Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today flew to a former ground zero of atom bomb testing in a highly symbolic gesture to plead for a nuclear weapons-free world on the eve of this week’s United States-Russian summit to sign a new nuclear arsenal reduction treaty.
In Kazakhstan on the last leg of a five-nation Central Asian tour, Mr. Ban travelled by helicopter to the remote former Soviet nuclear test site at Semipalatinsk, where he welcomed President Barack Obama’s new policy on restricting the US use of nuclear weapons as an important initiative towards a nuclear-free world.
“I cannot think of a more fitting – even poignant – place to hear this news,” he said from the site that had witnessed so many tests of such enormously devastating power. “More than 450 nuclear bombs were tested here with a terrible effect on people and nature. They have totally destroyed our environment; poisoned earth, rivers and lakes, children suffering from cancer, birth defects.”
He called Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s “extraordinary leadership” in closing the Semipalatinsk test site and banishing all nuclear weapons in 1991 “a visionary step, a true declaration of independence.
“Today, this site stands as a symbol of disarmament and hope for the future… Now we have a good reason to believe that the promise of Semipalatinsk – the abolition of nuclear weapons – will become reality,” he said, citing this Thursday’s summit in Prague in the Czech Republic, where Mr. Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev are to sign the treaty slashing their nuclear arsenals by a third, and the new US nuclear policy announced today.
“To lead by example, the United States would renounce the development of new nuclear weapons,” he added. “And for the first time, the United States explicitly committed not to use nuclear weapons against any non-nuclear nations that are in compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), even if the United States were attacked.”
Mr. Ban said he would use next week’s nuclear security summit in Washington to urge the leaders of Russia, the US and other nuclear States to abandon all nuclear weapons. “To realize a world free of nuclear weapons is a top priority of the United Nations and the most ardent aspiration of human beings,” he declared.
“Here today in Semipalatinsk, I call on all nuclear weapons States to follow suit of Kazakhstan. For inspiration, they can look to Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan has led by example,” he added. “As Secretary-General, I will spare no efforts to realize, together with the whole international community, a world free of nuclear weapons.”
In a statement issued by his spokesperson at UN Headquarters in New York, Mr. Ban voiced the hope that the new treaty and US policy would keep up “the recent positive momentum” in the lead up to May’s five-year review conference of the 40-year-old NPT. He has characterized the 2005 review as “disappointing.” Amid widely diverging views on nuclear arms and their spread, it ended without any substantive agreement being reached.
Today he recalled the five-point action plan he put forward in 2008 for nuclear disarmament based on the following key principles: disarmament must enhance security; be reliably verified; be rooted in legal obligations; be visible to the public; and anticipate emerging dangers from other weapons.