by Kennedy Graham
Back in ‘91 a younger President Nursultan Nazarbayev faced a dilemma. Along with independence just attained from the USSR, he had inherited 112 ICBMs sporting 1,200 nuclear warheads. A gift from heaven as it were, or from hell, depending on the level of your transcendentalism.
Twenty years later, Nazarbayev has emerged as a hero of the nuclear disarmament movement. Less so, alas, in the human rights world. Leadership is a complex challenge.
In fact, PNND (Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament) has been talking of nominating him for the Nobel Peace Prize. Somewhat ironic, so soon after San Suu Kyi received her Prize, two decades after winning the award, but there you go. Obama got it, perched atop the world’s most lethal nuclear arsenal.
Kazakhstan is perhaps the leading nation of the nuclear disarmament movement. That is because it actually disarmed. It dismantled the strategic nuclear weapons on its territory. It then transformed that into a national cause celèbre – for a nuclear-free world.
The comparison between Kazakhstan and New Zealand is instructive.
For 25 years, New Zealand has trumpeted, largely to itself, the purity and significance of its nuclear-free policy. Our twin stance was: no weapons on our territory and no nuclear deterrence in our defence. But after a brief clarion call the policy was suddenly ‘not for export’. And both National and Labour have voted at the UN pretty much in lockstep with NATO states on relevant resolutions, confident that, so long as attack submarines are not in sight, no-one down here will give a damn. Now the Key Government is edging towards US strategic policy, on a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ handshake over policy. Truth is, the world pays less attention to New Zealand’s fading nuclear disarmament credentials than it once did.
By contrast, Kazakhstan has turned a nuclear-free policy into an article of faith, and a major export item to boot. Like New Zealand’s dairy exports, the mission has quasi-religious status. Others also engaged, once, in nuclear weapon disarmament – Ukraine, Belarus, South Africa. But none translated it into a post-partum national mission. For Kazakhstan, it is a marriage of national identity and presidential sanctification. And so it promotes a vigorous campaign for a nuclear-weapons-free world.
Thus Kazakhstan closed the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site, in ‘91. More recently it moved the UN resolution designating 29 August as International Day against Nuclear Tests. It led the negotiations for a Central Asian NWFZ. It leads in post-nuclear-testing medical research. It is about to sign an agreement with the IAEA for an international fuel bank, to house spent fuel. And it has just launched Project Atom, a global on-line petition calling for universal ratification of the nuclear test ban treaty. As a result Kazakhstan, and Nazarbayev, are taken seriously around the world.
All this has climaxed with this week’s international conference: ‘From a Nuclear Test Ban to a Nuclear-Free World’. About 70 countries attended – an interesting mix of MPs and experts – under the benign gaze of the President. He handles it with the utmost graciousness. He appeared especially pleased to be told he had created a turning-point in world history.
High priests, of the human variety, may nonetheless carefully clothe feet of clay. It has been ungraciously muted that Nursultan the younger rode a wave of expediency to such exalted status. There was huge pressure, carrot and stick, from the US for Kazakhstan to divest. Oil finance beckoned – enough charity to underwrite a gleaming 21st-century city called Astana. The silos were still ringed by Soviet/Russian troops. There was insufficient Kazakh expertise to carry the physical and political responsibilities of the black box with minimal aplomb. Who wanted nuclear weapons on your territory, anyway, attracting the target coordinates from sizeable and robust neighbours? And who would say no to major powers vaunting you as a global force for peace? Even if you are the largest producer of uranium. Every silver coin has its other side.
None of this surfaced in the conference, where we adopted a global appeal for nuclear disarmament. Most took the view – call it the general will – that it is enough to accept national strategic policy for what it is, without relentlessly second-guessing individual motive and leadership calculus. Nuclear disarmament, it seems, needs all the friends it can get, even at a premium.
Faith, hope and charity. But, in our Faustian nuclear age, the greatest of these is hope.
Published in Environment & Resource Management by Kennedy Graham on Fri, August 31st, 2012
Tags: Belarus, Central Asian NWFZ, IAEA, International Day against Nuclear Tests, Kazakhstan, NATO, Nazarbayev, Nobel Peace Prize, nuclear disarmament, nuclear free, nuclear warheads, Obama, PNND, Project Atom, Semipalatinsk, South Africa, Ukraine, USSR