The Encyclopedia is a project of the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights launched on 2 December 2013. The Enyclopedia aims to provide accurate, up-to-date information on weapons, the effects of their use, and their regulation under public international law, in a format that is accessible to non-specialists.+ Find out more
According to the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), all Member States can create regional treaties with the goal to secure the region from the threat posed by nuclear weapons. ‘Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone’, United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs. The United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3472B adopted in 1975 entitled 'Comprehensive Study of the Question of Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones in All Its Aspects' encourages groups of states to negotiate treaties or conventions creating zones free of nuclear weapons, establishing guarantee agreements and instituting verification and control methods. UNGA Res 3472 (XXX). Based on these documents, the Central Asian Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone (CANWFZ) Treaty was opened for signature on 8 September 2006 and officially entered into force on 21 March 2009. The Treaty was signed and ratified by five Member States: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Disarmament Treaties Database 'Treaty on Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone in Central Asia (CNAWFZ)’, United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs. The goal of this treaty is to provide regional and international security and prohibit former Soviet Union States from researching, developing, producing and stockpiling nuclear weapons. The five Member States are obligated to comply with the conditions of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) and ratify the Additional Protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). ‘Press Conference on Central Asian Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone Treaty’, United Nations Meetings Coverage and Press Releases, 30 March 2009.
The United Nations supports states that are in favour of removing nuclear weapons from their territory. Article 1 of the Charter of the United Nations 1945 Charter of the United Nations and Article VII of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty give the opportunity to sovereign states to create and initiate a nuclear-weapons-free zone (NWFZ). NWFZ focuses on prohibiting the stationing of the nuclear weapons and protecting the nuclear energy facilities in a special region. It also offers regional security and the non-proliferation of the nuclear weapons. L. Tabassi, ‘National Implementation and Enforcement of Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone Treaties’ Nuclear Law Bulletin 83 (2009) 29-57.
However, the idea and concept to build NWFZ was used by other states that desired to secure and protect the population and country itself. In 1967, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (Treaty of Tlatelolco) established the first regional NWFZ.The Treaty of Tlatelolco has worked as an example for the other Member States to establish the NWFZ and to limit the proliferation, both horizontal and vertical, of nuclear weapons. Disarmament Treaty Database: ‘Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean’, United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs.
The Central Asian states such as Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan were members of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). From 1949-1991, the Soviet Union conducted more than 450 nuclear tests in Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan. The Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site (SNTS) was the primary base for the Soviet Union. V. Drozdovitch, S. Schonfeld, K. Akimzhanov et al. ‘Behavior And Food Consumption Pattern Of The Population Exposed In 1949-1962 To Fallout From Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site In Kazakhstan’, 50 Radiation And Environmental Biophysics 1 (2011), 91-103. Also, uranium for the Soviet Union nuclear weapons was mined in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kirgizstan. S. Parrish, ‘Prospects for Central Asian Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone’, 8 The Nonproliferation Review 1 (2001) 141-148. The Soviet Union used this region for nuclear missile testing, stockpiling nuclear weapons, uranium mining, etc. In October 1951, the Soviet Union dropped an atomic bomb on the SNTS. From 1949-1962, around 111 surface nuclear tests were managed in Semipalatinsk. In 1953, the USSR detonated its first thermonuclear. During this time the Soviet Union conducted 715 nuclear tests, and 454 were held in SNTS. In 1962, the Soviet Union started doing nuclear tests underground in order to stop polluting the environment. The last test was held in October 1989. In 1995, Kazakhstan joined the NPT and transferred back more than 1400 Soviet nuclear weapons. Those tests exposed more than 955 of radiation to the environment. The surface and underground nuclear tests in Kazakhstan caused major environmental problems. It also affected the health. Children mortality increased in the region; more people started dying from cancer and leukemia. Life expectancy decreased in Central Asia. It all was affected by radioactive energy and nuclear weapons.
