Kazakhstan’s Outlawing of Nuclear Weapons Testing Hailed as General Assembly Marks Fourth International Day

5 September 2013

Kazakhstan’s Outlawing of Nuclear Weapons Testing Hailed as General Assembly Marks Fourth International Day

5 September 2013
General Assembly
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-seventh General Assembly

Observance of International Day

 against Nuclear Tests (AM)

Kazakhstan’s Outlawing of Nuclear Weapons Testing Hailed


as General Assembly Marks Fourth International Day


Urging Total Disarmament, Speakers Say Maintaining Status Quo Not Enough

Hailing Kazakhstan’s steps to outlaw nuclear weapons testing and advance global nuclear disarmament, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and General Assembly President Vuk Jeremić (Serbia) today urged all Member States that had not yet done so to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).

“There are no justifiable grounds for further delay in achieving this great goal,” Secretary-General Ban said in a message delivered by Angela Kane, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs.  “It is time to address the horrific human and environmental effects of nuclear tests through a global ban, the most reliable means to meet these challenges.”

Speaking during an informal meeting to mark the International Day against Nuclear Tests, Ms. Kane said 183 countries had signed the Treaty and 159 had ratified it.  The eight States whose ratifications were needed for its entry into force — China, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Pakistan and the United States — had a “special responsibility”, she emphasized.  “None should wait for others to act first.  In the meantime, all States should maintain or implement moratoria on nuclear explosions,” she urged.

Recalling that the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty had been an important first step towards ending all nuclear weapon test explosions, she said that goal was one of his highest priorities and a “serious matter of unfinished business on the disarmament agenda”.  Today’s event offered the world community an opportunity to reflect on the dangers posed by such tests and the urgent need for greater efforts to prohibit them everywhere, she said, adding that the General Assembly would hold its first-ever high-level meeting on nuclear disarmament later this month.

Mr. Jeremić echoed the Secretary-General’s concerns, saying the Treaty’s ratification would “help lift the threatening cloud of obliteration that still hangs over humanity”.  He expressed regret that since 1996, when the Assembly had first opened the CTBT for signature, 10 atomic weapons tests had been carried out in violation of the internationally agreed moratorium.  “We may have travelled some way on the ‘Path to Zero’, but we are still far from having arrived at our destination.”

The Assembly President went on to recall that the sixty-seventh Assembly session had adopted a resolution reiterating that the cessation of nuclear weapons test explosions or other nuclear explosions was an effective non-proliferation measure and a meaningful step towards nuclear disarmament.  The nuclear bombing of Hiroshima was a permanent reminder of the horrible, unmatched devastation caused by nuclear weapons use, he said, stressing that any test anywhere increased the likelihood that they would be used again.  “There are some who reason that we are all safer today because of the deterring strength of such weapons,” he noted.  “I say let them go to Hiroshima.”

Both the Secretary-General and the General Assembly President praised Kazakhstan, which unilaterally closed its nuclear test site at Semipalatinsk, the world’s second largest, in 1991.  In an unprecedented demonstration of leadership, the country had also voluntarily renounced the world’s fourth-largest atomic arsenalThe 456 nuclear tests carried out at Semipalatinsk had affected almost 1.5 million people and contaminated an immense territory with radiation.  “Kazakhstan has shown through its actions what a determined people and a committed Government can accomplish in eliminating grave nuclear threats,” Ms. Kane said.

Vladimir Bozhko, Kazakhstan’s Minister for Emergency Situations, said his Government had actively advocated for disarmament and bold global action to obliterate the nuclear threat in the face of steadily eroding global security.  It was ready to cooperate with all countries in implementing the CTBT as well as the action points of the Outcome Document from the 2010 Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and other instruments outlawing weapons of mass destruction.  It had established one of the world’s most advanced national systems for monitoring nuclear weapons and was cooperating with the CTBT Organization’s (CTBTO) Preparatory Commission to promote development of any international version.  Additionally, Kazakhstan had provided a platform in its capital, Almaty, for the negotiations on Iran’s nuclear programme involving the “5+1”, comprising the five permanent members of the Security Council as well as Germany.

At the April 2010 Global Nuclear Security Summit held in Washington, D.C., he recalled, the President of Kazakhstan had proposed that the world abandon its nuclear ambitions in exchange for the “nuclear club” guaranteeing the non-use of nuclear weapons and protection in the event of an attack.  He had also called for a universal declaration on achieving a nuclear-weapons-free world to advance the commitment to “Global Zero”.

Supporting the right of all States parties to the NPT to develop peaceful nuclear energy, he urged all States that had yet to do so to sign the Comprehensive Safeguard Agreements as well as the Additional Protocols of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).  Noting that Kazakhstan, the world’s largest uranium producer, would soon host the global nuclear fuel bank, under IAEA auspices, he urged all nuclear-weapons States to start developing an internationally legally binding document on providing security assurances to nuclear-weapons-free States.  “It is time that some countries overcome the misperception that nuclear weapons provide security,” he stressed.

