Analysis & Opinions - The Boston Globe

Kazakhstan's Antinuclear Role

| January 6, 2002

Kazakhstan's Antinuclear Role

By Graham Allison, 1/6/2002

WHEN KAZAKHSTAN is mentioned, most people think of one thing: oil. As the principal source of Caspian energy, Kazakhstan supplies world markets directly through the Caspian Pipeline Consortium.

Opened in September, this pipeline has a capacity of 1 million barrels a day. Furthermore, Kashagan field has been acclaimed as the most significant new discovery of reserves in the past quarter-century.

When President Bush met with Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev at the White House in December, they discussed Kazakhstan's new role in world energy and the campaign against terrorism. The meeting resulted in a joint statement that affirmed their strategic partnership and a US intention to help Kazakhstan integrate more fully into the global economy.

While this meeting addressed important goals, it should also have underlined the significant role Kazakhstan has played in preventing the spread of nuclear weapons. Nazarbayev now has an opportunity to extend that legacy by leading the negotiations for the Central Asian Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty.

In his recent book, ''Epicenter of Peace,'' Nazarbayev affirms Kazakhstan's pride in preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The Semipalatinsk Soviet nuclear testing facility in northeastern Kazakhstan saw more above-ground and underground nuclear tests than any other site on earth. As a result, more than 300,000 people in the region suffer serious health effects from exposure to radiation.

Acutely aware of these consequences, Nazarbayev was the first president among newly independent former Soviet states to call for the elimination of nuclear weapons and the creation of a nuclear-free zone in the Central Asian region.

In theory, Kazakhstan could have emerged as one of the world's nuclear superpowers. Had it taken control of the more than 1,400 nuclear warheads left on its territory when the Soviet Union disappeared, it would commanded an arsenal larger than those of the United Kingdom, France, and China combined. Most of these warheads stood atop missiles aimed at targets in the United States.

Instead, Kazakhstan volunteered to return all nuclear weapons to Russia, signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and entered the world as a nonnuclear state. There are no nuclear weapons in Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan is now in an ideal position to exercise leadership in the campaign to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. Nazarbayev has long been a vigorous supporter of the creation of a nuclear weapons-free zone in Central Asia. On Feb. 27, 1997, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan signed the Almaty Declaration, which proclaimed their intention to make Central Asia a territory free of nuclear arms.

Unfortunately, this campaign has encountered difficulties over the last several years, especially because of the 1992 Tashkent Treaty, a collective security agreement originally designed for the states of the former Soviet Union. Russia is the only signatory that believes that this treaty would allow it to redeploy tactical nuclear weapons to Central Asia in order to deal with threats emanating from the region.

Over the last few years, Central Asian members of the Tashkent Treaty expressed their desire to restrict the provisions of the agreement in order to allow for the complete denuclearization of the region. Russia, however, has voiced objections.

As the Central Asian leader with the most accomplished record on nonproliferation issues, Nazarbayev must take the lead to overcome Russia's objections to the Central Asian Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone. Bush could give him a hand. The advantages of creating a stable region free of nuclear threat far outweigh whatever tactical advantages might be gained from a redeployment of nuclear weapons in Central Asia. As the recent campaign in Afghanistan has demonstrated, nuclear weapons have no useful role in the region.

During Nazarbayev's visit to Washington, the United States and Kazakhstan made significant progress by reaffirming their shared commitment to fighting terrorism and guaranteeing international energy supplies. Building upon that foundation, the two presidents should now instruct their governments to overcome remaining obstacles to assure that the nexus between Russia, China, Iran, and Afghanistan remains free of nuclear weapons.

Graham Allison is director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University's Kennedy School.

This story ran on page E7 of the Boston Globe on 1/6/2002. © Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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For Academic Citation: Allison, Graham.“Kazakhstan's Antinuclear Role.” The Boston Globe, January 6, 2002.