In 1956, the USSR decided to organize the establishment of a NWFZ in the populated area of Germany, Central Asia and Central Europe. However, this attempt did not succeed. It was inspired by the suspicion during the Cold War that North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries would position nuclear weapons along the Iron Curtain, which would increase the military advantage of the U.S. and its alliances. In March 1956, the proposal was presented to the United Nations Committee on Disarmament. It proposed that the countries in that zone would not produce, maintain, control or admit into their territories nuclear weapons, and additionally, to prohibit the stationing of nuclear-equipped troops, nuclear and hydrogen weapons on German territory and in neighbouring states. The proposal would affect a zone of limitation of arms in Central Europe and Central Asia. Also, it proposed that Nuclear Weapons States (NWS) (not including China) not to transfer and maintain such weapons or equipment to the states of the zone and at the same time, not to use nuclear weapons in the area. NATO countries rejected the Soviet Union proposal, because they were dependent on nuclear weapons to fight the Warsaw Pact countries. Also, the proposal didn’t include the limitation of conventional armaments. NATO believed that without nuclear weapons on their side, the Warsaw Pact countries’ conventional weapons might change the power dynamic in the region. M. Finaud, ‘The Experience of Nuclear Weapon-Free Zones’, British American Security Information Council, May 2014.
During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union expanded their nuclear weapons arsenal. In 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed, and the establishment of independent states occurred. The nuclear weapons were a symbol of the Cold War and the aftermath of that time created a necessity for Member States to establish NWFZ in their regions. W. Mukai, ‘The Importance of Nuclear Weapons Free Zones’, 1 Journal on Science and World Affairs 2 (2005) 79-86. The collapse of the USSR organized the elimination of nuclear weapons from Kazakhstan by the Russian Federation and created the necessity to establish an NWFZ in Central Asia. L. Tabassi, ‘National Implementation and Enforcement of Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone Treaties’ 83 Nuclear Law Bulletin (2009) 29-57. In 1992, during the UN General Assembly session, the People’s Republic of Mongolia announced itself a nuclear-weapons-free zone. China and Russia supported this decision. P.J. Magnarella, ‘Attempt to Reduce and Eliminate Nuclear Weapons Through The Nuclear Non-Prolification Treaty and the Creation of Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zones’, 33 Peace & Change 4 (2008): 507-521 (restricted access). This attempt inspired the establishment of the Central Asia NWFZ.
One year later, the first CANWFZ proposal to create a regional treaty for Central Asian states was made by President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov at the 48th session, of the United Nations General Assembly. The following year, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan representatives made additional proposals, but Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan could not reach the consensus with the other two states. ‘The Central Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone (CANWFZ)’, Inventory for International Nonproliferation Organizations and Regimes Center for Nonproliferation Studies, 2009. In 1997, the five Central Asian Member States reached a consensus in an Almaty Declaration, with a primary goal to establish CANWFZ in the context of past environmental challenges faced by all former Soviet Union states. 1978 Declaration of Alma-Ata It was the first time that the United Nations were directly involved in drafting the treaty. M. Roscini, ‘Something Old, Something New: The 2006 Semipalatinsk Treaty on a Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone in Central Asia’, 7 Chinese Journal of International Law 3 (2008), 594-624 (restricted access). The primary point that united Central Asian States together was the environmental problems in that region that had been caused by the Soviet Union nuclear weapons and its production, testing or infrastructure actions in their territories. L. Tabassi, ‘National Implementation and Enforcement of Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone Treaties’ 83 Nuclear Law Bulletin (2009) 29-57. In October 1997, five NWS – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States – met with Central Asian Member State representatives in New York in order to discuss the treaty and the additional protocol. The NWS decided to take more time to go over the documents. That postponed the signing ceremony that was planned to be held on 18 October 1997. C. Kucia, ‘Central Asian States Negotiate Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone’, 32 Arms Control Today 9 (2002). The difficulties between Central Asian States and NWS existed because, in 1992, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan had signed the Treaty on Collective Security in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. 1992 Collective Security Treaty Based on this treaty, Russia had the advantage of deploying nuclear weapons in the Central Asian territory. So, the Central Asian States tried to maintain Russian right based on the Tashkent Treaty. After intense negotiations in August and September 1997, the consensus on the language of the draft CANWFZ treaty was reached between the NWS and five Central Asian States. The new document wouldn't conflict with existing security arrangements and would save the existing agreement with Russia. C. Kucia, ‘Central Asian States Negotiate Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone’, 32 Arms Control Today 9 (2002).
