ASTANA – Kazakhstan brings to the international stage – and soon, it hopes, to the UN Security Council – an ethos that eschews conflict, that is always ready to sit down for negotiations, and that is interested in finding avenues of cooperation even among the most distant partners, the country’s deputy foreign minister told The Astana Times.
“The entire history of foreign policy of Kazakhstan is a demonstration of our ability to negotiate and to reach compromises,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Yerzhan Ashikbayev in an interview on Sept. 10. “We clearly have issues where we can take very principled positions, and at the same time, we always demonstrate the ability to negotiate and to reach the desired outcome. … Some countries hesitate to even demonstrate the willingness to negotiate. This is not the case for Kazakhstan.”
Kazakhstan is campaigning for a nonpermanent seat on the UN Security Council for 2017–2018, a seat for which Thailand is also a candidate. What Kazakhstan has to offer, at a time of mistrust between global powers and regions fracturing under protracted conflicts, is a history of solving problems through engagement, Ashikbayev said.
When asked if his country would vote independently of other permanent Security Council members, he said, “We are able to reach desired outcomes not by confronting someone, but by engaging – engaging in dialogue, underlining the importance of trust. [A lack of trust] is one of the main problems of the current world: Nations and leaders just don’t trust each other, thereby causing conflicts, causing suspicion, causing instability.”
Kazakhstan has demonstrated that engagement and dialogue can be successful, he said, notably in peacefully negotiating all of its borders shortly after independence and playing an instrumental role in relaunching negotiations on Iran’s nuclear programme. This is the experience Kazakhstan brings to the Security Council.
“We are not dogmatic; we don’t have stigmas, previous policies. As a young nation, we are open and flexible. … It’s through engagement and dialogue and cooperation that we would like to solve those issues that we face, to solve those challenges, not through the way of confrontation or conflict. And that’s probably an overarching message of Kazakhstan, coming to the UN Security Council.”
Through its campaign, Kazakhstan is reaching out to countries it historically has not had much contact with, including states in Africa, Latin America and the Pacific Islands. The expansion is a natural process, Ashikbayev said.
“First of all, Kazakhstan, being the biggest landlocked country; we depend on our neighbours. Clearly, Central Asia is the zone of our substantive national interests. … But in terms of diversification, we see a great added value in our Security Council campaign in reaching out to the regions, to nations in those distant areas where we don’t have diplomatic representation.”
The process is not one-way, with assistance flowing from Kazakhstan, he notes. “We are trying to see what else could be done in partnership with those countries. These might be projects in the economic sphere, these might be cooperation within multilateral institutions – it’s very diverse.”
The campaign also goes hand in hand with promoting EXPO 2017 in Astana, which Ashikbayev says the country hopes to make a “truly global event.”
All of these efforts serve Kazakhstan’s interests, he noted. “The more diversified our contacts are the better. We are now just on the verge of becoming a full-fledged World Trade Organisation member – so that will effectively mean that the number of our trade partners will increase. And we need those connections, we need those ties.”
And while Kazakhstan would not seem to have much in common with an island like Fiji – where Kazakh Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov recently attended the Pacific Islands Development forum – there is value in collaborating as “geographically disadvantaged nations,” Ashikbayev said. And the need to develop transport and transit potential – a major thrust of Kazakhstan’s development at the moment – is common in countries around the world, he noted.
Before either the expo or the UN Security Council vote, however, comes the 70th UN General Assembly (UNGA) and associated summits on countering violent extremism and other topics. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev will deliver Kazakhstan’s traditional messages of engagement, settling conflicts through dialogue and stopping nuclear proliferation – and, as is traditional,is helming a changed nation.
“Each time President Nazarbayev attends the UN General Assembly, Kazakhstan is a different country,” Ashikbayev said. “If we look at the way that we’ve travelled over the past quarter century, Kazakhstan started from being a newly independent state with a very weak economy to its current state as one of the most active countries in Asia, a net contributor not only to regional but to global security.”
At the leaders-level summit on countering violent extremism on the UNGA sidelines, Kazakhstan will call for more work on fighting terrorist ideologies, Ashikbayev said, calling extremism “a threat to the very foundations of our societies.”
“You can defeat fighters on the battlefield, but the essential point is to defeat the ideology, and this is the approach that we’ve taken to that problem,” Ashikbayev said. Aspects of an integrated approach were discussed at the regional conference on countering violent extremism in Kazakhstan, he noted, including how to engage national and local governments and nongovernmental organisations.
“Despite the fact that we have been lucky enough to not witness violence here, the threat is imminent, and we are very well aware of it. We are coming to that countering violent extremism summit with the message that the threat is serious, the threat is not only a military one. We need to win back the minds of people, first of all.”
Stability is crucial to countering violent messages, he said. “A lot depends on the stability and the successful rehabilitation of Afghanistan. But also, remember, four or five years ago, there were huge hopes for the so-called Arab Spring and what it could bring. And President Nazarbayev at the time was very cautious about such drastic changes in those societies. And he turned out to be right – we’ve seen how violent events became in Syria, in Iraq. So a moderate approach to a reform agenda would be our choice, and it is our choice here in Kazakhstan. Development can only be based on stability in society.”
Kazakhstan’s development is attracting attention, he noted. “The experience of Kazakhstan, coming all the way from an underdeveloped nation with a collapsed economy to its current state, and how we managed our relationships with all our neighbours, is a point of interest for many nations.” Many nations have requested bilateral meetings with Nazarbayev on that topic, he said. “There is no universal recipe, but definitely Kazakhstan is seen by many as a success story in terms of nation building, in terms of economic and social development. And from our side, we are very open to sharing that experience.”
Kazakhstan, having successfully implemented the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and most of its MDG+ commitments, welcomes the new UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Ashikbayev said. The new goals, which address 169 targets through 17 goals relating to climate change, health, energy, education, agriculture, gender equality and other issues, are due to be adopted during a special conference within the UNGA.
Kazakhstan had already adopted its 2030 Strategy when the MDGs were announced, Ashikbayev pointed out, and the two documents overlapped significantly.
“This time around, we are coming to the SDGs summit with the Kazakhstan 2050 Strategy in our hands,” he said. The 2050 Strategy aims to vault Kazakhstan into the ranks of the 30 most developed countries in the world by 2050, in the meantime improving quality of life for its citizens, and covers each and every SDG, Ashikbayev said.
“We have a feeling that Kazakhstan is one step ahead, at least in terms of strategic planning [on] how to make the lives of our people more comfortable, more secure and overall, better. So, as in the case of MDGs and this time around the case of SDGs, Kazakhstan [has] its own strategic planning and its own vision of how to implement those goals on a national level.”