Appetite for Nukes: Thoughts on Turkmenistan a Decade Ago and the Nuclear Club Today


When I moved to Washington in the fall of 1994, I got to know the then Ambassador from Turkmenistan to the United States.
Turkmenistan had been part of the former Soviet Union, and after it became its own country and set up its Embassy in Washington, few paid much attention to Turkmenistan or its Ambassador. This period preceded the so-called “new great game” for Caspian oil.
When I opened the office I was running and had an open house, the Ambassador brought a very large framed picture — extremely nice, almost too nice. I was embarrassed because I really didn’t want to accept gifts of that sort, but the Ambassador asked me to take it because he felt that I had been so decent to him.
He commented that “because we don’t have nuclear weapons that we control, no one in this town pays attention to us. No one in the administration (the Clinton administration) wants to meet with me. You (Steve) have been generous with your time and interest and we want to support your efforts.”
This has stuck in my mind ever since the episode in early 1995, over ten years ago.
I hope that America and Iran don’t go down a road of hot conflict over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but no matter what happens — those in the nuclear proliferation business, both pro and con, need to understand that nations that want to move up the power ladder in the world go after nukes not only because they want them for offensive purposes; not just because they want them for defense; but because they want “respect.”
I have no doubt that if Turkmenistan had the ability to get nukes in early 1995, it might have — not because it wanted to defend itself from a return of Soviet control or to control the Caspian territories it has — but because it wanted the White House to return its phone calls.
America has helped create and instigate the appetite for nuclear weapons in nations that want to be powerful.
This is something we, as a nation, must fix.
— Steve Clemons