In April 1997, during the NPT Preparatory Committee, Central Asian State leaders came to a decision to create a working group in order draft the CANFWZ treaty. This working group included the foreign ministry officials and had conferences in capital cities of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and also in Geneva, New York and Sapporo. In September 1997, an international conference on 'Central Asia – A Nuclear Weapon Free Zone' was held in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. The positive outcome of this meeting showed the high commitment of the five Central Asian states to create NWFZ. They issued the Tashkent Statement, which stated their agreement to eliminate nuclear weapons from their region, and welcomed the UN agencies to cooperate. ‘Central Asian Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone (CANWFZ)’, Nuclear Threat Initiative. In 1998, five Central Asian states, five NWS, the UN and IAEA representatives attended the working group meeting in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan and released the document entitled 'Basic Elements of the Treaty on a Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone in Central Asia' which emphasized future plans to create a NWFZ in the region with the help of five NWS and UN agencies. ‘Central Asian Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone (CANWFZ)’, Nuclear Threat Initiative. In 2000, the 55th Session of the United Nation General Assembly adopted without a vote Resolution 55/33, which supported the Central Asian States' initiatives to establish a NWFZ in the region and create a multilateral dialogue between states. UNGA Res 55/33, 12 January 2001. In 2002, the Central Asian political leaders met in Samarkand, Uzbekistan to build the legal structure and language of the legally binding treaty in order to provide a secure environment in the region. ‘Central Asian Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone (CANWFZ)’, Nuclear Threat Initiative. Disagreements about the borders and neighboring countries, legal rights to the Caspian Sea and relationship with Russia appeared during the negations between the Central Asian States. P.J. Magnarella, ‘Attempt to Reduce and Eliminate Nuclear Weapons Through The Nuclear Non-Prolification Treaty and the Creation of Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zones’, 33 Peace & Change 4 (2008) 507-521 (restricted access). The same year, the 57th Session of the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 57/69 'Establishment of Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zone in Central Asia' by consensus. UNGA Res 57/69, 30 December 2002. On February 2005, the Regional Group of Experts (from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan and the United Nations) met in Tashkent, Uzbekistan in order to finalize the CANWFZ treaty. The United States, France, and the United Kingdom stated their disagreement with few points in the treaty. For example, how the treaty would affect transportation of weapons-related fissile materials through the zone and related to existing regional security agreements, such as between Russia and Central Asian States. However, on 8 February 2005 the final draft text of the treaty was approved in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. In September 2006, the treaty was opened for signatures in Semipalatinsk (Kazakhstan). This city was chosen as a symbol because it was the former Soviet Union nuclear weapons test zone. P.J. Magnarella, ‘Attempt to Reduce and Eliminate Nuclear Weapons Through The Nuclear Non-Prolification Treaty and the Creation of Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zones’, 33 Peace & Change 4 (2008) 507-521 (restricted access). In 2006, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 61/88 entitled 'Establishment of a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in Central Asia' which would strengthen the nuclear non-proliferation norm, promote the use of safe nuclear energy in a safe way and environmental improvement that have been caused by radioactive waste. UNGA Res 61/88, 6 December 2006. In 2008, Muktar Jumaliev, Kyrgyzstan's Representative to the United Nations, attended the Preparatory Committee session in Geneva, Switzerland that is held in between the NPT Review Conferences. He presented on behalf on five Central Asian States the draft resolution on the creation of CANFWZ. ‘Creation of Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone in Central Asia discussed in Geneva’, AKlpress, 7 May 2008 (restricted access). In 2008, the General Assembly passed a resolution on the 'Establishment of Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zone in Central Asia', urging Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan to ratify the resolution and welcome the international conference in 2009 that would focus on the issues of uranium tailing and would be held in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. One hundred forty-one states voted in favour; three states voted against the resolution (France, United Kingdom, United States) and 36 abstained. On 21 March 2009, the CANWFZ treaty entered into force. P.J. Magnarella, ‘Attempt to Reduce and Eliminate Nuclear Weapons Through The Nuclear Non-Prolification Treaty and the Creation of Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zones’, 33 Peace & Change 4 (2008) 507-521 (restricted access). In 2010, the state representative from Uzbekistan addressed the CANWFZ treaty during the NPT Review Conference. The statement introduced a working paper, the willingness to cooperate responsibly with the other Member States and to implement the requirements of the IAEA Additional Protocol and the CTBT. Also, the treaty would focus on the environmental rehabilitation of territories affect by past radioactive activities. P.J. Magnarella, ‘Attempt to Reduce and Eliminate Nuclear Weapons Through The Nuclear Non-Prolification Treaty and the Creation of Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zones’, 33 Peace & Change 4 (2008) 507-521 (restricted access). In 2014, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China, and Russia signed the Protocol of CANWFZ Treaty, and France became the first country that ratified the treaty. One year later, the United Kingdom also ratified this treaty. ‘Central Asian Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone (CANWFZ)’, Nuclear Threat Initiative.
