(non-) Proliferation: The
Case of Central Asia
Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in New
York from April 24 to May 19, 2000 ought to be an incentive
to look into regions which, because of various reasons,
are in the heart of non-proliferation concerns. Central
Asia is such a region. Recent times have seen a number
of cases when individuals were trying to smuggle radioactive
material through countries of Central Asia. These incidents
might point to the risk the region is faced with, namely
the proliferation of nuclear material. The context these
countries are set in, direct neighbour of two nuclear
weapons states (NWSs), a history of nuclear facilities
including nuclear weapons production and testing sites,
political and economic instabilities within their borders,
and various conflicts right outside their territory, brings
about a situation which should receive the close attention
of the international community.
paper aims to give an overview on nuclear (non-) proliferation
and related matters in Central Asia in order to heighten
awareness of the problem. Both progress in dealing with
the issue and prevailing dangers will be addressed. I
shall start with some general remarks concerning the position
of Central Asian states towards the NPT in 1995 and also,
as far as possible, towards this year’s conference. This
will be followed by a more technical introduction to the
post-Soviet heritage of nuclear facilities in the region
and the ongoing process of safeguarding these facilities,
leading into an analysis of today’s situation and the
problems with which the affected states are confronted.
Special attention will be drawn to the discussions on
a nuclear-weapons-free-zone (NWFZ) in the region.
Asia and the NPT
after gaining independence, all states within Central
Asia joined the NPT Regime(1). At the
1995 Review Conference, these countries were unanimous
in their position during the discussions(2).
As far as they issued statements during the conference,
they were all supportive of the unconditional and indefinite
extension of the Treaty, regardless of whether they were
members of a certain grouping or not(3).
Especially pivotal was the speech made by the Kazakh representative(4),
from one of the few countries that had been in the possession
of nuclear weapons but had given them up or were in the
last stages of doing so at the time of the conference.
‘Unconditional’, however, did not mean that the states
did not urge the states parties community to make progress
on other disarmament related issues. They reiterated the
need for a cessation of the production of fissionable
material, the conclusion of a test-ban treaty and negotiations
among the NWSs to comply with the Article VI obligations
of general and complete disarmament. Kazakhstan also called
for negative and positive security assurances to be made
legally binding, as it was in the peculiar position of
neighbouring two NWSs and had itself until recently been
a state with nuclear weapons on its territory.
the 2000 Review Conference, officials of Central Asian
states shared, prior to start of the Conference, the gloomy
expectations of a large number of states(5).
The hampering of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)
through the negative vote in the US Senate in autumn 1999,
the general deadlock at the Conference of Disarmament
in Geneva, the nuclear tests conducted by India and Pakistan,
the plans for a deployment of nuclear missile defence
(NMD) and various other problems leave the Central Asian
states with not much of an expectation relating to a successful
outcome of the Conference. Nevertheless, they are not
planning on retreating on their commitment towards the
‘unconditional and indefinite’ nature of the NPT which
they stated at the 1995 Conference. Kazakhstan especially
recognises that it has some moral authority in the area
of nuclear disarmament. But in the same way the other
Central Asian states have every reason to see the NPT
strengthened in order to prevent a sudden or creeping
Asia and the Post-Soviet Aftermath
collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of five
independent states in Central Asia led to the complicated
situation in which nuclear facilities and weapons were
dispersed over several countries where before they were
under the auspices of just one authority. To a dissimilar
degree, the C5 had to deal with various forms of nuclear
equipment, plants and material. An overview should be
given at this point:
Kazakhstan inherited by far the most extensive nuclear
infrastructure. This included 1410 strategic warheads
deployed on SS-18 intercontinental ballistic missiles
(ICBMs) and on air launched cruise missiles (ALCMs) plus
a number of tactical weapons. Early agreements among the
Post-Soviet states, Kazakhstan’s adherence to START I
obligations and its accession to the NPT early in 1994
led to the withdrawal of these weapons to Russia by April
1995 without Kazakhstan ever having asserted control over
them. In addition to these arms, Kazakhstan came into
possession of various nuclear facilities. These are a
fast breeder reactor at Aktau in the west of the country
(closed down in April 1999), research reactors at the
Almaty and Kurchatov (near the former test-site of Semipalatinsk),
a branch of the Institute of Atomic Energy and a far-flung
fuel fabrication unit in Ust-Kamenogorsk (Ulba Metallurgy
Plant) in the north-east of the country. Weapons-grade
HEU used to be stored on all of the sites mentioned. Currently,
only the first three facilities hold weapons-grade HEU
with all of them being under International Atomic Energy
Agency (IAEA) safeguards. The safety in these facilities
has been improved considerably in the past with both legal
instruments put in place and an upgrading of physical
protection systems sponsored by western governments like
the US, Sweden and Japan(7). On-site
visits by experts, however, reveal that there are still
some flaws in the safety of the sites(8).