Panel Discussion

Following those introductory statements, the Assembly held an interactive panel discussion on the theme “The Path to Zero:  The Role of the United Nations in Nuclear Disarmament and Non-Proliferation.”  Moderated by Eduardo Ulibarri (Costa Rica), it featured five panellists:  Angela Kane, United Nations High Representative for Disarmament Affairs; Andreas Riecken, Deputy Permanent Representative of Austria to the United Nations; Lassina Zerbo, Executive Secretary, Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty; Geoffrey Shaw, Representative of the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency to the United Nations; and Andrew S. Kanter, M.D., Immediate Past President, Physicians for Social Responsibility and co-Vice President for North America, International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War.  Leading the event was discussant Enrique Román-Morey (Peru).

Mr. ULIBARRI opened the discussion by asking what could be done to make more effective progress towards non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament.  The world already had the necessary legal and institutional architecture in place, but more progress was needed.  In that vein, he asked what lessons could be learned from the past, and what could be applied to the future.  What more could be done to build confidence and establish nuclear-weapons-free zones, or to ensure the CTBT’s entry into force?  Those questions concerned the United Nations and its Member States, but also the scientific community, civil society and other actors, he said.  “Ultimately, the nuclear question is a human issue, more than anything else.”

Ms. KANE said that the CTBT was considered a very important component of the disarmament and non-proliferation regime, but eight Annex II States were still required to ratify the Treaty before it entered into force.  While universal ratification was needed, a “robust means of ensuring compliance” was also important, she noted.  Indeed, a moratorium on testing would be most welcome, but it would go only so far, as illustrated by tests having taken place earlier this year in East Asia.

The year 1998 had seen the “last short-lived glimmer of hope” that the Conference on Disarmament could still operate as mandated, he said.  That body was now “sleepwalking” without any chance of succeeding in its work.  Frustration had grown in recent years over the inability of such traditional disarmament instruments to make progress.  She cited several new initiatives advanced by Governments and civil society, such as the open-ended working group on taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations, among others, saying it had been meeting in Geneva.  Through such efforts, “we must also stay fixed on our ultimate objective:  general and complete nuclear disarmament”, she stressed.

Mr. ZERBO, recalling that Kazakhstan had closed its Semipalatinsk nuclear test site on 29 August 1991, said that, following the closure, some 1,400 nuclear warheads and other materials had been disposed of or decommissioned.  Kazakhstan had acceded to the NPT in 1994, with other States — including Belarus, South Africa and Ukraine — following suit.  “We need to observe 29 August as a time to act, not to wait,” he emphasized.  The CTBT was one obvious instrument that brought the world closer to the goal of complete disarmament, he said, calling on the eight remaining Annex II States whose ratification was needed to show the political will to endorse the Treaty.

Indeed, by its very existence, the instrument had brought about a new paradigm, creating an all-inclusive, multilateral and legally-binding framework that served all parties in an equal manner, he continued.  Progress on the Treaty was an indicator of the health of the non-proliferation and disarmament regime as a whole, in addition to enhancing confidence-building and transparency.  The 2010 NPT Action Plan listed a number of actions that would help to bring about nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, he noted, calling on Member States to undertake those actions.  States must also decide:  “Are we serious about realizing a world without nuclear weapons?”  If so, it was up to them to “go the extra mile”.

Mr. RIECKEN said it was clear that the CTBT’s entry into force was overdue, and that progress towards that goal was a “litmus test for our seriousness” and commitment to nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.  There was a disconnect between the approach of nuclear-weapons possessors and the way in which other States looked upon that process, he said, noting that, for possessors, the deterrent value of nuclear weapons was still seen as a guarantee of security.  The perspective of non-nuclear-weapons States was quite different.  That disconnect could be seen in the persistent stalemate in the Conference on Disarmament, in dogmatic discussions, and in the sometimes questionable use of procedural rules, he pointed out.

However, there were also positive signs that the international community was increasingly coming to terms with the need for new approaches, he continued.  Among important steps were the discussions begun at the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons Conference, held in Oslo earlier this year, as well as the new Open-Ended Working Group in Geneva, which had adopted a number of proposals and would submit them to the Assembly.  The latter marked the first substantive discussion on nuclear disarmament in the United Nations setting “in quite a long time”, and presented an opportunity to discuss challenges and the way forward in a more modern, interactive way.

