The five-year period since the formal adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) in 2017 was marked with several important milestones demonstrating both the growth and the vitality of the TPNW. The Treaty’s expedited entry into force in January 2021 was rather surprising for some of the more skeptical observers, representing a long-awaited progress in nuclear disarmament, which is strongly sought by the wide majority of the United Nations Member States.
Kazakhstan is proud to have been actively involved in the Treaty’s drafting and adoption, and was among the first states to sign and ratify the TPNW. The decision of President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev to join the Treaty was firmly based on our nation’s longstanding commitment to nuclear disarmament. Since the early days of the modern independent history, achieving a nuclear-weapon-free world has become an essential part of the nation-wide identity of the Kazakh people, stemming from the moral obligation to never forget the lessons of the prior generation who suffered from the destructive aftermath of the nuclear testing at the Semipalatinsk test site during the Soviet times in northeast Kazakhstan.
As a state that was involuntarily faced with a “nuclear dilemma” in the very first days of its existence, Kazakhstan has since proven to be a reliable and steadfast promoter of global and regional security and stability. In this regard, Kazakhstan’s support for the TPNW is based on the unwavering belief in the Treaty’s profoundly positive role as a new step on the path towards the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. Kazakhstan fully shares the notion that the establishment of a legally binding prohibition on nuclear weapons embodied in the TPNW, constitutes a fundamental step towards the irreversible and verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons – the last category of weapons of mass destruction to be banned.
The collective aspiration for clear and cut progress in nuclear disarmament takes on particular importance amidst current disturbing developments, when the risks of nuclear confrontation, either deliberately or by accident or miscalculation, have reached their highest level since the darkest days of the Cold War. Approximately 13,000 nuclear weapons still remain in the arsenals, while some of these weapons are on hair trigger alert, ready to be unleashed within minutes. The common safety of our planet is increasingly becoming hostage to the growing instability and geopolitical tensions, involving nuclear-possessor states, leading to unnecessary arms races and continued reliance on nuclear weapons in security doctrines. Such deplorable state of global affairs serves as a pretext for delaying or even dismissing further disarmament progress much to the concern of the non-nuclear majority of the world community.
Therefore, the TPNW has become an instrumental platform to voice these concerns and take practical action, as was demonstrated by the successful conclusion of the First Meeting of States Parties (1MSP) on June 23, 2022 under the able presidency of Austrian Ambassador, Director of the Department for Disarmament, Arms-Control and Non-Proliferation Alexander Kmentt. Among the few heads of delegations at a high level, the Kazakh delegation was represented by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mukhtar Tileuberdi. The adoption of two outcome documents – the Vienna Declaration and the Vienna Plan of Action – has charted a solid path forward through a set of clear commitments and practical actions for the States Parties to undertake during the inter-sessional period and beyond.
States Parties and signatories to the TPNW have consistently demonstrated an outstanding level of convergence and cooperation both during the preparatory process as well as at the 1MSP characterized as a fair, inclusive and transparent meeting. Jointly with Kiribati, Kazakhstan has made every effort to provide a robust contribution by acting as the Vice-President of the 1MSP as one of the co-facilitators of the informal substantive working track on victim assistance, environmental remediation, international cooperation, and assistance under Article 6 and 7 of the Treaty. These articles are designed to address the human and environmental effects of nuclear weapons use and testing as well as the ongoing and expected future harm from the resulting contamination. The positive obligations are central to the humanitarian goals of the Treaty and are also the first of their kind in a nuclear-weapon-related treaty. Kazakhstan, as a country that has directly suffered from the tragic consequences of nuclear testing, is honoured to have been entrusted the co-chairing of the informal working group on victim assistance, environmental remediation, international cooperation, and assistance between the first and second Meetings of the States Parties. The country is fully open to work closely with the States Parties, signatories, experts and civil society partners, as well as with other relevant stakeholders on these issues.
To this end, a number of important actions need to be taken in the upcoming months to operationalize the Treaty, including the establishment of national focal points for Articles 6 and 7 (Action 21 of the Vienna Plan of Action), promotion of further information exchange for the implementation of Articles 6 and 7 (Action 27), development of a voluntary format for reporting during the intersessional period ahead of 2MSP (Action 28), start of discussions on the establishment of an international trust fund for States that have been affected by the use or testing of nuclear weapons (Action 29), providing assessments of the effects of nuclear weapons use and testing including, in particular, the needs of victims and contamination of the environment, as well as national capacities to address them before 2MSP (Action 30) and, lastly, the development of national plans for implementation of victim assistance and environmental remediation obligations, which would include budgets and time frames with the initial progress on this to be shared during the second Meeting of the States Parties (Action 31).
The work ahead would require a strong level of solidarity and involvement from all States Parties and signatories. From our own end, Kazakhstan intends to maintain a proactive role in the inter-sessional period, including through the participation in the Coordination Committee. We are also ready to provide all necessary support to Mexico – the President of the upcoming 2MSP which is expected to be held from November 27 to December 1, 2023.
As the President-designate of the third Meeting of States Parties, Kazakhstan came forward with a constructive proposal for a “Troika” coordination format inviting all three presidencies to work jointly to ensure a healthy and coherent inter-sessional period in the Treaty’s early life stage. We are equally ready to engage our colleagues in all relevant multilateral fora and formats, including the approaching IAEA General Conference. As was the case with the 1MSP, we hope that future meetings will continue to benefit from the support of civil society, academia, and youth with their forward-reaching ideas.
The First Meeting of States Parties to the TPNW was a remarkable historic achievement following a nearly decade-long collective effort to advance the universal objective of complete nuclear disarmament. However, a long and thorny path awaits us as we work jointly towards the universalization of the TPNW – a difficult but necessary task. In this regard, Kazakhstan conducts active work, calling on Central Asian countries to join the Treaty.
At the same time, the rise of the TPNW should not be regarded as a competition to existing disarmament instruments, particularly to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). It has been said many times, but nevertheless should be accented again, that the TPNW has been designed since the very beginning to advance the implementation of Article VI of the NPT, which remains the cornerstone of the disarmament and non-proliferation regime, by bringing into force a comprehensive legal prohibition of nuclear weapons, as a necessary and effective measure related to the cessation of the nuclear arms race and to nuclear disarmament.
The regrettable failure of the Tenth NPT Review Conference to reach a consensus-based outcome, despite the most resolute efforts by the President and the Bureau, naturally resulted in the inability to produce any practical actions or tangible deliverables on nuclear disarmament. In this regard, the TPNW is well-positioned to become a reinforcing platform where disarmament negotiations can be discussed without distraction and insulated from the highly disputed and political issues present under the other pillars of the NPT.
During the First Committee of the forthcoming 77th session of the UN General Assembly and as President-designate of the 3MSP TPNW, Kazakhstan will endeavor to facilitate discussions on disarmament issues as well as on all other important topics on the international security agenda. We hope that all UN Member States will join us in the advancement of our common goal of achieving a safe, secure, and nuclear-weapon-free world for the future generations.
[UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres addressing the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nudlear Weapons. Photo by Bones Donovan, via Wikimedia Commons]
Kairat Sarzhanov is the Director of the International Security Department in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan.