Kazakhstan dispatch: IAEA Nuclear Security summit co-chaired by Kazakhstan will address major arms control and safety challenges Dispatches
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Kazakhstan dispatch: IAEA Nuclear Security summit co-chaired by Kazakhstan will address major arms control and safety challenges

Aidana Tastanova is a Kazakhstan national and a 4th-year law student attending the Moscow State Institute of International Relations under a Kazakh government scholarship. 

In May 2024, Kazakhstan, together with Australia, will head the International Conference of the IAEA on Nuclear Security. This comes in the wake of the 67th session of the General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency last year, when a Kazakh resolution on the ‘Restoration of Sovereign Equality in the IAEA’ was adopted by an overwhelming majority of votes.

Currently, a number of problems in the field of nuclear arms control are on the agenda of the world community, associated with the termination of the Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles and the uncertainty of the Treaty on Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms between the United States and the Russian Federation. Moreover, it is no secret that there is growing concern about the expansion of the nuclear potential of nuclear powers, as well as the desire of some countries to launch their own nuclear programs, including for the acquisition of nuclear weapons. In addition, the scope of biological weapons is also in a tense state. The Biological Weapons Convention of 1975 has loopholes and shortcomings. For example, countries are allowed to keep a small number of dangerous pathogens in order to develop countermeasures against them. The Convention does not have a mandatory country control regime, which hampers its compliance.

Since 1991, after the closure of the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site, a legacy of the Soviet past, Kazakhstan has been at the forefront of activities related to nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear security in Central Asia. In 1993, Kazakhstan was one of the first nations in the then-Commonwealth of Independent States to join the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, and in 1996 became a party to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. In addition, in 2006, Kazakhstan became a party to the Treaty on a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in Central Asia. It is worth noting that an important annex to it was the Protocol on Negative Security Guarantees signed in 2014. According to this treaty, the five nuclear-weapon states have committed themselves to respect the nuclear-weapon-free status of Central Asia, as well as not to use nuclear weapons against countries in the region and not to resort to threats of their use.

Kazakhstan has also repeatedly taken initiatives at the international level related to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and aimed at ensuring conditions for the formation of a world free of nuclear weapons. For instance, as a result of the 70th session of the UN General Assembly in 2015, on Kazakhstan’s initiative, the Universal Declaration on the Achievement of a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World was adopted, calling on nuclear powers to provide guarantees of non-use of force to all countries that renounced the possession of nuclear weapons. One of the important steps in achieving a nuclear–free world was also taken by the country with the help of the international campaign Project ATOM (Abolish Testing – Our Mission) to unite public opinion against nuclear weapons testing and subsequently the complete abandonment of nuclear weapons worldwide. Due to these initiatives, which are an example for all countries, the modern world considers Kazakhstan as a guarantor of stability in Central Asia.

Since joining the IAEA in 1994, Kazakhstan has been actively cooperating with this organization. Thus, as a world leader in uranium mining, Kazakhstan became the first country to create a bank of low-enriched uranium. Nevertheless, despite the accomplishments in the field of combating the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the country is still deprived of the opportunity to join the board of governors of this international organization. For many years, Kazakhstan has not been able to join the IAEA regional groups for Eastern Europe, the Middle East and the Far East, which are legally authorized to decide who is on the board of Governors. To remedy the situation, at the 67th session of the IAEA General Conference, a Kazakh resolution was adopted jointly with 17 States outside the regional groups. The resolution provides a framework for ensuring more equitable and democratic approaches to the participation of Member States in the activities of the IAEA. Indeed, the IAEA needs deep reforms, which has been repeatedly noted by experts. And representation on the organization’s board of directors should be expanded to include more countries involved in nuclear energy.

The beginning of the country’s resolute actions is confirmed by the International Conference of the IAEA on Nuclear Safety (ICONS-2024), which will be held on May 20-24 this year in Vienna under the joint chairmanship of Kazakhstan and Australia. It will traditionally become one of the key events at the Vienna venue, which will bring together the heads of foreign policy and relevant departments, as well as more than 2,000 experts in the field of nuclear safety from 178 IAEA member states. Both countries have an important mission ahead – to lead the negotiation process to develop the final document of the conference – the ICONS-2024 ministerial declaration, which is designed to become a roadmap for further promoting the peaceful use of atomic energy and strengthening physical security at nuclear facilities.

Moreover, the launch of the International Fund for Assistance to Victims of Nuclear Tests is expected in the near future. At the moment, Kazakhstan and its partners in the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons are working to create an International trust fund to support victims of nuclear tests. Its purpose is to finance projects to assist victims of nuclear tests and restore the environment. The idea of establishing such a fund did not arise from scratch. The country has fully experienced the consequences of nuclear tests during the Soviet era. More than 450 nuclear explosions (including atmospheric, ground and underground ones) were carried out on Kazakh soil. According to various estimates, about one and a half million people suffered from the effects of the tests. All this once again shows the country’s indifference and desire to achieve a peaceful sky from nuclear threats.

Nevertheless, it is impossible to deny the fact that the scale of global nuclear energy is growing today. Many countries also consider it as a reliable, environmentally friendly, predictable and cost-effective source of energy. This can be seen in the example of a large number of countries building nuclear power reactors on their territories. In this regard, Kazakhstan, which holds a leading position in uranium production in the global nuclear energy market, adheres to the highest standards of nuclear safety, and traditionally actively participates in the IAEA.

At the same time, nuclear technologies are developing, their safety requirements are increasing, competition in the international nuclear market is growing, and the political landscape in the world is altering. Therefore, Kazakhstan needs to continue to react quickly and skillfully in order not only to ensure its interests in the IAEA, but also to become one of the legislators of “technological modes” with the right to vote.