“Hope for a future world without nuclear weapons” – Twenty years ago, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine renounced their nuclear arsenals

October 12th, 2013
Office for Disarmament Affairs Director Virginia Gamba represented Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the event.

Two decades after having renounced their nuclear weapons arsenals, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine called upon the international community to redouble efforts towards eliminating all nuclear weapons. Abolishing all nuclear weapons is “the most ardent aspiration of mankind. … A nuclear free world is achievable,” Kazakhstan’s Barlybay Sardykov said at a First Committee Side Event held at UN Headquarters in New York on 10 October. The roundtable discussion, sponsored by the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Belarus to the United Nations, focused on lessons learned and the prospects for nuclear disarmament.

“Together with other nuclear abstainers such as South Africa, Argentina and Brazil, the commitments by Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine prove that the move towards nuclearization is neither inevitable nor unalterable. The examples of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine offer hope for a future world without nuclear weapons,” Office for Disarmament Affairs Director Virginia Gamba, who represented Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the event, said.

Peace and security cannot be achieved through nuclear weapons, Ukraine and Kazakhstan stressed. Touching on ongoing proliferation risks and the devastating effects of nuclear explosions for human beings and the environment, Kazakhstan reiterated the importance of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty. Aleksandr Mikhnevich, Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus, expressed regret that the other possessors of nuclear weapons had not followed suit. Looking back, he called the renunciation “not a very easy decision,” but underlined that it “was never subject to any conditions or reservations.”

Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine all inherited their nuclear arsenals from the former Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union officially dissolved in December 1991, more than 3,000 strategic nuclear weapons, as well as at least 3,000 tactical or battlefield nuclear weapons were scattered across the territories of the three newly-independent States. In the 1992 Lisbon Protocol, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine signaled their intentions to forswear nuclear arms and accede to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty as non-nuclear-weapon States. By 1995, Kazakhstan had fully abandoned its nuclear weapons capabilities. Belarus and Ukraine followed suit by the end of 1996.

“Nuclear weapons are a source of insecurity. Resources invested in nuclear weapons would better be spent elsewhere,” Ray Acheson from the NGO Reaching Critical Will, who moderated the panel, said. “As long as nuclear weapons exist, it is possible that they one day will be used,” she concluded, calling for a comprehensive ban on all nuclear weapons.

Photos from the Event

Picture from the event
“The history of this renunciation is significant and praiseworthy” – ODA Director Virginia Gamba, representing the UN Secretary-General
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“It was not a very easy decision” – Belarus First Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Mikhnevich
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“A nuclear free world is achievable” – Barlybay Sadykov of Kazakhstan
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“Nuclear weapons do not make the world more secure” – Ukraine’s Yuriy Sergeyev
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The Permanent Representatives of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine organised the event together with the NGO Reaching Critical Will

Article and photographs by Elias Oberkirch