Central Asia Has a Crucial Role to Play in Ensuring Nuclear Security

I thought our readers would be interested to know that the fourth Nuclear Security Summit concluded on Friday 1st April in Washington D.C.   Gathering together Heads of State and senior representatives from over 50 countries, the Summit showcased significant progress in reducing nuclear stockpiles worldwide and increasing security on nuclear facilities, while encouraging debate on pressing issues such as nuclear proliferation and terrorism.

Several world leaders took the opportunity to issue a Joint Statement which praised Kazakhstan for its “exemplary record of contributing to nuclear nonproliferation and international peace”.  Indeed, I believe it is worth restating – as Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev did while addressing the Summit – just how much Kazakhstan and its Central Asian neighbours have contributed to nuclear security in the past two decades.

After gaining Independence in 1991, Kazakhstan voluntarily renounced what was the world’s fourth-largest nuclear weapons arsenal, and closed the world’s second-largest nuclear test site in Semipalatinsk.  In 2006 the five Central Asian states created a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone, and initiated a comprehensive action plan to strengthen nuclear safety, promote non-proliferation and prevent nuclear terrorism.  All this while working actively to develop similar zones in other parts of the world, especially in the Middle East.

Central Asia recently hosted two crucial meetings between the P5 countries and Iran, which paved the way for last year’s historic and, to date, successful nuclear deal between both parties.   Fulfilling its international committments, Uzbekistan has removed all of highly-enriched uranium that was used in its research reactor. Kazakhstan has been steady progress in this work too. And last year the IAEA officially launched the world’s first International Low-Enriched Uranium Bank in Ust-Kamenogorsk, Kazakhstan, a major step to ensuring worldwide nuclear security.

Such responsibility has not been earned overnight; it is the result of sustained efforts from the Central Asian states to combat the proliferation of nuclear weapons ever since their independence from the Soviet Union.  And these countries still have much more to contribute to nuclear security going forwards: for example, Kazakhstan has made the issue a key pillar of its bid to win a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for 2017 – 18, a potential first for a Central Asian state.

President Nazarbayev concluded his address last week by suggesting that Central Asia host a future edition of the Nuclear Security Summit, as a “token of appreciation” for its efforts in this area.  To my mind, such a gesture would be wholly appropriate and would only confirm the strides taken by the region in the last 25 years to guarantee nuclear security worldwide.