Working with nuclear materials is, by its very nature, volatile. Carrying out diplomacy over nuclear materials is even more so. The 1990s posed a particularly fragile moment as the Soviet Union collapsed, leaving nuclear successor states in its wake. In particular, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan emerged onto the global scene equipped with weapons and the infrastructure to produce more nuclear devices.
The question for diplomacy (amidst the familiar pressures and excitement of establishing relationships with newly independent, nascent states) was how to steer the moments that would follow—a world where the number of nuclear-armed states had suddenly multiplied. Without carefully proceeding, the moment could turn sour, leading to further proliferation and heightened risk.
For over forty years, the Soviet Union and the United States had been locked in a nuclear escalation in the Cold War, generating the vast majority of the world’s supply of nuclear weapons and warheads. In the Soviet Union, this peaked at a stockpile of approximately 68,000 warheads just a year before its fall. After December 26, 1991, with the dissolution of the USSR, those warheads were now split between the resulting new republics it left in its wake.
For Janet Bogue, a move to Kazakhstan as a Foreign Service officer in 1994, less than three years after the fall of the Soviet Union, meant an entrée into careful negotiations around the new Republic’s nuclear stockpile. Luckily for Bogue, Kazakhstan proved flexible, eager to de-arm and to negotiate with the United States. In this particular case, the obstacle proved to be the United States itself, much to the consternation of the Foreign Service officers posted in Almaty.