In particular, the Aktau facility is regarded as vulnerable
to removal of radioactive material including plutonium
stored on-site(9). In addition to the
facilities mentioned, Kazakhstan is still at the forefront
of global uranium mining(10), with a
multitude of mines being located in the southern and the
north-central region of the country.
Kyrgyzstan’s nuclear industry has been concentrated predominately
on uranium mining and milling. Mainly the Kara Balta Ore
Processing Combine is still active processing uranium
mined in neighbouring Kazakhstan(11).
There are no longer active mines in Tajikistan or any
other nuclear facilities(12).
No facilities or mines are known.
There are two small research reactors in Uzbekistan, both
in or near to Tashkent(13).One belongs
to the Institute of Nuclear Physics and the other to the
Photon Radioelectrical Technical Plant. Both plants are
fuelled with HEU; however US officials determined that
they would not constitute a proliferation risk, especially
as the first site has seen physical upgrading sponsored
by the US Department of Energy(14).
Additionally, Uzbekistan has numerous mines and leach
facilities still in operation while other sites have been
closed. These are located predominately in the east of
the country. All these facilities are under the safeguard
of the IAEA.
mentioned above, the recent past saw various incidents
of smuggling of radioactive material in the region. So
far, there has not been any hard evidence that proliferation
of weapons-usable highly enriched uranium actually takes
place. However, it is a not uncommon notion that a danger
of serious smuggling remains. In most of the cases mentioned,
the source of the material remains uncertain as do the
likely recipients. Nevertheless, some indications shall
be drawn at this point(15). There seems
to be a tendency for the material to head south out of
Kazakhstan after it has been removed from a nuclear facility.
In the first incident, a Russian officer tried to smuggle
an unspecified amount of ‘radioactive materials’ over
the Kazakh-Uzbek border. The material came from the Baykonur
space centre in central Kazakhstan which is under Russian
lease-ownership. Regarding the attempted uranium sale
in Almaty earlier this year, the (not weapons usable)
material was probably stolen from the Ulba Metallurgy
Plant in Ust-Kamenogorsk. Although it is by far not possible
from these incidences to paint a full picture, they may
serve as indications that there are still safety leaks
in the region’s nuclear facilities, despite ample efforts
to safeguard the sites and the implementation of national
export controls in Kazakhstan and other Central Asian
interpretation of these events, although always remaining
speculative, is crucial. One possible explanation would
be that they are to be regarded as isolated incidents
with individuals acting on their own behalf and not necessarily
on specific orders(17). In this case,
countermeasures would include conventional safeguarding,
policing, etc. Another, more pessimistic, possible explanation
would be that the nuclear trafficking is in the process
of establishing a sophisticated network, equal to the
ones for drugs and weapons in the region or maybe even
using the same routes and possibly the same infrastructure.
Thus, the cases uncovered would be just the peak of an
invisible market for nuclear materials. Whereas drugs
and weapons are usually north-bound through Central Asia,
this material is more likely to be south-bound with recipients
within or beyond the southern borders of the area. The
most affected areas in this scenario would then be the
east of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and the territories
of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The assumption, however,
that Turkmenistan is exempt from proliferation dangers
altogether is probably unrealistic(18).
situation is especially volatile as the region has seen
an onslaught of terrorism in recent times. A group of
up to one thousand armed terrorists had invaded Kyrgyzstan
late last summer out of Tajikistan, aiming to break through
to Uzbek territory, before retreating to Afghanistan in
November after weeks of heavy fighting. There are serious
concerns that these actions might be repeated this year
as soon as the weather conditions will allow it. Although
this conflict cannot be linked directly to nuclear proliferation,
there is a serious possibility of terrorist groups like
this attracting other illegal activities(19).
