Kazakh-US Nuclear Security Operation Marks 20th Anniversary
In November 1994, the United States and Kazakhstan completed an unprecedented, highly secret, joint operation to remove approximately 600 kilograms of highly enriched uranium from a former Soviet nuclear plant in Ust-Kamenogorsk to permanent storage in the United States.
The operation, dubbed “Project Sapphire”, was funded by the U.S. Department of Defence’s Cooperative Threat Reduction (Nunn-Lugar) Program. This program helped secure nuclear warheads and fissile materials in the former Soviet Union and ensured their relocation to Russia from Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Belarus. Kazakhstan's early decision to become a nuclear weapon-free state made it a global leader in the non-proliferation movement, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies underlined as it hosted the event to mark the anniversary on Nov.17.
The unprecedented project was made reality thanks to a high level of trust between the President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev and the 42nd President of the United States Bill Clinton. The project laid solid fundament for Kazakh-American cooperation and later allowed two countries shape strategic partnership between them.
The event at CSIS was symbolically named “Project Sapphire: Twenty Years Later: Cooperative Threat and Lessons for the Future”. Keynote speakers included respected US politicians, ex-senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar. They are best known as co-authors of “Cooperative Threat (Nunn-Lugar) Programme”. The Project Sapphire was implemented as part of this programme, as well as an entire set of Kazakh-American projects in elimination and decontamination of infrastructure and facilities of nuclear, chemical and biological weapon left on the Kazakhstan soil after the nation got it independence in 1991.
Addressing the event, Senator Lugar underlined that listening to his people’s will President Nazarbayev had made a step that can be rightfully estimated as a prominent contribution to nuclear disarmament and strengthening non-proliferation systems, as well as global security.
Imagine what would the world be like today if not the courageousness and leadership of President Nazarbayev, asked senator Nunn rhetorically. The Kazakh leader’s policy was aimed at making humanity rid of nuclear weapons and strengthening the systems of non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. It has earned him the international community’s acknowledgement and strengthened Kazakhstan’s global leadership in disarmament, non-proliferation, and nuclear security, Senator Nunn added.
The event was attended by the senior representatives of the Obama administration who twenty years ago directly engaged in the Project Sapphire, namely Laura Holgate, Senior Director of the WMD Terrorism and Threat Reduction at the National Security Council, and Andrew Weber, former assistant secretary of defence in nuclear, chemical and biological protection.
Holgate shared the memories of her work on the Project Sapphire and her first trip to the young independent nation of Kazakhstan. Project Sapphire defined long-term and consistent cooperation between Kazakhstan and the USA she said. Apart from CTR, today it includes “an impressive strategic partnership” over a range of issues from economy to green energy, the official stressed.
“The conference’s goal was not only sum up of a certain stage of our cooperation but also define ways to lift it to a qualitatively new level”, Kazakhstan’s Ambassador to the US Kairat Umarov underlined in his turn.
Speakers at the event included David Hoffman,Pulitzer-Prize winning author of The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy, and Richard Hoagland, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and former US Ambassador in Astana. The senior diplomat commented that Kazakhstan “through its decision to carry out Project Sapphire, earned respect from around the world for its commitment to strengthening global security and for its support for international norms”, adding that “today Kazakhstan is a leader in the region and a strong partner of the United States [which] continues to set high goals and is taking on a leadership role on the global stage”.
The event was organised by the Embassy of Kazakhstan to the US along with the George Washington University’s National Security Archive. Senior representatives if the Department of State, the Department of Defence, the Congress, intelligence community, business circles, academics, media, and the diplomatic community accredited in Washington DC.