|China||6 May 2014||17 August 2015|
|France||6 May 2014||17 August 2015|
|Russian Federation||6 May 2014||22 June 2015|
|United Kingdom||6 May 2014||30 January 2015|
|United States of America||6 May 2014|
Each NWFZ treaty has one or more protocols that should be ratified by five NWS. When NWS signed and ratified the CANWFZ treaty, they agreed not to use nuclear weapons against CANWFZ states, not to experiment or support in the testing of nuclear weapons within the CANWFZ, and not to violate the treaty. P.J. Magnarella, ‘Attempt to Reduce and Eliminate Nuclear Weapons Through The Nuclear Non-Prolification Treaty and the Creation of Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zones’, 33 Peace & Change 4 (2008) 507-521 (restricted access). In 2015, during the NPT Review Conference, the representative from Kyrgyzstan submitted the working paper that stated the CANWFZ is the unique and important treaty. He asked five NWS to ratify the treaty if they did not do so and said that Central Asian States would voluntarily add IAEA Additional Protocol to the treaty. The same year, the IAEA and Kazakhstan confirmed the agreement to build an uranium fuel bank in Oskemen, Kazakhstan under the CANWFZ treaty. This agreement showed that states could use energy in a peaceful way. In September 2015, during the United National General Assembly session, Kazakhstan presented the proposal called 'Universal Declaration for the Achievement of a Nuclear-Weapons-Free World'. President Nursultan Nazarbayev stated the necessity to establish more NWFZ in the world and that NWS states should guarantee that they wouldn’t use nuclear weapons against Non-NWS. He mentioned the aim to achieve the world free of nuclear weapons by 2045. His speech inspired other diplomats. In December 2015, the UNGA adopted the 'Universal Declaration on the Achievement of a Nuclear-Weapons-Free World'. M. Orazgaliyeva. ‘UN Adopts Nuclear-Weapons-Free World Declaration Initiated by Kazakhstan’, The Astana Times, 8 December 2015. The main point of this declaration is to achieve a world without nuclear weapons, the importance of NPT and international humanitarian law, nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.
The CANWFZ treaty is a paramount and comprehensive treaty. CANWFZ is the first NWFZ in the Northern Hemisphere and in the region where nuclear weapons previously existed. P.J. Magnarella, ‘Attempt to Reduce and Eliminate Nuclear Weapons Through The Nuclear Non-Prolification Treaty and the Creation of Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zones’, 33 Peace & Change 4 (2008) 507-521 (restricted access). The five Central Asian States shared the same goals – regional and international peace, environmental aspect and security without nuclear weapons. ‘Press Conference on Central Asian Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone Treaty’, United Nations Meetings Coverage and Press Releases, 30 March 2009. CANWFZ states that there shouldn’t be process on any research, development, manufacture, stockpile, possession, or any control over any nuclear weapon or other nuclear explosive device in the region. The Central Asian States may use nuclear energy, materials, and facilities only for peaceful purposes in their territories. Also, IAEA is the main body who will safeguards and control these actions.
The CANWFZ Treaty has several important and unique aspects that make it different from other NWFZ treaties. The CANWFZ Treaty:
Even though the CANWFZ Treaty gives the right not to allow the other Member States to station or transfer nuclear weapons through their territory, based on the 1992 Tashkent Collective Security Treaty, Russia can station, transit or deploy nuclear weapons in the Central Asian region during an emergency. Also, it requires all parties to the treaty. D. De Jong, R. Froklage, ‘Regional Nuclear Weapon-Free Zones’, Canadian Centre for Treaty Compliance, 2 February 2010. This agreement between Russia and Central Asian States contradicts the idea of complete elimination of the nuclear weapons from the territory. W. Mukai, ‘The Importance of Nuclear Weapons Free Zones’, 1 Journal on Science and World Affairs 2 (2005) 79-86.
The CANWFZ treaty is a significant legal document and law for Central Asian countries. Central Asians States share a common border with two NWS (China and Russia), had more than 450 nuclear tests conducted in their region and had major radioactive waste that affected people’s health and environment. However, it is the first regional treaty that follows the principles and cooperates with CTBT and IAEA. D. De Jong, R. Froklage, ‘Regional Nuclear Weapon-Free Zones’, Canadian Centre for Treaty Compliance, 2 February 2010. CANWFZ is a step to the world without nuclear weapons.
Last updated on: 20 July 2017