Commemorate August 29: International Day against Nuclear Tests - opinion

Our world today is the best ever, but very vulnerable and self-destructive. This situation raises a question: should sovereign states be allowed to research and develop new weapons?

 KAZAKH PRESIDENT Kassym-Jomart Tokayev started up his nuclear disarmament campaign long ago, says the writer.  (photo credit: OFFICIAL WEBSITE OF THE PRESIDENT OF KAZAKHSTAN/REUTERS)
KAZAKH PRESIDENT Kassym-Jomart Tokayev started up his nuclear disarmament campaign long ago, says the writer.
(photo credit: OFFICIAL WEBSITE OF THE PRESIDENT OF KAZAKHSTAN/REUTERS)

At the initiative of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the UN declared August 29 as the International Day against Nuclear Tests, universally adopted in 2009. While many of those discussing the possible use of nuclear weapons, including Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), Tactical Nuclear Weapons, and Nuclear Utilization Target Selection (NUTS), and are modernizing and “improving” their nuclear capacity, most of them know almost nothing about nuclear warfare and its consequences for humankind.

In contrast, the people of Kazakhstan and their leaders have witnessed many nuclear tests carried out at the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site for 40 years (1949-1989). From Pervaya Molniya (first lightning) on August 29, 1949, there were 456 tests at Semipalatinsk, 340 underground, and 116 above ground. Kazakhstan and its 1.5 million citizens have suffered from all the negative consequences of nuclear tests. Early death, lifelong debilitating illnesses, and horrific birth defects, including “jelly babies” and children born without limbs. 

With good reason, Kazakhstan signed and ratified the Treaty on Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and was among the original 50 states party to the treaty. On its independence day, Kazakhstan inherited 1,400 Soviet nuclear warheads, and quickly relinquished them, emphasizing that security is better achieved through disarmament and negotiation.

Kazakhstan also initiated a global moment of silence to honor all victims of nuclear weapons testing – at 11:05 Kazakhstan time on August 29. At 11:05 a.m. the clock shows V, standing for victory. 

The elimination of nuclear weapons is truly a victory for humankind. On July 9, 1955, the Russell-Einstein Manifesto, signed by 11 outstanding scientists, was issued stressing, “Here is the problem we present to you, stark, dreadful and inescapable: Shall we put an end to the human race or shall mankind renounce war?… Remember your humanity and forget the rest!”

 KAZAKH PRESIDENT Kassym-Jomart Kemelevich Tokayev responded to a wave of protests with repressive and violent actions.  (credit: PAVEL MIKHEYEV/REUTERS) KAZAKH PRESIDENT Kassym-Jomart Kemelevich Tokayev responded to a wave of protests with repressive and violent actions. (credit: PAVEL MIKHEYEV/REUTERS)

Why start wars?

WHY DO WE still waste enormous resources on developing weapons that soon become obsolete? Why do we start wars? War is immoral, illegal and useless. All wars that were fought from the end of World War Two did not achieve their objectives (with the possible exception of the first Gulf War). The superpowers involved had to admit failure. And there are many: Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, many Latin-American wars, constant conflicts between Israel and Arab states, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, and now Ukraine.

Our world today is the best ever, but very vulnerable and self-destructive. The massive destruction of the natural environment and human capital is constantly dissipating our one-and-only habitat. Most threats and dangers affecting our world are global: bio-extinction, climate change, extreme weather, pollution, insufficient energy and food insecurity

Damaging natural resources leads to the destruction of human capital as well: a shortage of food, and enormous inequality leaving millions of people excluded and marginalized, practically creating a modern slave class. Increasing human capital leads to education, research, creativity and knowledge. Most countries do not assure enough resources to achieve these conditions. Kazakhstan is among the better ones, with 150 universities, two of them rated on top academic lists.

