On Sept. 15, the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly kicks off in New York. A record number of heads of state are expected to attend the gathering, mainly in its second week, including President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Established in the autumn of 1945, the United Nation remains the main international organisation and the key political platform for dialogue and interaction for almost every sovereign state in the contemporary world.
The 70th anniversary of the United Nations is an opportunity to reflect, to look back on the UN’s history and take stock of its enduring achievements. It is also an opportunity to shine a light where the UN, and the international community as a whole, need to redouble their efforts to meet current and future challenges across the three pillars of the UN’s work: peace and security, development and human rights.
Today, we take the idea of the United Nations for granted, but bringing it to life required huge leaps of statecraft to bridge differences.Every day, the United Nations feeds the hungry, shelters refugees and vaccinates children against deadly diseases. Over the past 70 years, we have witnessed some remarkable achievements: the defeat of smallpox and guinea worm; millions of lives saved by vaccinations, the provision of refugee workers and food aid; the vast improvement in maternal and neonatal health encouraged by the Millennium Development Goals; the brave attempt to shake the world out of its complacency about climate change and the need to preserve ozone, oceans and forests before it is too late.
All of this work is undertaken by UN staff who, each day, do remarkable and often unsung work. People like the UNICEF team in Yemen, striving to vaccinate children; the UNHCR personnel helping unprecedented numbers of people trying to find refuge in Europe this year; the World Food Programme relief teams who saved countless lives after the Nepal earthquake.
The UN has negotiated more than 170 peace deals, kept peace in 60 countries and has fostered democracy in 40. Yet the challenges for the UN in ensuring our collective security, and for the Security Council in particular, are greater than at any time in recent memory. Old tensions that we hoped had been left to history have been revived while new threats have emerged. In Syria and Iraq, we have witnessed the rise of an abhorrent form of violent extremism that threatens the stability of all countries.
It is a world as well in which Central Asia is of increasing importance. As globalisation continues, the region bridges the developed markets of Western Europe and North America with the economic powerhouses to the east. Its rich energy and mineral resources are vital to the economies of partner countries, and its proximity to some of the most challenging countries, such as Afghanistan, means it is on the frontline of global problems like extremism and drugs trafficking.
Given these factors, the global role of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and the need for it to reflect the broadest possible range of views, it is surprising that in the 70 years of the UN’s existence and in the more than 20 years of independence for Central Asian countries, no country from Central Asia has yet been a member. Kazakhstan rightly hopes to correct this oversight if elected to a two-year term from 2017.
Kazakhstan, of course, only became an independent country in 1991, as did four other countries in Central Asia. But in the last two decades, Kazakhstan has shown a total commitment to the principles and mechanisms of the UN.
The nation’s history also means it fully understands the importance of tolerance and dialogue. Kazakhstan is home to people of many different backgrounds and faiths who live in harmony within our borders. This respect for tolerance reflects the values the UN has espoused for 70 years. Through initiatives like the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions and the country’s membership in organisations like the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) – both of which Kazakhstan has chaired in recent years – the country does all it can to promote tolerance and moderation internationally.
It is a big step for a young nation like Kazakhstan to stand for the Security Council. But the amount of support the country has received over the last year from countries across the globe demonstrates that it can stand up to the challenge.
Kazakhstan is a successful economy and a stable society. It is a good neighbour and has warm relations with Russia and the United States, with Europe and China as well as developing countries around the world.
Kazakhstan should be determined, whether or not it is successful in being elected to the Security Council, to play its full role in these challenging times of promoting peace and dialogue through the United Nations. But, as the UN looks forward to future milestones, it is also time for Central Asia to have a louder voice in the international community.