As world leaders and foreign ministers prepare to fly to New York for United Nations General Assembly next week at a time of real challenge for the global community, we must hope the chance for formal and informal discussions can play its part in reducing tensions and divisions.
There is no shortage of issues to discuss. North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile tests have sent shockwaves around the world. They are a severe test to global non-proliferation and the crisis they have sparked has again raised fears of how misjudgements or misunderstandings could spark nuclear catastrophe.
Conflicts in the Middle East and the threat from violent extremism continue to destabilise not only the region but the wider world. Out of the headlines, fighting in Africa – both within countries and across borders – brings misery to millions and remains a major challenge to development. Almost two-thirds of the agenda of the UN’s Security Council is devoted to trying to bring peace to areas of that continent.
It would be hard enough to find solutions to these and many other challenges if there was agreement on the way forward. But too often there are acute differences of opinion along with suspicions of motives.
This is the worrying global background, which has faced Kazakhstan in its first several months as a member of the Security Council. But it is also a time when the country’s commitment to promoting cooperation, dialogue, the rule of international law and disarmament have never been more important.
It is a responsibility which the record shows Kazakhstan has taken with the utmost seriousness. In the first six months of the year, Kazakhstan participated in more than 120 formal Security Council meetings and made meaningful contributions to more than 20 resolutions.
The country has been entrusted with chairing committees on Afghanistan, enforcing sanctions against ISIL and Al-Qaida and on the Horn of Africa. As is always the case when member states take on such added responsibilities, there have been increased pressures on the nation’s diplomats. But the experience will serve them and Kazakhstan well in the years ahead.
There has been progress, too, on areas which Kazakhstan promised would be a focus for its time on the Security Council. The future of Afghanistan was singled out as a major priority – a recognition of the importance of Afghanistan’s stability for the region and the need to support its long-term economic and social development in the battle against extremism.
Within the UN, Kazakhstan has been working hard to step up international efforts to help Afghanistan’s elected government combat extremism and spread prosperity and opportunity to its long-suffering citizens. The arguments being made are all the more persuasive coming from a country within the region and show the importance of Central Asia having a voice at the global table.
It is also a voice which carries more weight because of the active role Kazakhstan continues to take, wherever it can, to promote dialogue and end conflict. The Astana Process, for example, still holds out hope of progress towards ending the tragedy in Syria despite many obstacles. At a practical level, too, Kazakh military observers have joined the international peace-keeping operation in Western Sahara with plans to help support a second UN mission next year.
It is in January 2018, too, that Kazakhstan will take on the task of presiding over the Security Council. It is a role which will further enhance the country’s stature and influence within the international community which will have an impact beyond the next two years.
Among plans being considered for its presidency are, Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov said last week, a debate at the highest level on how to improve international peace and security as well as ministerial level discussions on Central Asia and Afghanistan and regular formal discussions on the Middle East – both among the priorities for action Kazakhstan set out when it took its seat on the UNSC.
But it is the priority Kazakhstan gave to nuclear disarmament – which President Nazarbayev called the cause of our time – which strikes the loudest chord at this difficult time. Kazakhstan’s experience and commitment to a world without nuclear weapons has never been more relevant nor more important and it is important its message is heard loud and clear on the Security Council.