The Soviet legacy of 1410 nuclear weapons and a vast nuclear infrastructure, left on Kazakhstan’s shoulders, had been seemingly disturbing for a surprisingly short time: by 1995, the entire soviet weapon arsenal had been transported back to Russia. After becoming independent, Kazakhstan has verified its firm position on nuclear non-proliferation and, in fact, has been taking active steps towards denuclearization. Their immediate stance is not surprising or groundless: the sufferance of numerous nuclear tests with devastating environmental and health effects coupled with the implicit pressure from the international community are understandable.
Denuclearization was an important step for Kazakhstan’s future cooperation with other international actors and presence within the international community. In fact, ratifying the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear weapons state has provided security assurances by the Permanent Five states of the UN Security Council to the young and relatively vulnerable, in terms of sovereignty, Kazakhstan. Nursultan Nazarbayev’s approach and commitment to denuclearize opened up western doors of investment and technological support, which was so much needed at the time to develop its energy resources.
While there are quite a few evident incentives for Kazakhstan to denuclearize, the state itself has been enthusiastic and even launched the ATOM (Abolish Testing. Our Mission) Project: an international advocacy and education campaign on the harmful consequences of nuclear weapons testing and proliferation of nuclear weapons themselves. Last year, Kazakhstan also established a low-enriched uranium bank by signing an agreement with the IAEA, thereby strengthening their position on the nuclear non-proliferation regime.
In the international arena, Kazakhstan pays close attention to other nuclear non-proliferation initiatives undertaken by their neighbours. For example, convincing North Korea to abandon nuclear testing practices and returning to the six-party talks with the US, China, Russia, Japan, and South Korea on denuclearization are of importance not only to the international community but to Kazakhstan as well.
All in all, by closing the Semipalatinsk Test Site, joining the International Atomic Energy Agency, eliminating nuclear weapons infrastructure with the support of the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, participating in the drafting of the Central Asian Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Treaty, and undertaking additional obligations in order to prevent nuclear proliferation, Kazakhstan indeed has shown itself to be highly committed to denuclearize. In fact, this year, Kazakhstanis may easily celebrate their 25 years of independence, along with their 25 years of denuclearization and non-proliferation regime.
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