They are already heavily involved in the drug and weapons
trade linking Central Asia’s southern tier with war-torn
Afghanistan and other parts of South Asia(20).
As South Asia has been identified as a likely recipient
for nuclear material, the use of the already existing
north-bound drug and weapons traffic routes in the reverse
direction, as indicated above, might be attractive for
potential traders. In this respect, the 1998 nuclear tests
of India and Pakistan, underlining those countries’ willingness
to expand their respective nuclear programmes, are considerably
increasing the security concerns in the region with regard
to nuclear proliferation(21).
not necessarily bringing forth possible buyers for nuclear
material, the war in Afghanistan is at the heart of the
problem. It allows terrorist groups to flourish in the
region, together with the unhindered transport of illegal
material like drugs, weapons, and possibly also fissile
material. As the situation in Afghanistan is not likely
to improve in the near future(22), the
dangers of nuclear material smuggling heading south will
remain for the time being. Thus, the Central Asian states
see themselves sandwiched between two nuclear-weapons
states to the north and to the east, where the safety
of nuclear material cannot be absolutely assured, and
states which might aspire to expand their nuclear capabilities
in the south. Seen in this context, it must be their top
priority to ensure the safety of weapons-usable fissile
material through continuing upgrading of physical safeguards,
training of security personnel, patrolling potential trafficking
routes and the like. But also in the broad picture, stabilising
the regional security framework is pivotal in order to
minimise latent demand for nuclear material for whatever
of the major projects to enhance regional co-operation
in combating nuclear proliferation is certainly the proposed
NWFZ in Central Asia, the Central Asia Nuclear Weapons
Free Zone (CANWFZ). Such a zone has been discussed for
several years now but the process has gained some momentum
in recent times with around 95% of the treaty being completed(24).
The debate on the issue started in earnest with the February
1997 ‘Almaty Declaration’ of the regional heads of state
and the five foreign ministers’ Joint Statement as a result
of the high-level international conference on ‘Central
Asia - a Nuclear-Weapon-Free zone’ in the Uzbek capital
of Tashkent in September 1997, following a time of preparatory
work including a working paper submitted to the 1995 NPT
Review Conference by Kyrgyzstan(25).
Since the end of the same year, under General Assembly
Resolution GA 52/38S, the UN has been involved in the
discussion and sponsored five meetings, with the most
recent one taking place in Sapporo/Japan from April 2
to April 6 2000. So far, agreement on 17 of 18 articles
has been achieved, whereas some considerable stumbling
CANWFZ would comprise the C5, thus also including Turkmenistan
which regards itself as neutral and has therefore not
been an integral part of other regional co-operation agreements.
As Central Asia is a landlocked entity, demarcation of
the zone is straightforward with the exception of the
Caspian Sea, though the problems relating to delineation
there were solved during the meeting in October 1999 in
Sapporo. Such a zone would not only encompass commitments
by the five Central Asian states but also some sort of
security assurances by the nuclear weapon states, especially
the neighbouring Russia and China(27).
Since Russia has a considerable military force stationed
in Central Asia, in particular in Tajikistan, the position
of Russia to the proposed CANWFZ is pivotal as it probably
does not want to see the zone infringe on its military
options in the area. Russia and the other NWSs have been
involved in the discussion process in a more informal
manner, especially during a meeting in Bishkek in July
1998. It is likely for them to re-enter the talks only
after the C5 have agreed on a common position on all articles
of the draft treaty. The nuclear weapons tests of India
and Pakistan in 1998 further complicated matters in this
regard with both countries not being recognised as official
NWSs, thus not being expected to give any formal security
assurances, but still with their nuclear weapons certainly
able to reach well into the region(28).
