In the golden years of detente that followed the breakup of the USSR and the end of the Cold War, humanity aspired towards the total denuclearisation of the planet. But events were to take a different turn, and today we can say with regret that the drive towards disarmament is largely over, due to the actions of both NATO and Russia.
Now we have sufficient nuclear weapons to destroy the entire planet, several times over. A single warhead is capable of destroying a million-strong city in a matter of moments - Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) - to use Cold War parlance.
The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons is no longer fulfilling its purpose.
Nuclear weapons, along with the technology and expertise required to produce them, have spread all over the world, largely due to double standards of the main powers. It may be just a matter of time before they fall into the hands of terrorists, a real fear that is understood by all. This is why the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington last month gathered leaders of nearly fifty countries of the world.
First to take the floor and address the Summit was President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan.
During the last 25 years, Astana has taken a lead in this issue, and has demonstrated real commitment towards disarmament, and the restoration of the non-proliferation process. The country has, historically, held nuclear weapons. Indeed, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan inherited the fourth-largest nuclear arsenal in the world.
Although the country possessed the experts, and all the necessary infrastructure for the realisation of a nuclear weapons program, Kazakhstan voluntarily refused to do so.
President Nazarbayev believed in 1991, and remains firmly convinced to this day, that only sustainable socio-economic development can guarantee a real and lasting security - not a “red button”.
History has confirmed this position.
The experience of past wars and conflicts shows us that it is impossible to ensure our own security by undermining the security of others. This is particluarly evident in so-called “frozen” national-ethnic conflicts, and in the fight against terrorism.
Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, for example, has not provided security in that country. The level of terrorist threat there shows no signs of abating: the number of militant attacks in Pakistan are now on a par with those in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Due to these terrorist attacks, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif canceled his trip to the summit in Washington, although his presence was much awaited as Pakistan’s non-participation in important international agreements is a problem that needs to be addressed. Pakistan, along with India and Israel has refused to sign the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
Islamabad should consider that in the current environment the possession of nuclear weapons poses more risk than security.
“The growing threat of terrorists obtaining weapons of mass destruction is a reality”, the President of Kazakhstan told the summit.
Nursultan Nazarbayev then reiterated his idea of establishing, under United Nations auspices, a global network to counter terrorism and extremism. This initiative was initially presented at the UN in September of last year, the first time that a Kazakh leader had addressed the Assembly. This was before the dreadful terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels, and only after these atrocities in the heart of Europe was the need for such a coalition truly appreciated.
The President also presented a new paradigm in the field of nuclear safety, which implies a departure from traditional practice.
He proposed a ban on the deployment of lethal weapons in outer space, on the seabed, and in international waters, as well as in the Arctic. He also called for the development and adoption of international binding agreements to ban the creation of new types of weapons of mass destruction, and he also proposed the establishment of a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East.
Kazakhstan, however does not suggest completely abandoning the atom.
Astana is actively supporting the development of nuclear energy as an important part of the global energy mix.
Energy Poverty is one of the greatest obstacles to social and economic development. Today, about one third of the world’s population have no access to the electricity, and this at a time when energy demand is growing.
It is predicted that within 20 years, energy consumption will increase two-fold. Therefore, progress in the field of nuclear energy, which as a carbon neutral means of energy production will also serve to help address growing environental concerns, is clearly a vital factor in acheiving global sustainable development.
Astana has proposed an initiative which will provide the fuel for nuclear power without fear that any country would seek to enrich the uranium ore. To this end, Kazakhstan has agreed to host the Low-Enriched Uranium Bank on its territory, under the IAEA auspices, which will allow countries to develop civilian nuclear energy.
Kazakhstan is setting an example in the field of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. It’s words are being backed up by concrete steps and actions. Plans that Kazakhstan laid during the last quarter of a century are coming to fruition now.
The country, following the collapse of the Soviet Union - one of the centres of the nuclear threat - has now become a global centre for security and safety.
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Gary Cartwright is the publisher of EU today. He has many years of experience working in the EU institutions, and is a former consulting editor of the long established and highly respected journal EU Reporter.