Central Asian States Negotiate Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zone

November 2002

By Christine Kucia

After five years of negotiation, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan reached agreement September 27 in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, on a nuclear-weapon-free-zone (NWFZ) treaty. United Nations Undersecretary-General for Disarmament Affairs Jayantha Dhanapala, who assisted in the talks, called the treaty “a great step forward for nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation.”

The NWFZ agreement follows criteria outlined in a 1975 UN General Assembly resolution that defines a nuclear-weapon-free-zone treaty as “the statute of a total absence of nuclear weapons to which the zone shall be subject” and calls for “an international system of verification and control…to guarantee compliance.” The resolution outlines the responsibilities of the five UN-recognized nuclear-weapon states to respect the zone’s absence of nuclear weapons, to refrain from acts that may violate the treaty, and “to refrain from using or threatening to use nuclear weapons against States included in the zone.”

Prior to signing the treaty, Central Asian governments are consulting with the nuclear-weapon states to secure their agreement on a protocol to the treaty that would outline nuclear-weapon states’ responsibilities under the new NWFZ. Delegates from China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—the five nuclear-weapon states recognized by the UN—met with representatives of the Central Asian countries October 8 at the United Nations in New York to discuss the treaty and draft protocol. After the nuclear-weapon states requested more time to review the documents, the Central Asian governments delayed the signing ceremony they had originally planned to hold October 18 at Semipalatinsk, a former nuclear-weapons site in Kazakhstan, according to Tsutomu Ishiguri of the UN Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and the Pacific. A new signing date is still undetermined.

Difficulties between the Central Asian countries and the nuclear-weapon states have stymied agreement throughout the drawn-out discussions. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan had negotiated a collective security treaty with Russia in 1992, and the three states attempted to insert language in the treaty to preserve Russia’s prerogative to deploy nuclear weapons on their territories, according to a report by the Monterey Institute for International Studies.

After intense negotiations in August and September of this year, the five countries settled on language in the draft NWFZ treaty saying that, although the pact would not interfere with existing security arrangements, all states would strive to execute the principles of the NWFZ. According to a source familiar with the negotiations, the language helps preserve the existing arrangement with Russia while making “it very clear that the spirit and objectives of the treaty will not be vitiated at the expense of other security arrangements.”

Obtaining nuclear-weapon states’ agreement on the protocol to the treaty, however, presents further challenges, according to an official familiar with the process. For example, the draft protocol notes that the nuclear-weapon states respect the treaty and agree not to use a nuclear weapon against the treaty signatories—a “negative security assurance”—but it is not clear that all five states will agree to such a condition.

The NWFZ treaty makes securing the nuclear-weapon states’ negative security assurance important for the treaty’s full implementation, but the Central Asian states are adamant that the treaty will proceed even if nuclear-weapon states do not agree to the protocol. Issatai B. Sartayev, first secretary at Kazakhstan’s UN mission in New York, confirmed that the Central Asian countries are “strongly committed” to finalizing the pact. “This is our contribution to nonproliferation and disarmament, and it sends a positive message to the international community,” he said October 23.

The Central Asian states should sign the treaty quickly, according to Ishiguri. After giving the five nuclear-weapon states opportunities to review the documents over the past three years, he said, the Central Asian states proposing the NWFZ “must come up with a framework with a view to signing the treaty as soon as possible.” He indicated that reopening the treaty to negotiation—a step the Central Asian states might consider to resolve the concerns of the nuclear-weapon states—might impinge on the “significant achievements [that] have been made after intensive negotiations over five years” and stressed that “these should be kept intact.”

The Central Asian states’ next meeting with the five nuclear-weapon states to discuss the treaty and protocol is expected in December.