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Astana Conference Pleads for Ban on Nuclear Tests and More

By Ramesh Jaura

hoto credit: Kotoe Asagiri | IDN-INPS

BERLIN | ASTANA (IDN) – Some three weeks before the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons opens for signature on September 20 in New York, a landmark international conference in the capital city of Kazakhstan has called upon "all governments and people to reflect on the grave and irreversible ecological and humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and to spare no efforts towards achieving a nuclear-weapon-free world." Watch Our Video

The appeal, made by the Council of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, coincided with the International Day against Nuclear Tests, designated by the 64th session of the United Nations General Assembly on December 2, 2009 by unanimously adopting resolution 64/35.

The resolution was initiated by the Republic of Kazakhstan, together with a large number of sponsors and cosponsors with a view to commemorate the closure of the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test site on August 29, 1991, where the Soviet Union conducted 456 nuclear tests from 1949 until 1989 with little regard for their effect on the local people or environment.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev also made sure that all Soviet nuclear weapons were withdrawn from the country after 1992. He also took leadership in the establishment of the Central Asian Nuclear Weapons Free Zone established in 2006.

At the initiative of The ATOM Project, headed by Honorary Ambassador and Kazakh artist Karipbek Kuyukov, the Pugwash Conference participants stood at 11.05 am (with the clock showing 'V') on August 29, 2017 to observe a minute of silence as a mark of respect for victims of nuclear tests, and to urge the UN, Member States, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, academic institutions, youth networks and the media to inform, educate and advocate the necessity of banning nuclear weapon tests as a valuable step towards achieving a safer world.

The Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs aims at bringing scientific insight and reason to bear on namely, the catastrophic threat posed to humanity by nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.

It was in recognition of its mission to “diminish the part played by nuclear arms in international politics and, in the longer run, to eliminate such arms” that Pugwash and its co-founder, Sir Joseph Rotblat, were awarded the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize.

The tragic results of the Castle Bravo hydrogen bomb test by the U.S. in 1954 in the Marshall Islands led Joseph Rotblat to set in motion what has now become a truly global movement.

Marking its 60th anniversary, the 62nd Pugwash Conference – with its opening session in Astana's prestigious Palace of Peace and Reconciliation – focussed on Confronting New Nuclear Dangers, and its organization's Council agreed on the Astana Declaration 'From Prohibition of Nuclear Testing toward Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons'.

The Declaration notes that since 1945, when the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki suffered the first atomic bombings the world knows, "nuclear weapons testing has played a primary role in the horizontal and vertical proliferation of nuclear weapons."

Such testing has also inflicted great damage on the environment and people," notes the Declaration, "especially in areas adjacent to nuclear test ranges but also globally." The cumulative consequences of more than 2000 nuclear tests conducted since 1945 by nuclear weapons states can be compared to a slow-motion limited nuclear war, waged by them on themselves and on humankind, the Astana Declaration adds.

One of the initiatives that changed the tide in the fight against nuclear weapons testing was at Semipalatinsk, The Pugwash Council noted that the closing of the the Soviet nuclear test site was one of the significant factors that led to the moratorium on nuclear testing, followed by the successful negotiation of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1996.

However, this treaty will only enter into force when eight key countries decide to adhere. Against this backdrop, the Astana Declaration calls upon the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), India and Pakistan to sign and ratify the CTBT and also China, Egypt, Iran, Israel, and the USA to ratify it without delay.

For its part, Kazakhstan has been a strong supporter of this goal, including its joint-chairing with Japan of the conference for Facilitating Entry into Force of the CTBT for the previous two years. Though Belgium and Iraq will take over as co-chairs for the next two years at a conference in New York on September 20, Kazakhstan's Deputy Foreign Minister Roman Vassilenko affirmed to IDN that the country would continue to support efforts for entry-into-force of the CTBT.

"We have been one of the strongest advocates for the early entry into force of CTBT. We have been calling unequivocally on those remaining eight countries to sign and ratify the treaty so that it can enter into force. We have done this both on the political as also on the civil society level," Vassilenko told IDN.

As the Astana Declaration points out, the case of Kazakhstan is a powerful reminder of the importance of prohibiting nuclear tests, as well as of the humanitarian consequences that nuclear weapons entail, even when not used in war. Cancers of different types, leukaemia, infertility, and genetic diseases due to nuclear weapons tests affect many people across the world.

Furthermore, radiation damage to the genetic code continues to impact the second and even third generation of those exposed, and has had a devastating ecological impact on land, rivers, and agriculture.

"It is more than seventy years since the first two nuclear explosions, when 170,000 people were killed and many more affected by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki," the Declaration recalls. "Still, over 15,000 nuclear warheads continue to pose a threat to humanity."

It emphasizes: "The plight and suffering of Hibakusha around the world, survivors of the legacy of nuclear weapons as well as testing, must jolt us from complacency to finally and comprehensively eliminate nuclear weapons," adding: "The recently negotiated Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, agreed upon by 122 States and supported by global civil society, acknowledges the importance of reaching this goal."

While nuclear weapons exist, there remains the serious possibility that a nuclear weapon or device might be detonated. In the current international climate, warns the Pugwash Council, there is a heightened risk that a conflict can escalate and nuclear dangers would risk spiraling out of control. The absolute imperative of avoiding any nuclear explosion, in any possible conflict or situation, must be emphasized.

Parliament Senate Chairman Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said in his conference closing speech that “the Pugwash conference has been known for bringing scientific insight generating meaningful and collaborative dialogue on the most pressing issues facing humanity and seeking a world free of nuclear weapons.” The Pugwash has a wide outreach engaging the young generation and groups worldwide.

“The Astana meeting brought a new momentum to this important work. It’s not a coincidence that our country was offered to hold this forum," said Tokayev adding that the contact with the Pugwash will be maintained in the future as it fulfils its noble mission promoting the cause of peace through dialogue across divides and offering new thinking and creating approaches to emerging challenges.

It will continue to do so under the leadership of Sergio Duarte, former UN Under-Secretary-General (USG) for Disarmament Affairs and a retired career diplomat from Brazil. He succeeds former UN USG Jayantha Dhanapala from Sri Lanka who presided over the Pugwash Conference over the last ten years. [IDN-InDepthNews – 14 September 2017]

Photo credit: Kotoe Asagiri | IDN-INPS

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

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