Central Asia just became the newest addition to the club whose members have said NO to nuclear weapons. Here is the official statement from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, issued on March 20th:
The Secretary-General welcomes the entry into force of the Treaty on a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in Central Asia. Opened for signature on 8 September 2006, it has now been ratified by all five Central Asian States and will enter into force on 21 March 2009.
The Treaty on a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in Central Asia, for which the Government of Kyrgyzstan is the depositary, has five States parties: the Republic of Kazakhstan; the Kyrgyz Republic; the Republic of Tajikistan; Turkmenistan; and the Republic of Uzbekistan. The Treaty is of particular significance. This will be the first nuclear-weapon-free zone to be established in the northern hemisphere and will also encompass an area where nuclear weapons previously existed. It will also be the first nuclear-weapon-free zone that requires its parties to conclude with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and bring into force an Additional Protocol to their Safeguards Agreements with IAEA within 18 months after the entry into force of the Treaty, and to comply fully with the provisions of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).
In order to ensure the effective implementation of the Treaty, the Secretary-General would like to urge the States concerned to address any outstanding issues that may affect its operation.
As the 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons approaches, the Secretary-General trusts that the entry into force of the Treaty on a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in Central Asia will reinforce efforts to strengthen the global nuclear non-proliferation regime, underline the strategic and moral value of nuclear-weapon-free zones, as well as the possibilities for greater progress on a range of issues in the pursuit of a world free of nuclear weapons.
It is noteworthy that Kazakhstan, one of the signatories, was once (while part of the Soviet Union) a hub for nuclear weapons testing, and had the fourth largest nuclear weapon arsenal in the world (UN News Centre, 3/20/2009). The Semipalatinsk Test Site was the Soviet's primary test facility with over one hundred above ground tests and hundreds of underground tests conducted before testing ended in 1989. The residents of the area surrounding Semipalatinsk still suffer from the long term radiation effects, and the environmental effects are staggering; it has been called the most heavily contaminated place on earth.
It is fitting that Kazakhstan and its neighbors have entered into this treaty (that was signed a few years ago) creating the Northern Hemispheres first nuclear weapons-free zone, not just because of the region's history during the Cold War, but because of the strong statement that it sends to the nuclear powers and the rest of the world. Nations have spent huge amounts of human and financial capital over the past six decades building up and maintaining nuclear arsenals. And what are they good for? Can they feed, clothe or house people rather than incinerate them? Can they cure people rather than make them ill? Can they green the earth rather than poisoning the soil and water on which life depends?
Ban Ki-moon recently said that making progress in this area [global disarmament] will free up vitally important resources for development at a time when the world is facing a financial crunch. As we approach the 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, we need to focus on not only the moral issues surrounding nuclear weapons (although they are always first and foremost to me), but also the practical issues surrounding the world's problems and how best to solve them. Just think of what we could do if all the human capital in the nations' nuclear weapons laboratories were put to work solving all of our problems related to energy and our environment.
Just think!!! So here's to that day when the whole world is a nuclear weapons-free zone.
Note: The photo of the mushroom cloud is a early test at the Semipalatinsk Test Site.