Mr. SHAW said that, for more than 50 years, the IAEA had been verifying the compliance of States as well as their commitment to the peaceful use of nuclear materials under the NPT.  Safeguard agreements were currently in force with 181 States, of which 173 were NPT non-nuclear-weapon States with comprehensive safeguard agreements.  However, 12 countries had yet to meet their obligations under Article III of the NPT and conclude comprehensive safeguards.  The Agency stood ready to contribute to verification of their dismantlement of nuclear weapons programmes, and international verification of nuclear arms control and disarmament agreements.

“The risk that nuclear or other radioactive material could be used in malicious acts is a serious threat to international peace and security,” he warned, noting that the IAEA therefore continued to help Member States make such materials and facilities more secure.  In addition, the Agency continued to help States characterize residual radioactivity in areas affected by nuclear weapons tests in order to assess whether the safe use of such land was possible, or whether remedial actions were needed.

Mr. KANTER said that civil society, scientists and physicians in particular, had played an important role in ending nuclear testing.  Doctors had collected the baby teeth of victims infected by nuclear agents, bringing about important policy decisions and the ratification of the CTBT by some States.  The “ecocidal nature of nuclear weapons cannot be ignored,” he stressed.  In using such weapons, “we have chosen an alleged short-term advantage over the health and well-being of our children and their children”.  It was not enough simply to stop testing, or to get rid of a few nuclear weapons through bilateral treaties — all nuclear weapons must be eliminated “if we are to survive”.

He went on to describe the global scenario if even a handful of such weapons were used, saying the immediate deaths of millions of people would be accompanied by the production of 5 million tons of smoke and soot.  The resulting decrease in sunlight would lead to global climate change unprecedented in recorded human history.  The cooling temperature would also lead to agricultural failures, severe food shortages and “mass starvation on a scale never seen before”.  Moreover, up to 2 billion people could perish as a result of a nuclear war between two parties thousands of miles away.  “We have to end the acceptability of the status quo,” he emphasized, adding that the first step was a treaty banning nuclear weapons.  “The choice is clear:  either continue down the current path and likely destroy the planet and ourselves, or choose a different road to protect future generations.”

Following those statements, representatives of Member States made their own observations and asked questions.

Several delegates supported the call for prompt ratification of the CTBT, particularly by Annex 2 States, and its subsequent entry into force.  Among others, representatives of the United Kingdom, European Union and the Republic of Korea condemned the nuclear tests carried out by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in February, with some noting that the prompt reaction to that test showed the growing effectiveness and performance of the CTBT international monitoring system.

A number of delegates described their national efforts to strengthen the CTBT.  For example, the representative of the European Union delegation said the bloc had contributed more than €10 million to that end between 2002 and 2012, through four joint actions and decisions.  The United Kingdom’s representative said his country had been transparent in reducing its nuclear weapons stockpile, and was committed to achieving the action plan of the 2010 NPT Review Conference.

Ukraine’s representative said his Government had renounced its nuclear arsenals and the use of highly enriched uranium for nuclear purposes.  Japan’s representative said his Government’s disarmament efforts focused on reducing the number of weapons, their role in world affairs and incentives for developing them.  Similarly, Nigeria’s representative agreed with Mr. Kanter that the status quo’s acceptability must be widely challenged, urging States to reconsider their positions vis-à-vis peace, security and development.

Peru’s representative expressed concern that the multilateral disarmament machinery remained deadlocked, and fears that the “deterrent policy” increasingly used in the global disarmament vocabulary would lead to acceptance of nuclear weapons.  He also described as false the belief that there were only five nuclear weapons States, emphasizing that there were clearly many more.

Saudi Arabia’s representatives stressed the right of nations to nuclear energy for peaceful aims, and joined the call by his counterpart from Iraq for the transformation of the Middle East into a nuclear-weapons-free zone.  Meanwhile, Iran’s representative said that as long as a single nuclear weapon existed, none of those noble goals were sustainable.  Only complete nuclear disarmament, the legal obligation of all States, would ensure their attainment, he said, underlining the need for a “balanced and non-discriminatory” approach in that respect.

Mr. RIECKEN said in brief concluding remarks that the situation today was more dangerous than it had been during the cold war, because more States had acquired the technological capacity to manufacture nuclear weapons.  “We need to build a wide public discussion” on the broader potential humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, he said, adding that today’s discussion had contributed to that goal.

Mr. ZERBO said “it is time to act”, noting that more than 90 per cent of the international community had said “no” to nuclear testing.  Today there was an assurance that no nuclear test would go undetected, and it was now time to push the eight remaining countries to join the rest of the international community in ratifying the CTBT.

Mr. KANTER said it would be important to “go beyond nice statements”, adding that it was not enough to maintain the status quo.  “The time is now, and I encourage all of you to act […] using the humanitarian consequences as a means to ban nuclear weapons.”

Other participants in the interactive discussion were representatives of Indonesia, Burkina Faso, Belarus, Bangladesh, Algeria, Turkey, Norway, Switzerland, Argentina, Egypt, Philippines, Australia and China.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.