Five Powers Agree to Respect Central Asian Nuclear-Free Zone

A specialist in 2011 stands near degrading equipment housings at the closed Semipalatinsk nuclear weapons testing site in Kazakhstan. The world's five recognized nuclear powers on Tuesday announced they had agreed to respect a treaty that prohibits the presence of any atomic arms in Central Asia.
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Rachel Oswald
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Rachel Oswald
April 30, 2014, 8:55 a.m.

The world’s five nuc­le­ar powers an­nounced on Tues­day they had agreed to nev­er use their atom­ic arms against five Cent­ral Asi­an coun­tries.

“They com­mit not to at­tack them with nuc­le­ar weapons or to threaten them with nuc­le­ar weapons and also re­spect the oth­er [treaty] pro­vi­sions” ban­ning the de­ploy­ment or test­ing of atom­ic arms in Cent­ral Asia, said non­pro­lif­er­a­tion ex­pert Gaukhar Mukhatzhan­ova, who is at­tend­ing the Pre­par­at­ory Com­mit­tee meet­ing in New York City where the an­nounce­ment was made by the five powers.

The Cent­ral Asia Nuc­le­ar Weapon Free Zone com­mits its sig­nat­or­ies — Kaza­kh­stan, Kyrgyz­stan, Tajikistan, Turk­menistan and Uzbek­istan — to re­frain from de­vel­op­ing, ac­quir­ing or pos­sess­ing nuc­le­ar weapons. The treaty entered in­to force in 2009 without the world’s form­ally re­cog­nized nuc­le­ar-armed coun­tries — China, France, Rus­sia, the United King­dom and the United States — agree­ing to abide by its lim­its.

Un­der the forth­com­ing pro­tocol, the nuc­le­ar powers also af­firm that they also would keep these weapons out of the covered zone. The five powers pre­vi­ously signed sim­il­ar pro­to­cols prom­ising to re­spect the stric­tures of oth­er nuc­le­ar weapon-free zones that cov­er Africa, Lat­in Amer­ica and the Carib­bean and the South Pa­cific.

It took five years of “in­tens­ive con­sulta­tions” for the five powers to agree to sign a pro­tocol to the Cent­ral Asi­an treaty, ac­cord­ing to Mukhatzhan­ova, a seni­or re­search as­so­ci­ate at the James Mar­tin Cen­ter for Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion Stud­ies.

“It’s cer­tainly one of the big­ger news [items] so far” to come out of the Pre­par­at­ory Com­mit­tee meet­ing, Mukhatzhan­ova said in a Tues­day phone in­ter­view. The so-called “Prep­Com” gath­er­ing is be­ing held in ad­vance of next year’s Re­view Con­fer­ence for the Nuc­le­ar Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion Treaty.

Peter Jones, dir­ect­or of de­fense and in­ter­na­tion­al se­cur­ity at the Brit­ish For­eign and Com­mon­wealth Of­fice, in a state­ment to the meet­ing said the United King­dom was “de­lighted” to demon­strate its “com­mit­ment to leg­ally bind­ing neg­at­ive se­cur­ity as­sur­ances by sign­ing a pro­tocol” to the treaty.

Mo­scow in its state­ment said it wished to sign the pro­tocol “as soon as pos­sible.” Wash­ing­ton sim­il­arly ex­pressed its an­ti­cip­a­tion for ink­ing the text.

Mukhatzhan­ova said she be­lieved any sign­ing ce­re­mony at the meet­ing would take place in private, with the five powers sub­mit­ting the treaty to their re­spect­ive le­gis­lat­ive bod­ies for rat­i­fic­a­tion at a later date.

An agree­ment by the five powers to sign the pact had been held up for years, due to prob­lems that Lon­don, France and par­tic­u­larly Wash­ing­ton had with some of the ac­cord’s lan­guage, she said. The spe­cif­ic point of con­ten­tion dealt with Art­icle 12, which states that the agree­ment “does not af­fect the rights and ob­lig­a­tions of the parties un­der oth­er [pre-ex­ist­ing] in­ter­na­tion­al treat­ies.”

This word­ing caused the George W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion con­cern be­cause four of the five sig­nat­or­ies of the nuc­le­ar-free zone pact — Kaza­kh­stan, Kyrgyz­stan,Tajikistan and Uzbek­istan — at the time were also mem­bers of the Col­lect­ive Se­cur­ity Treaty Or­gan­iz­a­tion with Rus­sia, she said. Uzbek­istan ex­ited the Rus­si­an-led se­cur­ity group in 2012.

The Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion in­ter­preted that to mean Mo­scow could po­ten­tially “in­voke the right” to field nuc­le­ar arms in Cent­ral Asia should the need arise, said Mukhatzhan­ova, who served as an ex­pert in Kaza­kh­stan’s del­eg­a­tion to the 2010 NPT re­view con­fer­ence.

The nuc­le­ar re­search­er said the is­sue had seemed “com­pletely in­tract­able.” However, after Pres­id­ent Obama was elec­ted, there was a “change in the polit­ic­al will” in Wash­ing­ton, and the five per­man­ent mem­ber states of the U.N. Se­cur­ity Coun­cil were able to even­tu­ally work out an agree­ment, she said.

“From what I un­der­stand, the agree­ment is that the five nuc­le­ar powers [will] at­tach in­ter­pret­ive state­ments to their sig­na­tures,” Mukhatzhan­ova said.

Those in­ter­pret­ive state­ments may in­clude some caveats whereby coun­tries would spell out con­di­tions for when they would not con­sider them­selves bound to re­spect the nuc­le­ar-free-zone in Cent­ral Asia, she said.

Cla­ri­fic­a­tion: This story has been up­dated to re­flect Uzbek­istan’s cur­rent status re­gard­ing the Col­lect­ive Se­cur­ity Treaty Or­gan­iz­a­tion.

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