Twenty-five years ago was a time of major change in the United Nations. The break-up of the Soviet Union saw applications from new countries charting their own course in the world for the first time since the global organisation was created.
Kazakhstan was formally welcomed into the UN fold on March 2 along with eight other new members – its largest single expansion for thirty years. But while Kazakhstan’s admission may not have been a unique event, few countries, new or old, can match its commitment to the UN or its values in the years that have followed.
A sign of Kazakhstan’s serious intent was the appointment almost immediately of the country’s first ambassador to the UN followed by the decision to set up a permanent mission in New York. In turn, the UN opened its first office in Almaty in 1993, the start of a long association, which has seen the city become an important regional hub for the organisation’s work.
From the beginning, Kazakhstan took full advantage of the expertise and experience within the UN and its agencies. This openness to outside advice has been one of the defining characteristics of the country. The incorporation of UN treaties and universal standards into Kazakh legislation was also seen as driving social and economic progress.
But this engagement has, by no means, been one-way. Kazakhstan has worked tirelessly to turn its support for the UN into concrete actions to drive forward the common aims of global peace and co-operation. It was, for example, as early as in October 1992 that President Nursultan Nazarbayev proposed at the UN General Assembly setting up a new regional body to promote peace, security and stability in Asia and across the wider world. The Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building in Asia (CICA) met for the first time in 1999 and has grown steadily in the intervening years in both size and stature.
Drawing on its own tragic experience, too, Kazakhstan has led the international campaign against nuclear weapons. It is for example, at the country’s initiative that Aug 29 – the day that the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site was shut – is now marked officially by the UN as the International Day against Nuclear Tests. Keeping up the pressure for action on this threat to humanity, President Nazarbayev has appealed to UN members to work together to rid the world of nuclear weapons by the 100th anniversary of the organisation, by 2045.
Kazakhstan has similar steps in many other areas central to the goals and values of the UN. Through the Green Bridge programme and EXPO 2017, Kazakhstan has taken practical action to support sustainable development. To counter the threat from extremism and terrorism, the country has proposed both increased and coordinated action under the UN and acted itself to bridge rifts and promote common understanding through initiatives, such as the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions.
The UN has also been involved and supportive of Kazakhstan’s increasing efforts to use its good offices to ease tensions and defuse conflicts. As in the case with the recent talks within what is now being called the Astana Process on Syria, in which the UN played its full part, Kazakhstan’s role as a trusted honest broker and a welcoming host can provide the conditions where parties can begin to find the common ground essential as a first step towards a lasting solution.
As Kazakhstan’s economy has grown, the country has accepted that increased wealth requires it to take increased responsibility for helping tackle global challenges. Kazakhstan is increasing its contribution to the UN’s invaluable peace-keeping efforts which currently has operations in 16 countries. KazAid, to take shape with the active support of the country’s international partners, will provide a focus for its international development assistance efforts.
The relationship between Kazakhstan and the UN has, of course, now entered a new and historic phrase. By becoming the first country from Central Asia to serve on the Security Council as a non-permanent member for 2017-2018, Kazakhstan has the perfect platform to step up its efforts to help the UN make progress on its important goals. This is a good reason for celebration for both Kazakhstan on this anniversary and the UN itself.