When Kazakhstan declared its independence in December 1991, the country instantly became the fourth largest global nuclear superpower, inheriting from the dissolving Soviet Union more than 1,400 nuclear warheads, dozens of long-range bombers and cruise missiles and one of the largest nuclear test sites in the world.
The sudden emergence of the new former Soviet republics prompted the United States and the news states to launch negotiations aimed at controlling and disposing of many of the weapons like those under Kazakhstan's control. The talks led to the Lisbon Protocol, signed in 1992 that outlined the de-nuclearization of Kazakhstan, Belarus and Ukraine.
"Kazakhstan guarantees the carrying out of the elimination of all kinds of nuclear weapons, including strategic offensive arms, located on its territory, over a period of seven years," President Nursultan Abishevich Nazarbayev wrote to U.S. President George H.W. Bush at the time.
Under the protocols, Kazakhstan began a massive disarmament effort, shipping the warheads to Russia, disarming the cruise missiles and fighter-bombers and dismantling the massive nuclear test facility.
The country endorsed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1993, joining the pact as a declared nuclear-free state. And by 1995, all of the weapons that had existed in the country were moved back into Russia.
But what remained in the central Asian nation was a massive supply of high quality plutonium, some 3 metric tons of it.
American policy focused on two major areas, securing the large quantities of nuclear material and ensuring gainful employment for engineers and others who might otherwise make their knowledge available to other states or networks.
In 2000, U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson hailed the efforts of both countries to tackle the two issues.
"Together with Kazakhstan, we have now finished 85 percent of the job, safely packaging nearly 2,800 fuel assemblies, to help reduce the vulnerability of high-quality plutonium in the western region of the country," said Richardson during a visit to the country. "Had this unneeded reactor fuel not been secured it could have posed a serious risk to U.S. and global security."
Also that year, Kazakhstan completed the dismantlement of the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test site, the location of more than 440 nuclear tests by the Soviets.