The last 12 months will rank among the most turbulent of recent times. We have seen major political shocks driven by widespread public anger and frustration at the political and business elite in the U.S. and Europe. Mainstream parties and ideas are under challenge everywhere.
The tragedy of Syria and Iraq has deepened, fuelled by violent extremism, which continues to cause death and destruction across the world. These conflicts are also a prime cause of the refugee crisis. Millions have fled the fighting to seek a safer, better life for their families. But the mass movement of people has added to tensions in many countries and put a heavy burden on their neighbours.
At the same time, the global economy remains in a fragile state. Living standards are under pressure across large parts of the world. Trade growth – the motor of prosperity – has stalled and is now expected to be at the lowest level since the financial crisis.
The response to these challenges over the last year should have been increased cooperation to find effective and sustainable solutions. But instead of unity, the international community has rarely seemed as fractured or incapable of action.
It is against this worrying background that Astana takes on a major responsibility on Jan. 1 as Kazakhstan is the first country from Central Asia to sit on the United Nations Security Council. The country is determined, as one might expect from a nation which has made promoting cooperation, dialogue and peace the guiding principles of its foreign relations, to do all it can to help heal divisions and tackle global threats.
This must include concerted action against terrorism. Kazakhstan has already committed to work towards step up efforts to cut off the funds that finance their conflict in Iraq and Syria as well as their terrorist attacks around the world.
The situation in Afghanistan is of particular concern to us and to all countries in the region. It would be the height of folly, not just for neighbouring nations like Kazakhstan but also the wider world, to allow the country, which has suffered too much for almost four decades now, to slip back into the hands of the Taliban and other extremist groups.
Kazakhstan rightfully intends to use its work at the UNSC to press for increased financial and practical support for the elected government of Afghanistan. One must admit that despite the challenges it faces, Afghanistan has made real progress in recent years, which must not be wasted.
At a bilateral level, Kazakhstan already gives on-the-ground help as well as training to hundreds of its brightest students. But the best long-term way to defeat terrorism in Afghanistan is to integrate the country into a strong regional economy. It is why Kazakhstan is investing, along with its partners, in improving transport links across Central Asia to boost trade, employment and prosperity.
Terrorism, however, is a truly global threat. We need, as President Nursultan Nazarbayev has urged, a genuine Global Coalition under the auspices of the UN to ensure we have the resources and information to win this fight.
This will be impossible, however, unless we act to end the tragedy in Syria. It has become clear that there can be no solution without the sitting government’s involvement. What’s needed now is the courage and vision to find a settlement that allows the moderate opposition to have a strong voice in the country’s future so that the violent extremists can be driven out of Syria. That is why Kazakhstan welcomed the Dec. 29 announcement of a ceasefire brokered by Moscow and Ankara and accepted their proposal to host, if needed, intra-Syrian talks on the potential political settlement for the cruellest of the ongoing conflicts.
Reaching it won’t be easy. But only through dialogue rather than suspicion and sanctions can trust be rebuilt and lasting and fair solutions found.
These solutions must include a concerted effort to lift the shadow of nuclear weapons from our world – the cause of our time as President Nazarbayev made clear in his Manifesto. That is why, among other issues, it would be important to continue to support the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran and work on that country’s re-integration into the international community,
The nuclear agreement with Iran – reached with Kazakhstan’s help – was a major step in limiting nuclear proliferation while allowing countries the right to atomic power for peaceful purposes. Our country will be making its own major contribution to this critical goal next year when we host the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Low-Enriched Uranium Bank. It is one symbol of global cooperation we must hope will make 2017 a more optimistic year in the global calendar than the last 12 months.
Kazakhstan enters its two-year membership on the UN Security Council not only with a newcomer’s enthusiasm but also a sober awareness of the mountain to climb on the way toward making our common world better, even with one small step at a time.