of the UN conference held in March and June-July 2017 in New York.

The conference was open for the participation of all UN member states. However, nine countries, which possess nuclear weapons de facto and de jure, and their allies remained aloof from the topical dialogue. Nevertheless, 122 states parties to the NPT voted for the new treaty. The TPNW was opened for signing in September 2017 and it has been already signed by 59 countries, and ratified by 10 so far. (It will enter into force after the 50th ratification.)

Apparently, there has been a trend, when the upper hand is no longer gained by countries possessing a nuclear arsenal, but by peaceful states creating new rules of the game. It would be good if it were possible to revive anti-nuclear summits in a new format, which had been initiated by the U.S. Administration, but ceased to be necessary after Barack Obama stepped down as U.S. President.

On the eve of the first summit, held in 2010 in Washington, Izvestia newspaper published Nazarbayev’s policy article “The Global Peace and Nuclear Security.” In the article, the President clearly identified three vectors of nuclear disarmament.

The first is switching from a moratorium on nuclear tests to their complete, absolute and unconditional prohibition. The second is the inalienable right of sovereign states to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. And the third is the steady reduction of the nuclear capacity of all real members of the “nuclear club,” formal and informal. This article as a whole anticipated the discussions that unfolded on the global dialogue platform.

As a result of the summit, the special assistant to Obama on national security issues Michael McFaul said that the head of the White House described Nazarbayev as one of the leaders who should be looked up to in nuclear security matters and said that the summit in Washington would not have taken place “without him.”

The second Nuclear Security Summit took place in Seoul. Presidents and heads of government from 53 countries arrived in The Land of the Morning Calm. Participants sought answers to the main question: why, two decades after the end of the Cold War, do we witness a sad irony – the risk of a nuclear attack, on the contrary, has increased. For example, we are talking about the potential threat of nuclear terrorism.

In the world, there are more than 130 reactors using highly enriched uranium. Some of them are in developing countries. Nobody will give an absolute guarantee of the safety of nuclear materials at these facilities. From uranium and plutonium, which are actively used in power engineering, it is possible to create hundreds and thousands of nuclear bombs. This is the rare case when all countries were unanimous in their desire to reduce the common threat.

“The two years that have passed since the meeting in Washington have been full of significant events in the field of global nuclear security. First, in 2011, the NPT Review Conference was held. Second, over two years a large volume of highly enriched uranium has been eliminated in the world. Over 30 states have adopted national commitments in the field of nuclear security. Third, in 2010 the Conference of the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism was held in Astana,” the President of Kazakhstan stressed at that summit.

As Nazarbayev noted, our country has ratified the amendments to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and called on all participants of the Seoul summit to do so. The call of the Kazakh President was reflected in the final communiqué.

The third summit was unusual. From Washington and Seoul, the global dialogue torch was handed over to The Hague and here for the first time the heads of the participating states played a nuclear conflict simulator game seeking answers to questions such as “How to act in case of a nuclear attack?” and “What are the threats?”

The forum, which is characteristic, was held behind closed doors. The broadcast was stopped on the initiative of the organisers a few minutes after the start. But there was not a lack of information. In particular, the heads of state were invited to make video messages, which were broadcast on the margins of the summit. Special attention was paid to the video message of the head of our state, which in a concise, concentrated form revealed the problems of the day and ways to overcome modern threats.

Summarising, we can define several topics on which the President of Kazakhstan has focused.

First, Nazarbayev emphasised that the antiterrorist campaign should not limit the right of states to peaceful nuclear programmes, exchange of technology and equipment, knowledge and experience. But the question is how to combine the desire of many countries to develop peaceful nuclear energy and at the same time, to limit access to nuclear material for a bomb. One of the solutions designed to reduce the risk to a minimum is to phase out the use of highly enriched uranium from the nuclear industry.

“So that every state would not have to enrich uranium for nuclear power plants, we proposed to create a bank of low-enriched nuclear fuel in Kazakhstan. It could provide safe, low-enriched uranium for nuclear power plants,” stressed the head of state.

The second key aspect highlighted by the President is nuclear non-proliferation. It is important to show that the security system is based not on the power of nuclear weapons, but on peaceful dialogue and cooperation. Only this approach can stop the uncontrolled expansion of the nuclear club. Otherwise, the crisis of confidence will only grow.

Indeed, the legitimate nuclear powers include only five states – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. However, several other states possess them de facto and this causes additional problems. In fact, the informal members of the nuclear club are not actually covered by the NPT.

“The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons is violated and no sanctions are taken… We should have a method of enforcement. If the international rules are not followed, the states should be punished. But there are no strict rules,” said the Kazakh head of state.

The fourth and final Nuclear Security Summit again took place on the banks of the Potomac. The agenda was still the same – nuclear terrorism, disarmament and the nuclear ambitions of North Korea, as well as overall increased conflicts in international affairs.

“Today, the use of weapons of mass destruction by terrorists becomes a reality, demanding concrete actions from the world leaders. There is a need to create a global network against terrorism with the participation of all countries under the auspices of the UN. We need to take into account virtually everyone. We need to ensure total control over every human being and fight [against terrorism]. This is the only way we can win in this undeclared war,” said Nazarbayev at the summit.

In this context, alarming statistics of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) draws a rather bleak picture: from 1993-2014, there were more than 1,000 cases of loss, theft and illicit trafficking of nuclear and radioactive materials.

By the way, the efforts of Kazakhstan and the IAEA helped to solve one of the major dilemmas in the development of nuclear energy. The creation of the IAEA low enriched uranium fuel bank was named one of the most important achievements of the summit, which was reflected in the joint statement of the leaders of the states participating in the global forum.

In parallel with the main event, Washington hosted the Nuclear Industry Summit. For the first time, that forum established an international award for contribution to the development of anti-nuclear initiatives. Kazakhstan was the first country to receive it.

Security today has global significance. It could not be viewed through the prism of the boundaries of a single state. Only united efforts can produce a synergetic effect of a breakthrough. That is why it’s quite natural to ask the question: what has been achieved in the eight years since the beginning of the global dialogue?

The results are as follows. Participating states undertook more than 260 specific commitments on the establishment of nuclear security and almost three-quarters of these commitments have been fulfilled. More than a dozen countries have removed highly enriched uranium and plutonium. Over 100 states have ratified the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material.

However, there is another question: what is next? Should we continue the dialogue? Kazakhstan, for example, is ready to update the global Nuclear Security Summit, holding it in Astana. The main thing is to be united and persuade to cooperate those who are not very committed to it… Practice shows, if there is a will, all goals are achievable.

The author is the analyst with the Kazakhstanskaya Pravda newspaper.



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