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Why Did Kazakhstan Give Up Its Nukes?

Map of Nuclear Related Areas

When Kazakhstan became independent 22 years ago and inherited some of the Soviet Union's nuclear weapons, it decided to give them up. If you follow Kazakhstan at all, you know this because Kazakhstan's government doesn't waste a single opportunity to mention the fact.

Kazakhstan has made its status as one of the few governments to ever give up nuclear weapons the centerpiece of its efforts to position itself as a responsible member of the global community. It has started the anti-nuclear weapons testing group The Atom Project, and hosted international diplomatic negotiations on Iran's nuclear program.

Kazakhstan, of course, not only hosted Soviet nuclear weapons but was the site of Soviet nuclear weapons testing, with devastating consequences for the long-term health of Kazakhstan's people. In the narrative that Kazakhstan has constructed since then, it was the searing experience of being subject to nuclear tests that made Kazakhstan give up its nukes.

Such was the feeling among our people that we closed the Semipalatinsk site even before we became an independent country on the breakup of the Soviet Union 20 years ago. With independence, we became the world’s fourth-largest nuclear power. One of our first acts as a sovereign nation was voluntarily to give up these weapons.

Since then, we have worked tirelessly to encourage other countries to follow our lead and build a world in which the threat of nuclear weapons belongs to history.

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