October 12-13, Astana Kazakhstan the Government of Kazakhstan convened the ‘Nuclear Weapons Free World Forum’ which hosted 400 scientists, experts politicians and representatives from different countries, and the heads and representatives of international organizations including the UN, IAEA, OSCE, SCO, CSTO, EurAsEC, CICA, UNESCO, and the CTBTO.
The forum issued a declaration calling for a world without nuclear weapons urging all nations to ‘pursue further practical steps and effective measure toward the total elimination of nuclear weapons.’ (Full text of the statement)
Via video message, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon told participants, “We all know the terrible danger of nuclear weapons. And we also know that the way to get rid of the threat is to get rid of the weapons. Progress depends on global cooperation. That is why this meeting and your continued engagement is critical.” (Full Statement)
Kazakhstan President Nulsultan Nazarbayev told participants, “a nuclear weapons-free world is not a utopia. It is a reality that already exists in a large part of the world. Zones free of nuclear weapons exist in Central and South America, Australia and Oceania, Africa, Southeast and Central Asia – it is nearly half of the world. Today, we need an effective mechanism of international legal guarantees from all nuclear states for the members of these zones.”
The conference re-iterates a long disarmament history for Kazakhstan. Yukiya Amano, General Director of the IAEA, highlighted Kazakhstan’s complete dismantling of the world’s fourth largest nuclear arsenal and importance in establishing a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone for central Asia. Kazakhstan is also the likely host of an IAEA International nuclear fuel bank aimed at centralizing enrichment programs.
Emphasizing a strong relationship with the US government on issues of nuclear security the US deleagation was lead by the Deputy Secretary of Energy, Dan Poneman, and included Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance Rose Gottemoeller, and the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs Andrew Weber. Delivering a message from President Obama, Poneman applauded Kazakhstan’s leadership in nuclear security. Poneman also remarked that “the choice faced by Kazakhstan 20 years ago – either to cling to its inherited nuclear stockpile of more than 1,400 nuclear warheads, or to embrace a future as a leader of a world free of nuclear weapons – has had a dramatic impact on the global community and nuclear security efforts worldwide.”
Global Security Institute President Jonathan Granoff addressed the forum outlining “three paths before us: One is ad hoc incremental steps with numerous preconditions before actually commencing the real work of negotiating disarmament. Two is beginning the creation of a comprehensive framework that incorporates both incremental steps, but insures the clarity of purpose of disarmament, thus forming a basis to critique diversions from the disarmament process and a context to integrate many programs and approaches. Third is a fast-track toward a convention with prompt commencement of preparatory work, leading to negotiations as early as possible. I think the latter two are much preferred and the ad hoc incremental approach is proving to be too slow.” (Full Statement)
Rose Goettemoeller and CTBTO Executive Secretary Tibor Toth
The conference, which marked the 20th anniversary of the closing of the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site, also urged all nations to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Tibor Toth of the CTBTO told participants to “Close the door once and for all on nuclear testing.” This message was echoed by Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance Rose Gottemoeller who said, “This anniversary is a clear reminder that we need to end explosive nuclear testing once and for all. In order to do this, we must ensure that the CTBT enters into force and is universally enforced.” (Full statement)
The message to ban nuclear testing was substantiated at the second day of the forum when participants were hosted at the National Nuclear Centre in Kurchatov and the actual nuclear testing sight of Semipalatinsk. Although a symbolic visit, Jonathan Granoff remarked about the powerful experience, “It was a reminder that nuclear weapons can create hell on earth.”
Closing Ceremony in Semey
The Forum’s closing ceremony was held in the city of Semey’s Colonel Island to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of closing of the nuclear test site. More than 20,000 people gathered near the “Stronger than Death” monument, dedicated to the victims of nuclear testing. The event also included the opening of a new monument symbolizing the transition from tragedy to peace and creation.
Jonathan Granoff is the President of the Global Security Institute, a representative to United Nations of the World Summits of Nobel Peace Laureates, a former Adjunct Professor of International Law at Widener University School of Law, and Senior Advisor to the Committee on National Security American Bar Association International Law Section.