20 March 2009 Central Asia is set to become the Northern Hemisphere's first-ever nuclear-weapons-free zone tomorrow, with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcoming the entry into force of the pact underpinning the establishment of the zone.
All five Central Asian nations – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – have ratified the Treaty on a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone, first formally proposed by Uzbek President Islam Karimov at the General Assembly in 1993.
The agreement, which opened for signature in September 2006, covers an area where nuclear weapons previously existed.
Kazakhstan, which endured over 400 atomic blasts at the Semipalatinsk testing ground in the country's north, previously had the fourth largest nuclear weapon arsenal in the world, but renounced its arsenal after gaining independence.
Central Asia joins the four other nuclear-weapon-free zones: Latin America and the Caribbean, the South Pacific, South-East Asia and Africa.
Mr. Ban pointed out that the Treaty is also “significant” because it sets up the first nuclear-weapons-free zone requiring parties to fully comply with the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).
Additionally, the five nations must also conclude and bring into force an Additional Protocol of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The Protocol is a set of safeguards to boost the IAEA's ability to ensure that a State does not have undeclared nuclear material.
“In order to ensure the effective implementation of the Treaty, the Secretary-General would like to urge the States concerned to address any outstanding issues that may affect its operation,” according to a statement issued by Mr. Ban's spokesperson.
With the review of the UN-backed Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which forms the foundation of the world's nuclear non-proliferation regime, coming up next year, the Secretary-General said that he “trusts that the entry into force of the Treaty on a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in Central Asia will reinforce efforts to strengthen the global nuclear non-proliferation regime, underline the strategic and moral value of nuclear-weapon-free zones, as well as the possibilities for greater progress on a range of issues in the pursuit of a world free of nuclear weapons.”
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