After a quarter-century, Kazakhstan’s foreign service has much to be proud of

Since the dawn of independence, consistency, predictability and the multi-vector character of Kazakhstan’s foreign policy under the leadership of its First President, Nursultan Nazarbaev, have been its unique features, strength and the reason for its success.

In the era of globalisation, interdependence, interconnectedness and the emergence of a multi-polar world, adherence to the multi-vector principle is dictated by the very nature of international relations. More so for Kazakhstan, a multi-ethnic and multi-faith nation strategically located in the heart of Eurasia.

It is quite symbolic that the 25th anniversary of the diplomatic service coincides with Kazakhstan’s tenure as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. For someone like myself who served as the newly independent country’s first Permanent Representative to the organisation, this indeed represents a historic milestone.

Back then, Kazakhstan faced the daunting task of ensuring its speedy integration into the international community and a full entry into the world political and economic arena.

Having joined the United Nations on March 2, 1992, our country had two specific tasks to complete. First, we had to expeditiously establish cooperation with the United Nations’ various funds and programmes to be able to qualify for their assistance in resolving our most urgent economic, social and environmental problems. Secondly, as one of the newest member states of the United Nations, Kazakhstan had to learn on the spot how to participate in and contribute to the solution of pressing international issues on the General Assembly’s agenda.

Guided by the principled line of our fledgling foreign policy, I had to forge stances on a myriad of issues on the UN General Assembly agenda. The active participation, proactive diplomacy and hard work of Kazakh diplomats working at the foreign ministry in Almaty and at the mission in New York manifested in an early pay-off. Kazakhstan quickly earned the right and a truly unique opportunity to fully engage in all international affairs, while protecting our national interests and creating favourable conditions for the country’s development. From a novice in international relations, we emerged as an active and respected member of this most important organisation in the world.

President Nazarbayev’s historic decision to turn the country into a nuclear weapon-free independent state earned Kazakhstan much of the international community’s early respect. Kazakhstan’s unwavering stance on nuclear testing and proliferation was first pronounced from the high rostrum of the United Nations even before the country became independent. It was in October 1990 when in my very first address to the United Nations in my capacity as the Foreign Minister of the then Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic and on behalf of the Kazakh people, I called upon the UN member states to immediately halt nuclear testing and shut down all nuclear test sites.

All of my statements as permanent representative reiterated Kazakhstan’s firm commitment to the disarmament process and the principle of nuclear non-proliferation while being backed by our concrete, practical actions.

I was also fortunate to be personally involved in the drafting of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, a historic document Kazakhstan was among the first countries to sign. Later in 1998, at the 53rd Session of the UN General Assembly, I was trusted by member states to join the leadership of the first Committee on Disarmament and International Security, and I served as its chairperson for almost a year.

In the era of globalised and increasingly digitalised world, the nature and the role of diplomacy, some would argue, are changing. Today’s diplomacy is facing a wealth of new challenges of trans-boundary nature. Moreover, the advancement of new information and communications technologies made some pundits question the need to maintain diplomatic missions abroad. Indeed, while remaining the same in its essence, diplomacy today has to seek for and employ new forms and tools to complement traditional activities. The rapidly changing contours of international relations and world politics call for the increased importance of public diplomacy, network diplomacy, summit diplomacy, and the need to build lasting relations with non-state actors of international interaction.

This, in turn, puts additional pressure upon diplomats and particularly for ambassadors, whose work is becoming less visible but demanding a higher level of education, competency, professionalism and ability to find common ground not only with fellow diplomats but also with civil society, which in today’s world is empowered to influence the international agenda. In other words, a modern diplomat and especially an ambassador must learn how to wield influence through his or her own “soft power,” or, in other words, muster the art of convincing and establishing trust.

Female diplomats representing different nations and cultures make an invaluable contribution to international affairs and the work of the United Nations, in particular. I was lucky to have known and worked with many outstanding women diplomats, true professionals in their field.

Noteworthy is the fact that over the past 25 years among Kazakhstan’s six permanent representatives to the UN there have been two other women – Madina Jarbussynova and Byrganym Aitimova, – who have worked hard to solidify and enhance our cooperation with the UN.

I am encouraged by the fact that women have slowly but surely made their way to high leadership positions in the Foreign Ministry of Kazakhstan.

As the foreign service of Kazakhstan marks its 25th anniversary on July 2, it owes a debt of gratitude to the work and courage of the previous generation of its diplomats, who in early 1990s laid the foundation for a successful 21st century Kazakh diplomacy.

Over the past quarter century, the country’s diplomatic service has turned into a professional and effective instrument of implementing our foreign policy. It has successfully solved the tasks of protecting our national interests in the international arena, strengthened our security and created favourable external conditions for a progressive economic and democratic development and the well-being of the nation.

As Kazakhstan enters the next, a more mature stage of development of its foreign service, I invariably say to the new generation of diplomats: there is only one way to succeed in your profession, and it is by continuously striving to know and learn new things and better yourself. By following this path, you will combine a unique practical experience backed by sound theoretical knowledge about diplomacy, which I believe is both an art and a science.

The author is Ambassador-at-Large of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan and the country’s first Permanent Representative to the United Nations.