The five countries recognized by the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) as nuclear-weapon states pledged last month not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons in Central Asia by signing the protocol to the treaty that established that region as a zone free of such weapons.
The five countries—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—signed the protocol to the treaty May 6 at the United Nations on the sidelines of a preparatory meeting for the 2015 NPT Review Conference.
The zone was established when the treaty entered into force on March 21, 2009. By signing the treaty at a Sept. 8, 2006, meeting in Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan, a former Soviet Union nuclear weapons test site, the parties—Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan—agreed not to research, develop, or possess nuclear weapons on their territory. They also agreed to adopt an additional protocol to their respective safeguards agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency that would strengthen and broaden the agency’s ability to carry out inspections.
The Central Asian nuclear-weapon-free zone is the only such zone that previously housed nuclear weapons; Kazakhstan transferred all of its nuclear weapons to Russia in the early 1990s.
At the May 6 signing ceremony, Thomas Countryman, U.S. assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, called the protocol signing a “significant” step for nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament. Speaking for the Central Asian states at the ceremony, Kairat Abdrakhmanov, Kazakhstani ambassador to the United Nations, said the protocol “is an integral part of the treaty” and called the protocol signing a “historic event.” He said the zone was “the result of collective efforts of all five Central Asian states in their quest to provide security, stability, and peace in the region with a view to create the necessary conditions for the development and prosperity of their peoples.”
A statement released by the press office of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the signing and reiterated Ban’s “strong support for the further establishment of nuclearweapon-free zones.”