10th April 2023
Interview with Yerzhan Saltybayev, Director of the Institute of World Economics and Politics in Kazakhstan
The first Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was held in June 2022, and the Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) was held at the United Nations Headquarters in August. One of the strongest advocates of nuclear abolition is the Republic of Kazakhstan, which is set to chair the Third Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. At the 1MSP of the TPNW and the NPT Review Conference, Soka Gakkai International (SGI) held events with the Permanent Mission of Kazakhstan to the United Nations. We asked Yerzhan Saltybayev, director of the Institute of World Economics and Politics in Kazakhstan about Kazakhstan's efforts and vision to eliminate nuclear weapons. This interview was conducted by the Seikyo Shimbun and adapted for the SGI - Action for Peace website.
At the first meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, a declaration on future efforts and an action plan were adopted, which reaffirmed the complementarity between the Treaty and the NPT. The NPT Review Conference was held at a time when the threat of the use of nuclear weapons has rarely been greater. What are your thoughts on the significance of the NPT Review Conference?
Unfortunately, the NPT Review Conference failed to reach a unanimous agreement on the final document. But I think the very fact that there was an opportunity for representatives of countries to have face-to-face discussions on nuclear issues in the current international situation was already a major step forward. For years, some experts and politicians have questioned the validity of the NPT. However, I believe that the treaty continues to exist as the cornerstone of the nuclear non-proliferation, disarmament and security system.
Prior to the NPT Review Conference, SGI President Ikeda announced an urgent proposal that nuclear-weapon states commit to "no first use of nuclear weapons" in the current situation where the risk of the use of nuclear weapons is increasing. What is your opinion on the significance of advancing the "no first use" argument?
I think the "no first use" policy is an important policy for managing the risk of using nuclear weapons. In a situation where nuclear weapons can be used at any time, non-nuclear weapon countries are put in an extremely vulnerable position vis-a-vis nuclear-weapon states. With the declaration of "no first use" by the nuclear-weapon states, this relationship can become more relaxed, and discussions for the abolition of nuclear weapons can be expected to proceed.
On the other hand, a comprehensive effort will be required to adopt a legally binding policy of "no first use." I would particularly like to stress the importance of the role of non-nuclear weapon states in nuclear disarmament. The potential impact of nuclear war is global. I think we need an institutional mechanism that gathers the voices of many countries.
What are your thoughts on the role of NGOs and civil society in achieving a world without nuclear weapons?
NGOs play an important role in discussing nuclear issues. I would like to emphasize three points in particular. The first is to raise public awareness of issues such as nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. For example, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is being promoted with the strong support of civil society. FBOs (faith-based organizations) are especially important influences in terms of ethics and morals. Second, NGOs provide a high level of expertise and analysis that play an important role in national decision-making. The third is the strengthening of dialogue between experts and politicians. For example, in the Republic of Kazakhstan, since 2015, the Institute of World Economics and Politics has organized an expert platform called the Astana Club to hold annual meetings. Former heads of states and experts discuss challenges on the Eurasian continent, including issues related to nuclear weapons. These forums help the discussion of problems in an open format and finding the most effective solutions.
It is well-known that the Soviet Union's main nuclear test site was situated in the Republic of Kazakhstan. What efforts has your country been making toward nuclear abolition?
The Republic of Kazakhstan has been greatly affected by nuclear tests and has gone through a difficult experience. For this reason, we have a moral obligation and right to lead the world in the movement to abolish nuclear weapons.
The Semipalatinsk Test Site in our country was the largest nuclear weapons test site in the former Soviet Union, with over 450 tests. The total output of nuclear weapons tested since 1949 is said to be 2,500 times that of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The operation of the test site over 40 years has affected some 1.5 million people. We must continue our efforts to pass down these experiences to future generations. The closing of the test site in 1991, just before our country's independence from the former Soviet Union, marked a turning point in the history of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Our country used to possess the world's fourth largest nuclear arsenal. It had about 1,400 nuclear warheads, more at that time than the UK, France and China combined, but by giving them up, it became the first country to voluntarily give up all its nuclear weapons.
The fact that Kazakhstan had renounced nuclear weapons created geopolitical preconditions for massive foreign investment and technology inflows, contributing to the country's economic development. The Republic of Kazakhstan is now the largest economy in Central Asia.
At present, it is said that the risk of the use of nuclear weapons is increasing in the world, and a critical situation continues. However, I believe that we can overcome this difficult situation if we can advance the discussion on nuclear abolition through dialogue among civil society, experts and politicians.
At the UN
NPT Side Event Explores No First Use and Other Short-Term Measures to Avoid Nuclear War
Statement to 2022 NPT Review Conference | Calling for No First Use of Nuclear Weapons