As matters between Israel and Iran continue to irradiate, I just want to throw this out there to see what readers think: if much of Iran’s drive to go nuclear is motivated by a desire to serve as a model of Islamic leadership, could Kazakhstan be utilized by diplomats and theorists as an alternative?
To review: at independence, Kazakhstan had 1400 nuclear weapons (warheads on SS-18 ICBMs) and 40 Tu-95M long range bombers equipped with 320 cruise missiles, all of which was out of the country or otherwise dismantled by the end of 1995, including a clandestine American operation. Since then, Kazakhstan has been a rather vocal supporter of nuclear arms control.
I should note that there have been two hiccups that, at the moment at least, seem more like Orientalism and rumor than anything else. The first, the FAS notes,
Although two other new states — Ukraine and Belarus — also possessed “stranded” nuclear weapons, the Kazakh weapons attracted particular international suspicion, and unsubstantiated rumors reported the sale of warheads to Iran. Subsequent negotiations demonstrated convincingly, however, that operational control of these weapons always had remained with Russian strategic rocket forces.
The second, the Associated Press reported in late 2009 that an unnamed member state of the IAEA claimed Iran had struck a clandestine deal to import 1350 tons of purified uranium ore from Kazakhstan, a claim which the latter denied. As far as I know, nothing more has come from this report, at least not publicly.
Overall, the case of making Kazakhstan an alternative model is looking solid. Here we have a predominantly Muslim country (no less multiethnic-multireligious than Iran, indeed, more so) that arises from the dominant Sunni-Sufi wing of Islam; that is a regional leader and has been materially developing well (relative to its southern neighbors and bracketing issues of corruption or the recent troubles with the oil workers); and most of all, is not in a pissing match with any superpowers — in fact, is getting along rather well with all of them, even to the point that it was given the chair of the OSCE (again, certain issues notwithstanding). Most of all, at one point Kazakhstan had the bomb and willingly gave it up (for the purposes of advocacy, diplomats and theorists can conveniently overlook issues of Russian property claims and such). In fact, according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Kazakhstan is basically being allowed by the international community (read: the West) to pursue a program of peaceful nuclear energy develop, including the ambition to develop nuclear reactors for export, despite all its many social, environmental, and political problems, most notably corruption.
I’m painting very broad strokes, of course, but you get my point and can fill in the details for yourself. Seems to me like there’s a useful opportunity here that isn’t being tapped into. What do you think?