Kazakhstan is not a very large country. Today’s world places more value on economic scale, rather than territorial boundaries or the sheer number of people. Against the backdrop of neighbouring Russia and China, this 16 million people landlocked country could have been lost in the shadows and left on the sidelines. It could have, but it isn’t, because Kazakhstan does have a particular political “weight” that it uses to tip the scales in the right direction, with precision accuracy.
The government, under the leadership of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, makes it a point to put Kazakhstan on the global political map. Carefully, pursuing a policy of multi-vectoralism, the country is treading the world arena without stepping on others’ shoes and moving along its own path of development.
Since establishing an independent sovereign state in 1991, President Nazarbayev has put forward initiative after initiative to promote security and foster regional and global cooperation.
The Commonwealth of Independent States was formed in Almaty in December 1991 during the crumbling of the Soviet Union, and created a blanket organization for countries that were suddenly cut off from one another after nearly 70 years of political unity.
In no way do the people of Kazakhstan want to go back to the system of socialist rule of the past, but certain elements of the framework certainly helped in providing Kazakhstan its role on the international stage. The most recent developments of the Eurasian Economic Community are specifically aimed at creating a common market of around 200 million people, and it cannot be ignored or unnoticed. Issues of sovereignty and political decision-making are left to the independent governments but a free flow of goods and services is regulated by a common secretariat.
Apart from the EurAsEC, Kazakhstan is also an initiator or and active participant in other international organizations. The list includes the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia, proposed by President Nazarbayev in 1992, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Asian Cooperation Dialogue, to name a few. Each with its own mandate and objectives, these international institutions warrant Kazakhstan with a platform to deliver its message of peace and tranquility, mutually beneficial cooperation through dialogue and understanding.
To ensure a peaceful neighborhood, Kazakhstan also opened its doors to the most recent rounds of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 countries in Almaty. The events, dubbed Almaty I and Almaty II, have provided the world with substance that could have very well prevented further escalation of tensions. Former US ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, was on American national television saying “I’m afraid that 2013 is going to be a year in which we’re going to have a military confrontation with Iran.” Thankfully, the sides met at Rixos, Almaty, and hopefully they will continue talking in order to resolve the situation peacefully.
In the military security area, Kazakhstan has designated an infantry battalion called KAZBAT for potential deployment in the peacemaking operations under UN Security Council mandates. KAZBAT became operable as planned and elements of this battalion have effectively served in Iraq for five years and have joined NATO countries in a number of live exercises. The expansion of this force into a full brigade – KAZBRIG – is a major project aimed to give Kazakhstan the capability to continuously sustain a battalion-sized contribution.
In 2010, Kazakhstan, along with Russia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Belarus completed an agreement with NATO allowing the transportation of non-lethal ISAF cargo to Afghanistan by rail. As of 2012, NATO also has an agreement with Kazakhstan (as well as with several other Central Asian countries and with Russia) for the redeployment of non-lethal ISAF cargo from Afghanistan. Kazakhstan plays an active role in both hosting and participating in Partnership for Peace training and exercises. In consultation with NATO countries, Kazakhstan has established a PfP regional training centre, and continues to work with Allies and regional partners within military and language training programmes.
The UN system has 15 bodies working in Kazakhstan including International Labour Organization (ILO), Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), United Nations Volunteers (UNV), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Department of Public Information (UNDPI), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), United Nations Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia (UNRCCA), and the World Health Organization (WHO)
Foreign diplomatic missions in Kazakhstan will know that the country is seeking international support for the establishment of a UN regional diplomacy hub in Almaty and aims to become a non-permanent UN Security Council member. On January 18, the President addressed international ambassadors posted in Kazakhstan with a plea. “We will help eliminate even the slightest manifestations of a conflict in the region, develop integration and build up pragmatic economic cooperation with all our partners. I kindly ask you to bring to your governments’ notice that Kazakhstan aspires to become the pillar of stability and cooperation between the nations. This is the idea behind Kazakhstan’s wish to join the UN Security Council as its non-permanent member,” Nursultan Nazarbayev stated then.
In all, Kazakhstan is becoming a noticeable player on the world arena. With its economy growing 5-6 percent annually even during the times of global financial turmoil and uncertainty and against the backdrop of the world’s rather sluggish economic growth overall, Kazakhstan has been gradually turning into an economic bedrock in the critical region of Central Asia. In the future, Kazakhstan plans to once again take center stage by showing its vision of the future, of an economy not based on crude oil and mineral exports, but on alternative and more environmentally friendly sources of energy, at the specialized EXPO 2017 in Astana. Not bad for a new kid on the block.