U.S.-Kazakh Nonproliferation Cooperation

Simon Limage
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Nonproliferation Programs, Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation
Al-Farabi University
Almaty, Kazakhstan
October 16, 2012

(As Prepared)

Thank you for this warm welcome to Al-Farabi University. I would like to thank the rector, the faculty, and most of all – you the students for inviting me here today to discuss an issue of great importance. This is a very exciting time to be involved in global nonproliferation work, particularly as the university is developing a curriculum that will provide you with the necessary tools to navigate a challenging, twenty-first century international security landscape. I’m confident that once equipped with the knowledge from these courses you will be the foundation for Kazakhstan’s future nonproliferation success.

During his April 5, 2009 speech in Prague, President Obama highlighted the global proliferation risks inherent in the current system. He stated that today the Cold War has disappeared but thousands of those weapons have not. In a strange turn of history, the threat of global nuclear war has gone down, but the risk of a nuclear attack has gone up. More nations have acquired these weapons. Testing has continued. Black market trade in nuclear secrets and nuclear materials continue to occur. The technology to build a bomb has spread. International efforts to contain these dangers are centered on a global nonproliferation regime, but as people and nations try to find new ways to break the rules, we need to work harder and more collaboratively to strengthen nonproliferation regimes. As a generation that grew up after the Cold War, with new collaborative communications tools like social media, you are uniquely capable of helping develop new ideas and ways to identify and counter these new risks.

As technology changed and new risks emerged, President Obama understood the need to address and mitigate these risks in an evolving security landscape by outlining the United States’ vision for world free of nuclear weapons and articulating concrete steps to achieve this vision. Let me point out three: reducing stocks of nuclear materials, strengthening security assurances for existing nuclear stockpiles, and taking steps to make it harder for terrorists or other criminals to gain access to these materials. Clearly, achieving the President’s vision is not a simple task. But as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of a bureau in the U.S. Department of State dedicated to implementing some of the major components of the “Prague Agenda,” I stand here optimistic with the conviction that achieving this vision is possible.

The United States has taken bold steps toward nuclear disarmament. In February of last year, the New START Treaty between the United States and Russia entered into force. Under New START our two nations will reduce the number of deployed warheads to the lowest level since the 1950s – an approximate reduction of 85 percent from the Cold War. The United States is committed to continuing a process to reduce the overall number of nuclear weapons, including the pursuit of a future agreement with Russia for broad reductions in all nuclear weapons – strategic, non-strategic, deployed, and non-deployed.

As we reduce nuclear weapons, we also must secure the materials that create these weapons. And in this area, we are seeing unprecedented international interest and cooperation. This was evident when President Obama called for a nuclear security summit to address the challenge of keeping the world’s nuclear materials out of terrorists’ hands. Over 40 nations, including Kazakhstan, came together in Washington in April 2010 at the Nuclear Security Summit and committed themselves to specific steps to secure nuclear materials. By the second nuclear security summit this past March in Seoul, Korea, significant advances had been made. Most of the goals countries announced in Washington were achieved. Around 480 kilograms of Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) were removed from eight countries for disposal - enough to produce about 19 nuclear weapons. Also, in the two years since the Washington Summit, the HEU equivalent of 3,000 nuclear weapons in Russia and the United States was downblended to Low Enriched Uranium (LEU). In light of the additional commitments made during the Seoul Summit, two years from now we will see even more progress towards securing nuclear materials and ensuring terrorists never gain access to these dangerous materials.

I note that President Obama expressed his appreciation and support for Kazakhstan at his meeting with President Nazarbayev during the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul. As you know one of the major announcements at the Summit was the successful trilateral, Kazakh-U.S.-Russian collaboration, in what President Obama called “a significant example” of our countries’ collective will to secure loose nuclear material at the Semipalatinsk Test Site (STS) and prevent them from falling into the hands of smugglers and terrorists.

Twenty years ago, at the end of the Cold War, Kazakhstan inherited a vast nuclear weapons infrastructure, which included 1,410 nuclear warheads. This would have made Kazakhstan the fourth largest nuclear power in the world. President Nazarbayev made a courageous and monumental decision to rid your country of nuclear weapons – a decision that the United States commends. Working in close cooperation with the United States through the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program, a bipartisan effort to help secure materials, facilities, and equipment needed to develop weapons of mass destruction that is implemented by the Department of Defense, as well as Russia, the IAEA, and many other international partners, Kazakhstan eliminated or removed from its territory all 1,410 nuclear warheads, completely dismantled the infrastructure of the Semipalatinks test site, and destroyed or removed hundreds of missiles, bombers, and tactical nuclear warheads.

