Central Asian States Renounce Nuclear Weapons

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Five former Soviet Central Asian states agreed Sept. 8 to forswear nuclear weapons within their territories permanently. However, breaking from typical practice, the treaty lacks the endorsement of three of the five official nuclear-weapon states. France, the United Kingdom, and the United States have refused to lend their support, citing concerns that Russia might be able to deploy nuclear weapons in the zone.

In a Sept. 8 statement, UN secretary-General Kofi Annan hailed the event as a disarmament achievement but urged the Central Asian states to "engage with the nuclear-weapon states with a view to bridging the differences and ensuring the treaty's effective implementation." The treaty will enter into force after each of the Central Asian states ratifies it.

The Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (CANWFZ) will encompass Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. It will join four other such treaties that encompass Latin America, parts of Africa, Southeast Asia, and the South Pacific. These pacts make it illegal for member states to manufacture, acquire, test, or possess nuclear weapons. Protocols to the treaty restrict the transport or use of nuclear weapons within the zone.

The treaty breaks new ground, however, in that each of the Central Asian states has also agreed to adhere to an additional protocol to their International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards agreements. Based on the 1997 Model Additional Protocol, such agreements give the agency greater ability to verify that non-nuclear-weapon states-parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) only use nuclear materials and facilities for peaceful purposes.

In another new step, the CANWFZ also requires member-states to meet international standards for the physical protection of nuclear materials.

The Central Asian states have been seeking to construct the nuclearweapon-free zone, the first in the Northern Hemisphere, for nearly 10 years. Talks began soon after Kazakhstan renounced nuclear weapons. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, newly independent Kazakhstan inherited more than 1,400 nuclear warheads, a larger arsenal than any of the NPT nuclear-weapon states except for Russia and the United States. In 1992, Kazakhstan voluntarily agreed to transfer these warheads to Russia and acceded to the NPT two years later. Another impetus for the CANWFZ was the health and environmental damage caused by nuclear test explosions in Kazakhstan during the Soviet era. None of the other Central Asian states has possessed nuclear weapons.

The Central Asian states agreed on a draft text of the treaty in September 2002 and a revised version in February 2005. But they held off on signing the pact in an attempt to gain support for relevant protocols from all of the NPT nuclear-weapon states. …