issue of transit of nuclear weapons was solved during
the most recent expert level meetings, the last one in
Sapporo at the beginning of April. The article which has
been drafted relates to any temporary presence of nuclear
weapons on the territory of the C5 on ships or aircraft,
however, without explicitly mentioning the details. The
language of the article is more general and leaves space
for some interpretation. It is nevertheless understood
that any temporary presence would be restricted to only
a very short period of time(29).
other issues on which agreement has been achieved and
which will form part of the treaty are related to the
peaceful use of nuclear technology, the physical protection
of nuclear facilities, the future expansion of the prospective
zone, institutional implementation of the treaty and co-operation
in reversing environmental degradation of areas which
had been adversely affected by Soviet nuclear activities,
ie the test site in Semipalatinsk and numerous nuclear
waste disposal sites, an issue which has been close to
the hearts of all Central Asian states from the very beginning
of the talks on(30). Formal aspects
like deposition of the treaty and the withdrawal clause
have also been agreed.
most contentious issue, on which despite prolonged discussions
during the recent meeting in Sapporo no common ground
could be found, is the relation of the proposed treaty
to other agreements; Article 12 of the draft treaty. Predominantly
Russia’s various co-operations in security matters with
all of the C5 states, based in particular on the multilateral
Tashkent agreement on collective security but also on
other bilateral arrangements, serves here as a major stumbling
block, in particular as it theoretically provides for
the use of a nuclear umbrella(31). The
C5 themselves, especially Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan,
remain divided on how to approach the problem. It will
on the one hand be necessary to observe international
practice by adherence to any previously decided agreements
and equally necessary on the other hand to establish a
genuine NWFZ. To complicate matters, some believe that
Kazakhstan might be thinking of Russia’s tactical missiles
as a sort of positive security assurance in the case of
any major threat originating from other regional powers.
Consensus on this matter must be found before the discussions
are to develop to the next stage, when the treaty will
be discussed with the NWSs. One possibility could be to
drop the article altogether, which would not necessarily
make things easier depending on the future development
of relations among the C5.
have been some informal consultations among the Central
Asian states including UN officials during the NPT Conference.
There seems to be some real need for more high level discussions
as the last meetings were predominantly on an expert level
only. Thus, meetings lacked decision power. In addition,
Turkmenistan was unable to send its experts to the last
two meetings. The C5 issued a working paper dated on 5
May 2000 stating that they "remain firmly committed to
the continuation of the work to implement the initiative
for the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free-zone in
Central Asia (…)."(32) Nevertheless,
some substantial progress soon is key for retaining the
momentum in the process and bringing it to a close.
appears that in order to strengthen the non-proliferation
regime in Central Asia, three points need considerable
attention. Firstly, the NPT Review Conference must finish
with some tangible results in order to restore global
confidence in the treaty and the overall non-proliferation
structure after some years of disappointment. The Central
Asian states need assurance that the world around them
is not falling into complete havoc, especially as the
situation to the south of the area is already grim. Secondly,
Central Asia must find adequate means to diminish the
threat of terrorism within its own borders. This does
not necessarily mean military action, as the resources
of the countries are very limited, but might involve internal
political adjustments and negotiations with the groups
involved(33). The establishment of effective
border guarding and law-enforcement agencies is pivotal
to fight terrorism involved in drug and weapons trafficking.
In effect, this is to prevent nuclear proliferation from
becoming part of the regional criminal network. And thirdly,
the discussion concerning the CANWFZ should come to a
positive conclusion soon. This zone is bound to lead to
increased co-operation and trust among the states and
would certainly be an effective preventive measure with
regard to the challenge of nuclear proliferation(34).
It would hopefully also strike a positive note in other
international disarmament related fora. In all this, the
Central Asian states need all the genuine international
assistance they can possibly get.
report was prepared for the NGO Committee on Disarmament,
and was distributed at the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review
Conference, April-May 2000.
contact address: Burkhard Conrad University of Hamburg Institute for Political Science - International
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in 1992; Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan in
1994 and Tajikistan in 1995.