From its initial focus on Russia and the new independent states, including Kazhakstan, the Nunn-Lugar program has now expanded to other parts of the world. The Department of Energy has complimentary nonproliferation programs that aim to secure nuclear and radiological materials and to strengthen the capability of foreign governments to deter, detect, and interdict illicit trafficking in these materials across international borders and through the global maritime shipping system. The Department of State has several programs that help countries improve trade controls, engage scientists with WMD skills so that they can put their expertise to use for peaceful purposes, secure biological laboratories that house deadly pathogens, and address the challenges posed by nuclear smuggling.

We applaud Kazakhstan’s recent International Weapons Free World Forum hosted in Astana and appreciate Kazakhstan’s offer to host the next round of the P5+1 talks with Iran. Both of our countries are strong supporters of the IAEA safeguards system and, bilaterally, we are cooperating on a range of vital nuclear security issues including our work to combat illicit trafficking in nuclear and radiological materials through the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism. In this vein, the United States is working closely with your government to provide physical protection for radioactive sources which could be used in a “dirty bomb” and transporting sources that are no longer in use to secure storage.

The United States remains concerned by the threat that nuclear or highly radioactive material could fall into the wrong hands. Therefore, we encourage foreign partners, in addition to ‘locking down’ nuclear and radiological materials currently under government control, to strengthen capabilities to investigate smuggling networks, remove trafficked material from the black market, and arrest the criminals involved. The United States views Kazakhstan as a partner and leader in the area of nonproliferation, and we look forward to continuing our important bilateral work to advance nuclear security efforts and counter nuclear smuggling. We are pleased by the progress that Kazakhstan has made toward strengthening regional nuclear security cooperation by pledging to establish a Nuclear Security Training Center for material accounting, control, and physical protection, which will also include a component on combating illicit nuclear trafficking.

The United States recognizes and appreciates Kazakhstan’s long history of collaboration on scientist engagement efforts through the International Science and Technology Center (ISTC). The main purpose of my trip here to Kazakhstan was to begin negotiations on a protocol which will ensure the continuation of this valuable nonproliferation organization and allow us to relocate the headquarters to Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan’s regional leadership on nonproliferation issues makes it in an ideal location for the organization’s new headquarters. This move will signal the ISTC’s evolution to face new proliferation challenges -and it is fitting that Kazakhstan will be centeral to these efforts. The ISTC Governing Board has already decided to upgrade the status of the ISTC branch office in Almaty to that of a “Main Office” in preparation for the relocation of its headquarters and we hope to soon receive a formal letter from the government of Kazakhstan inviting the ISTC to move its headquarters from Russia to Kazakhstan.

We continue to support Kazakhstan’s desire to host an IAEA Low-Enriched Fuel Bank. The Low-Enriched Fuel Bank will provide important fuel supply assurances to countries pursuing peaceful civilian nuclear programs. Kazakhstan’s willingness to embrace a leadership role on this issue is to be applauded, and we look forward to closely cooperating with Kazakhstan to make an operating Fuel Bank a reality. The location of the Low-Enriched Fuel Bank in Kazakhstan will provide benefits to Kazakhstan as a value-added industry for its uranium production and will associate Kazakhstan with the United Kingdom, Russia, and the United States in offering alternatives to enrichment and reprocessing technologies.

The monumental decision of President Nazarbayev 20 years ago to close the Semipaltinsk Test Site and to rid Kazakhstan of nuclear weapons set a high standard for all of us to live up to. Likewise, President Obama has provided us with a path toward one day living in a world free of nuclear weapons. Although many challenges still lie ahead, it is evident that the United States and Kazakhstan are forging a united front to confront proliferation in all of its forms. As you continue your studies here at Al-Farabi we look forward to cooperating with you as our countries continue our important work to prevent nuclear terrorism, strengthen the global nonproliferation regime, downsize or eliminate nuclear weapons, and support safe and peaceful applications of nuclear technology. I hope that some of you will choose to make careers in nonproliferation and international security and will continue Kazahkstan’s strong record of leadership on these issues. Thank you. I look forward to your questions.