By Jamshed Baruah | IDN-INPS News Analysis
BERLIN | NEW YORK (IDN | INPS) – The 25th anniversary of the closure of the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site, the twentieth year of the opening for signature of the treaty to ban all kinds of nuclear tests and the unanimous advisory by the world’s highest court in 1996 are three significant hallmarks of the year 2016.
“These historical dates are an important occasion for pooling the efforts of all countries to promote a nuclear-free world,” said Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev on March 2 during a meeting in Astana with the heads of foreign diplomatic missions accredited in the republic.
The Semipalatinsk Test Site (STS or Semipalatinsk-21), also known as “The Polygon”, was the primary testing venue for the then Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons. The Soviet Union conducted 456 nuclear tests at Semipalatinsk from 1949 until 1989 with little regard for their effect on the local people or environment. The full impact of radiation exposure was hidden for many years by Soviet authorities and has only come to light since the test site closed in 1991.
From 1996 to 2012, a secret joint operation of Kazakh, Russian, and American nuclear scientists and engineers secured the waste plutonium in the tunnels of the mountains.
The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) was negotiated during the 1990s in Geneva and was opened for signature in 1996. One hundred and eighty-three countries have signed the Treaty, of which 164 have also ratified it, including three of the nuclear weapon States: France, Russia and the United Kingdom.
But 44 specific nuclear technology holder countries must sign and ratify before the CTBT can enter into force. Of these, eight are still missing: China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan and the USA. India, North Korea and Pakistan have yet to sign the CTBT.
Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) in Vienna is leaving no stones unturned so that the CTBT might enter into force and become a law that is binding on all parties, including North Korea, the only country that has conducted four nuclear tests – in 2006, 2009, 2013 and 2016 – and every one of these in defiance of the international community.
In fact, Kazakhstan and Japan have been working together to facilitate entry into force of the treaty banning nuclear explosions “by everyone, everywhere: on the Earth’s surface, in the atmosphere, underwater and underground”.
Twenty years have elapsed since 1996 when the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued a unanimous advisory the but little progress has been made toward achieving the desired objective.
“There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control,” the principal judicial organ of the United Nations declared.
The fact that this has not happened, prompted the Pacific Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) approach the ICJ in The Hague, Netherlands, to hold the nine nuclear weapons states – U.S., Russia, UK, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea – accountable to their disarmament commitments.
In what are are the first contentious cases about nuclear disarmament to be brought before the world’s highest court, the Marshall Islands filed lawsuits against all nine nuclear weapons countries in April 2014. But the U.S., Russia, China, France, Israel and North Korea do not accept the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ and are ignoring the cases brought against them. Only India, Pakistan and UK accept.
The ICJ concludes on March 16 a series of public hearings that started on March 7 with a view to determining whether it has the authority to adjudicate the matter. Indications are that the Court will take several months to announce its decision.
The public hearings at the ICJ were preceded by the Open Ended Working Group’s first meeting in February 22-26, 2016 in Geneva, which did not succeed in breaking the stalemate on nuclear weapons disarmament. The nuclear armed states did not participate in the deliberations, though several countries relying on nuclear weapons joined. These included many NATO countries as well as Japan, South Korea and Australia.
Against this backdrop, Kazakh President Nazarbayev said the leading nuclear-weapon states should be the first to set an example in nuclear arms reduction.
The Russian news agency TASS said: “Speaking about the reduction of nuclear weapons tests, not the possession of nuclear weapons, which is correct at a time when the world is gripped by terrorism, the nuclear-weapon countries, the ‘nuclear five’ should, in the first instance, set an example in this matter. Otherwise, it may turn out that we will possess [nuclear weapons] and upgrade them, while prohibiting others [to do the same]. That would be wrong.”
Nazarbayev noted that otherwise “the 20 nuclear threshold states would want to have nuclear weapons to defend their countries” calling this “a very dangerous trend.” “I think all nations of the world should be united to work together in this direction,” he said.
According to TASS, Nazarbayev recalled that Kazakhstan had “consistently contributed to strengthening the non-proliferation regime”. The country had supported the international negotiation process on Iran’s nuclear program making a practical contribution to it, including to the implementation of the Joint Plan of Action.
“In December Kazakhstan transported 60 tons of natural uranium to Iran in compensation for the removal of low-enriched uranium from this country,” said the Kazakh President, adding: “We are convinced that this will ensure the strengthening of the non-proliferation regime, the enforcement of the legitimate rights of states to develop peaceful nuclear energy and non-discriminatory access to nuclear fuel.”
It is because of such initiatives that Kazakhstan is widely acknowledged as an unrelenting champion of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. The country’s latest accomplishment is the resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly along with the Universal Declaration on the Achievement of a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World.
President Nazarbayev proposed such a Declaration at the first Nuclear Security Summit in Washington in April 2010. The Declaration adopted on December 7, 2015 is based on the draft submitted by Kazakhstan in October 2015. It was co-sponsored by 35 countries, and received support from 133 countries.
The 2016 Nuclear Security Summit will be held March 31-April 1, 2016 in Washington, D.C. According to a statement by the White House press secretary, “the Summit will continue discussion on the evolving threat and highlight steps that can be taken together to minimize the use of highly-enriched uranium, secure vulnerable materials, counter nuclear smuggling and deter, detect, and disrupt attempts at nuclear terrorism”.
The statement added: “The United States seeks a strengthened global nuclear security architecture that is comprehensive, is based on international standards, builds confidence in nations’ nuclear security implementation, and results in declining global stocks of nuclear weapons-usable materials. We cannot afford to wait for an act of nuclear terrorism before working together to collectively raise our standards for nuclear security.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 14 March 2016]
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Photo: Semipalatinsk nuclear test site, Kazakhstan view 1. Credit: aboutkazakhstan.com | voxpopuli.kz