Kazakhstan Wants a Piece of Westinghouse

by Nathan Hamm on 7/16/2007 · 4 comments

marsh_westinghouse_lhj25oct.jpgKazAtomProm is buying a 10% stake in Westinghouse from Toshiba, and James Love over at The Huffington Post is quite displeased with the proposed deal, which the US government has signed off on as being free of problems. Love doesn’t see it that way. And why? Well, for a whole lot of reasons, most of which are various flavors of “Nazarbaev rules Kazakhstan with an iron fist.”

He goes on to say that the US Treasury Department’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States should think carefully about the deal and look back to proposals for cooperation between Westinghouse, GE, and Iran back when the country was ruled by the Shah. This should give us reason for pause, he says, because:

We truly know little about the future of Kazakhstan, a country that has not seen a democratic transition of power, and we should not risk a mistake leading to nuclear proliferation by transferring U.S. nuclear technology to any country that is ruled this way.

But, because the past can give us some kind of indication of what the future holds, Love provides readers with 17 links to stories about repression in Kazakhstan. The sixteenth of these links touches on an issue that I find the most important of the bunch — investigations into possible Kazakh involvement in nuclear proliferation.

I am probably not alone in finding Love’s reaction to this news to parallel the overblown reaction to the Dubai Ports World controversy. At the very least, there’s a good share of ignorance informing the opposition in both cases.

Love says that “we truly know little about the future of Kazakhstan,” but suggests that government repression gives us sufficient reason to determine that allowing Kazakhstan’s government to invest in a US nuclear corporation to be ill-advised. (He seems to be implicitly arguing at one point that Kazakhstan today parallels Iran under the Shah. I mean, come on, it’s so obvious…) But on the other side of the coin, Kazakhstan’s performance gives us plenty of reason to think that there’s nothing too bad about this deal. Love’s suggestion that there’s no worry because Cheney and Nazarbaev are pals just don’t pass muster.

There is the matter of Kazakhstan decision to voluntarily dismantle its nuclear arsenal after independence, and its continuing commitment to nonproliferation. The issue is, after all, often mentioned in Kazakhstan’s diplomacy, and nuclear issues get prominent billing on the website of its embassy to the US and Canada. (A reader of Love’s post mentioned Kazakhstan’s record on this in a comment to the post.)

Also, Love may have missed the talks that have been going on for a while between Japan and Kazakhstan over nuclear energy cooperation. I mark that as another datum indicating trustworthiness. Japan has expressed interest in importing uranium from Kazakhstan, and the two sides are working on a framework for cooperation on peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

But Love sees Kazakhstan’s investment in Westinghouse as dangerous and the expansion of its nuclear energy sector as a threat — a threat that is being given the green light to go forward merely because a cabal of wicked people who are not members of his political tribe have ties to Kazakhstan. Sadly, he’s way out of his element when it comes to making the case, as once clearly sees by his absurd statement in this post that Al Qaeda has “access” to Kazakhstan. (All things considered, I’d estimate that they have more “access” to the UK…) There surely are some good reasons to think carefully about the deal, but it would be nice if Love could show a bit more knowledge of Kazakhstan and a good deal more consideration of the larger policy questions surrounding the merits and demerits of cooperating with Kazakhstan’s government.

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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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Joshua Foust July 17, 2007 at 6:07 am

Didn’t you know? If we cooperate with a Muslim country, the terrorists will win.

brian July 17, 2007 at 2:20 pm

Nathan, good post. Indeed, James Love would do well to study history:

Official US statement, May 26, 1995:

“The United States warmly congratulates Kazakhstan on becoming a state free of nuclear weapons. On April 21, the last nuclear weapon was removed from Kazakhstani territory. Kazakhstan has fulfilled its pledge to become a nonnuclear weapon state under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) . It ratified the NPT during Vice President Gore’s trip to Almaty in December, 1993. This is a very significant accomplishment for Kazakhstan, for the United States, and for the cause of non-proliferation, which is one of this Administration’s primary foreign policy concerns.”

What happened in Kazakhstan in 1991-1995:

“Subsequent to its independence, Kazakhstan found itself owner of one of the world’s largest nuclear arsenals. The weapons of greatest concern were the 1,400 nuclear warheads on SS-18 ICBMs that remained in Kazakhstan when the Soviet Union disbanded. Kazakhstan also had 40 Tu-95M long range bombers equipped with 320 cruise missiles.

All nuclear weapons were out of Kazakhstan by May 1995. Kazakh disarmament activities included:

* return of 1400 strategic nuclear warheads and 104 SS-18 ICBMs, as well as their support equipment to Russia;
* eliminating 147 ICBM (mostly SS-18) silo launchers, launch control centers and test silos located at Zhangiz-Tobe, Derzhavinsk, Semipalatinsk and Leninsk;
* closing and sealing 178 of 181 nuclear weapons test tunnels at the Degelen Mountain Test Tunnel Complex and 13 vertical test bore holes at Balapan;
* dismantling 7 heavy bombers.

Before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan was the most significant site of military-industrial activity in Central Asia.
Chemical and biological weapons were produced in Aksu, and chemical weapons were manufactured in Pavlodar. By 1994 most of Kazakhstan’s defense plants had ceased military production.”

Source: Federation of American Scientists,

Ian Hague July 19, 2007 at 9:41 am

I would think this deal would be subject to the new vetting process that Congress just authorized. The point of this process is to shield to some degree US public companies from purchases by state-owned or state-controlled entities. Westinghouse’s business lines (other than light bulbs) clearly constitute a “sensitive” area, and quite obviously KazAtomProm is a state-owned entity.

Its very unlikely that the US would refuse to permit a puchase of 10% of Westinghouse, equity, which after all does not imply any change of control.

Michael Hancock July 19, 2007 at 10:22 pm

Is anyone else nervous about the ‘closing and sealing of 178 of 181 nuclear weapons test tunnels?’ I mean, what about numbers 179, 180, and 181?

And where the heck is Degelen Mountain, anyway? In the Altays by China? Or in Tian-Shan along the south, by Taraz, Almaty, or Shymkent? Or is it just some hill somewhere in the vastness of Central Kazakhstan?

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