Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty comes into effect

by Tsutomu Ishiguri, professor at Kyoto University of Foreign Studies

The Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty has finally come into effect. Since its signing in September 2006, the treaty had awaited ratification by each signatory. As 30 days have passed since the ratification submission from Kazakhstan, the last party to ratify the pact, the treaty has at last been realized.

This past February I visited New York and celebrated the outcome with the ambassadors from five Central Asian nations, with whom I have shared the joys and sorrows of this quest over a number of years. Now that the treaty has at last been enacted, I will offer my appraisal of the pact.

First, I welcome the treaty as a nuclear disarmament measure acknowledged by Article Seven of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), which serves as the cornerstone for global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

Second, it is a long-awaited success at a time when the nuclear non-proliferation system has been buffeted by a variety of challenges, including nuclear testing by North Korea, the Iranian nuclear program, the disclosure of a nuclear black market, and the peril of nuclear terrorism.

Third, it is a contribution to nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation by Central Asian countries, nations which endured tremendous suffering due to the damage from repeated nuclear testing in the age of the Soviet Union.

Fourth, it is beneficial for stability and trust building in the region.

Fifth, though some critical views exist, the existence of this treaty is clearly preferable to a world without it. France, the United Kingdom, and the United States may express skepticism toward the treaty over such factors as the relationship between this treaty and existing security treaties involving Russia, such as the Collective Security Treaty Organization (The Tashkent Treaty). However, a treaty turns a political agreement into a binding document. I wonder if the three nations would genuinely prefer the disorderly distribution of nuclear materials and technologies, hotbeds for nuclear terrorism, nuclear development, and the continued possession of nuclear weapons by Kazakhstan.

Sixth, the treaty serves as a positive contribution to the NPT Review Conference to be held next year. Conference participants should therefore duly appreciate the outcome.

In regard to nuclear disarmament, various proposals have been made, including opinion pieces by former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and others. Such proposals should be studied by the leaders of nuclear weapons states. Though it is essential that the leaders of these countries show initiative, they are still relatively young and so do not completely grasp the destruction that nuclear weapons wreak and the fact that the use of these weapons could devastate civilization. In the event they come to Japan, visits to Hiroshima and Nagasaki should be included as part of their itinerary.

A summit meeting between the leaders of the United States and Russia will be held at the beginning of April. I hope that the United States will declare and implement a substantial reduction in the number of its strategic nuclear weapons in order to create momentum for nuclear disarmament. The two nations should reaffirm the wisdom of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan and former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev when they voiced agreement in saying that nuclear war should never be fought since the result could produce no winners.

It might be wise, too, for the Secretary General of the United Nations to call for a summit of nuclear weapons states at the outset of the NPT Review Conference to be held in 2010. By doing so, the aim of nuclear disarmament would be viewed at the conference as a shared agenda by the leaders of these nations.

In any event, the Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty, which five countries in the region have advanced through their own initiative, is a concrete contribution to nuclear disarmament and a positive inspiration for the NPT Review Conference. I wholeheartedly commend the leadership exercised by the five leaders in overcoming various challenges in the region and realizing their original objective without yielding to extraordinary pressure, in and out of the United Nations, which attempted to block their efforts.

Tsutomu Ishiguri
Born in Niigata Prefecture in 1948, Mr. Ishiguri is a professor at Kyoto University of Foreign Studies. He entered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) in 1972 and joined the Disarmament Division of the United Nations in 1987. He served as director of the U. N. Regional Center for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and the Pacific from 1992 to March 2008. He was closely involved in drafting and signing the Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty.

(Originally published on March 21, 2009)

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