Review and Extension Conference of the Parties to
the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons;
Final Document, Part III, Summary and Verbatim Records;
New York, 1996.
and Turkmenistan are members of the Non-Aligned Movement
private conversations with Kazakh, Kyrgyz and Turkmen
not otherwise indicated, information in this section
is taken from Rodney W Jones/Mark G McDonough/al (1998)
Tracking Nuclear Proliferation: A Guide in Maps and
Charts, Carnegie Endowment For International Peace,
Washington DC, p79ff.
Timur Zhantikin (1999) The Nuclear Infrastructure
in Kazakhstan: Implications for Safeguards and Security,
in: The Monitor: Nonproliferation, Demilitarization,
and Arms Control (online version), Vol 5, No 3.
details concerning cases of proliferation follow in
later sections of this paper. Regarding the
safety of facilities, cf Emily Ewell Daughtry/Fred
L Wehling (2000) Cooperative Efforts to Secure Fissile
material in the NIS, in: The Nonproliferation Review,
Spring 2000, p97-111.
The plutonium is being transported to the more secure
Semipalatinsk test site, a process likely to be finished
is holding some 25% of the world’s prospected uranium
reserves; Jones/McDonough/al (1998).
the following articles Russian smuggling nuclear
materials detained at Kazakh border, Radio Free Europe/Radio
Liberty (RFERL), 23/7/99; Three Arrested in Uranium
Sale, RFERL, 2/2/00. The article headed Kazakhs detain
3 in possession of 5kg of highly enriched uranium
and published by the BBC on 3/8/99 refers to a case
which seems to have involved only lowly enriched uranium
according to Kazakh officials.
export controls in Kazakhstan, cf Valeriy Korablev/Chingis
Masenov (1999/2000) Challenges and Solutions to Export
Controls in Kazakhstan, in: The Monitor: Nonproliferation,
Demilitarization, and Arms Control (online version),
Fall 1999/Winter 2000.
S Ewell (1998) NIS Nuclear Smuggling Since 1995: A
Lull in Significant Cases?, in: The Nonproliferation
Review, Spring-Summer 1998, p119-125. Relevant
also in the following.
Turkmen official in private conversation stated that
there was no problem of proliferation in Turkmenistan.
also Abdulaziz Kamilov (1997) A Step Towards Regional
Peace and Development, in: Disarmament: A periodic
review by the United Nations, Vol XX, No 1, 1997,
to a Kyrgyz official in private conversation, the
conflict in the south of the republic has arisen more
because of drug and weapons trade related issues than
private conversation with Kazakh and Kyrgyz officials.
the ‘Report of the Secretary-General’ concerning the
situation in Afghanistan, UN document S/2000/205.
of the information in this passage was obtained through
consultation with officials close to the talks. A
draft treaty has not been issued yet, therefore there
remains some vagueness concerning the precise content
of the draft.
to officials close to the talks.
Review and Extension Conference of the Parties to
the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons’;
Final Document, Part II, Documents issued at the Conference,
New York, 1995, p369.
text of the draft treaty has not yet been released.
negative security assurances are most likely to be
contained in a protocol to the treaty. A UN
official in private conversation.
Oumirserik Kasenov (1998) On the Creation of a Nuclear-Weapons-Free
Zone in Central Asia, in: The Nonproliferation Review,
Fall 1998, p144-147. A Kazakh official in private
conversation spoke of the same concerns.
UN official in private conversation.
of these sites is the former uranium mine and mill
in Mailii Su, Kyrgyzstan, some 50 miles north of Osh
and close to the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border in the Ferghana
valley. A report in German language on the state
of the facilities can be obtained from www.oeko.de,
entitled Anlagenzustand und radiologische Bewertung
der früheren Urangewinnungsanlagen am Standort
Mailii Su (Kirgistan). As some of the tails
are in a serious state, leaking cannot be excluded
in the near to middle future. This would most
certainly have disastrous effects on the agriculture
industry and infrastructure in the Ferghana valley
and further down the stream of the Syr Darja.
The EU allocated Euro 500.000 for the restoration
of the site, but this never went ahead.
Kazakh official mentioned the second point in private
Tajik official in private conversation emphasised
the preventive nature of the proposed CANWFZ.
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