Yet, we were never as close to doomsday as we are today. Expressed by the doomsday clock, introduced in 1947 and put at seven minutes to midnight, which symbolizes the human-made catastrophe, the doomsday clock since 2020 is at 100 seconds and most likely will deteriorate. The recent conflicts in Europe and Asia will probably abbreviate it further.

The manifesto was primarily inspired by nuclear weapons threats, caused by the US and the USSR. But nowadays, nine countries possess nuclear weapons. We are closer to world nuclear war than ever. In a fast-changing world, empires will not save us from weapons of mass destruction inflicted upon us. The solution is hidden in alliances.

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) is an excellent example to be emulated. It is imperative to forbid all production, selling and distribution of any weapons. But today, a large stock of weapons is waiting to be sold globally, while sovereign states maintain more and more armaments. 

This situation raises a question: should sovereign states be allowed to research and develop new weapons? My answer is unambiguous: all novel weapons should be under total control of global inspection, regardless of the origin country of production. The UN structure has been fairly successful, but it still needs considerable improvements. 

Who is Kassym-Jomart Tokayev?

Among world leaders, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, president of Kazakhstan, holds the most relevant record for that vision. Tokayev started his nuclear disarmament campaign long ago. As the foreign minister and prime minister of Kazakhstan, Tokayev played an active role in the field of nuclear non-proliferation.

In 1995 and 2005, he participated in the Review Conferences for the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in New York. In 1996, he signed the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and in 2005 the Treaty on a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone in Central Asia. 

On March 2011, the UN announced the appointment of Tokayev as director-general of the UN Office in Geneva, and personal representative of the United Nations Secretary-General to the Conference on Disarmament. He served as secretary-general of the Conference on Disarmament and as the director-general of the UN Office in Geneva from 2011 to 2013, where he led the global fight against nuclear weapons.

In December 2001, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Nobel Prize, 110 Nobel laureates expressed their vision for the world’s next hundred years: If “we permit the devastating power of modern weaponry to spread through this combustible human landscape, we invite a conflagration that can engulf both rich and poor. The only hope for the future lies in cooperative international action, legitimized by democracy… we must persist in the quest for united action to counter both global warming and a weaponized world.”

Three threats

Indeed, societal global threats and challenges can be aggregated into three groups. The first pertains to violence and wars. If we are clever, we could avoid them. However, human error, terror, and stupidity should not be underestimated. The Russian-Ukraine war, going on for half a year, should stop immediately, and be peacefully resolved around the negotiation table.

THE SECOND threat deals with the destruction of natural and human capital. Humankind can still save itself if we change the economic and political route for zero arrogance, zero ignorance and zero violence. The third threat concerns new disruptive cutting-edge technologies. 

The UN General Assembly unanimously adopted its most important document in 2015, named “Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.” The 41-page document is an action plan for the planet’s prosperity. It seeks to strengthen universal peace for greater freedom and recognizes that eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions is the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development. The preamble noted that “all countries and all stakeholders, acting in collaborative partnership, will implement this plan.”

The Republic of Kazakhstan, the world’s ninth largest country, stretching from Russia to China, can be such a role model. Kazakhstan’s 20 million population consists of multiple different nationalities, religions and ethnic groups living together peacefully. Against the backdrop of the current global turbulence, Kazakhstan is rapidly transforming under Tokayev’s leadership into a normative presidential state – democratizing, modernizing and decentralizing its governance systems and economy. 

The August 29 International Day against Nuclear Tests, originally initiated by Kazakhstan, as well as the upcoming September 13-15 Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in Nur Sultan, are great opportunities to promote these agendas worldwide. They are two pivotal opportunities that are occurring at the right place and time. 

The writer, a nuclear and particle physicist, is the honorary president of the World Academy of Art and Science. He is a member of Croatia’s Academia Europaea, the Macedonian Academies of Science, and the European Leadership Network. He is a supporter of the campaign for democratic reform in the UN, as well as the creation of a more accountable international political system.