"Kazakhstan Expands its Role in Nuclear Security Issues"
W. Alejandro Sanchez
International Policy Digest
17 March, 2018
Originally published: https://intpolicydigest.org/2018/03/17/kazakhstan-expands-its-role-in-nuclear-security-issues/
On 2 March, Kazakhstan signed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons
(TPNW), becoming the 57th state to do so. This move completes a first
quarter of 2018 which has been very important for Kazakh foreign policy,
as in January the country held the rotating presidency of the United
Nations Security Council (UNSC), the first Central Asian state to
achieve this. Also in January, President Nursultan Nazarbayev met with President Donald Trump in Washington DC to promote U.S.-Kazakh relations.
While global nuclear disarmament remains a utopia, Astana’s signature
of the TPNW is an important development and should be put in the
context of said country’s nuclear security initiatives and its nuclear
Promoting Nuclear Security
It is well known that the Central Asian nation inherited nuclear-tipped missiles
after the collapse of the Soviet Union; Astana would go on to dismantle
said weapons systems and facilities and joined agreements like the
TPNW. The other post-Soviet Central Asian states carried out similar
policies and nowadays there is a Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone treaty.
What is also worth highlighting is Kazakhstan’s interest in promoting nuclear security past its borders. President Nazarbayev has declared,
“Kazakhstan’s non-nuclear status can serve as a guiding example for
other states. I’m speaking from my personal experience. We created and
strengthened our independent country, achieved high international
authority, namely, by renouncing nuclear weapons and receiving
guarantees of non-aggression from nuclear powers. We urge all countries
to follow our example. We urged Iran at the time, now we call on North
Korea. Nuclear bombs and missiles is not power.”
While it is unlikely that North Korea (the upcoming meeting between
the North Korean and U.S. leaders notwithstanding), and other nuclear
states, will give up their nuclear armament anytime soon, Astana’s
interest in promoting nuclear security, as well as the recent signing of
the TPNW, are commendable initiatives.
Astana, Washington and Nuclear Issues
Interestingly, there has been one development in Astana-Washington
relations that deals with nuclear security: on May 2017, a Nuclear
Security Training Center (NSTC) opened in the Central Asian state, a
joint initiative between Astana and the U.S. Department of Energy’s
National Nuclear Security Administration. A 15 May 2017 press release by the NNSA
explains that the center will be utilized to “train nuclear facility
personnel in security disciplines, including physical protection
systems, nuclear material accounting and control systems, response
forces, and secure transportation.”
The two governments also signed a nuclear energy cooperation agreement in August. Additionally, Presidents Trump and Nazarbayev praised the 2017 inauguration of a reserve bank for low enriched uranium
in the Central Asian state. This initiative “seeks to decrease the risk
of nuclear enrichment technology proliferation,” said a White House statement.
Meanwhile, Dr. Richard Weitz from the Hudson Institute
in Washington DC explains that “the hope is that countries pursuing
peaceful nuclear energy programs will borrow LEU fuel from banks to
avoid the ecological and economic expense of manufacturing their own
nuclear fuel through uranium enrichment, a technology that can be
misused to make nuclear weapons.” In other words, Kazakhstan’s LEU bank
could become a centerpiece in the quest for nuclear non-proliferation.
In spite of the current positive momentum after several high-profile
visits, it is important to note that U.S.-Kazakh relations over nuclear
energy are not free of tensions. Namely, U.S.-based uranium producing
companies Energy Fuels and Ur-Energy have petitioned Washington
“to look into whether imports from dominant uranium producers, like
Russia [and Kazakhstan] pose a national security risk.” In reality, this
request has less to do with “national security” in the traditional
sense of the term and has to do more with the fact that the U.S. imports
large quantities of uranium, from producers like Kazakhstan, for
domestic consumption, which limits the profits of U.S.-based companies.
It will be interesting to see if this request, which falls under Section 232
of the Trade Expansion Act, progresses and if it affects U.S. imports
of Kazakh uranium, and what effect, if any, could this have on bilateral
Kazakhstan’s decision to sign the TPNW is a commendable initiative
towards global nonproliferation although, sadly, countries that possess
nuclear weapons are in no hurry to get rid of them. More important
though is Astana’s growing role in nuclear affairs and its rapprochement
with Washington on nuclear security and energy issues.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone
and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the
author is associated.