In foreign policy terms, Kazakhstan can look back at many achievements over the last 26 years. It has forged, almost from scratch, excellent relations with nations across the world and is seen widely as a powerful model and principled campaigner against nuclear proliferation and for peace.
The friendships it has built and its commitment to peace and dialogue has enabled the country to play a remarkable role in helping bring sides together in disputes. Its continued commitment to the Astana Process, for example, provides opportunities for those involved in the Syrian conflict to try to find common ground. As the eventually successful international negotiations with Iran show, keeping the talks going even when difficulties seem insurmountable is vital.
It is a record which led to Kazakhstan making history by being elected onto the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for 2017-2018. With Kazakhstan halfway through its two-year UNSC term and with the country having just completed its January presidency of the council, now is a good time to take stock of Kazakhstan’s UNSC efforts and results so far.
It has certainly been a hectic time. Whatever criticisms might be levelled at the UNSC, lack of activity is not one of them. In 2017 alone, the council held 285 public sessions, including 163 open briefings. Nearly 30 debates took place with 67 votes leading to the adoption of UNSC resolutions. Twenty-seven presidential statements were also adopted.
Kazakhstan, as one might expect from a country that has placed significant importance on the role of the UN ever since it became a member, played a full part in all these activities. It contributed, for example, to the adoption of 61 resolutions including as co-authors of 11.
Nor does the Security Council limit itself simply to debating issues in New York. Delegations last year visited Colombia, Haiti, Lake Chad and the Sahel as well as Addis Ababa for discussions with the African Union. The aim in each case was to gather information and promote dialogue to help ensure the right decisions are made and effective policies put in place.
It was, for example, at the request of Kazakhstan as president that a UNSC delegation visited Kabul last month immediately before a full ministerial debate on Afghanistan and Central Asia. The country’s security, stability and prosperity was made a high priority for Kazakhstan for its time in the Security Council, and the visit and debate shows the determination to deliver on the promise.
Importantly, Kazakhstan made sure Afghanistan’s challenges were not seen solely as a national problem but were discussed within a wider context. The interdependence of security and development, the need to think regionally about solutions and also calls for a more coordinated global response, including through UN agencies, for assistance to the Afghan Government and its citizens were all stressed. As Kazakhstan has often noted, only by tackling poverty and offering opportunities for a better life for people can lasting stability and hope be brought to Afghanistan.
Last month also saw a determined effort by Kazakhstan to set the foundations for faster progress in ridding the world of the threat of nuclear weapons – another of its main goals for its term on the UNSC. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev underlined his personal commitment by chairing a briefing at the UN during his visit to the U.S. on the need for confidence-building measures to assist non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
During the discussions, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres singled out Kazakhstan as a practical and successful model to other countries considering turning their back on nuclear weapons. He also praised the Kazakh leader’s own long contribution to this cause.
As the international community strives to find a fair and lasting solution to the dispute over North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme, Kazakhstan’s experience could prove invaluable. It is another sign of the country’s growing importance on the global stage, which the last year has helped reinforce in a major way.
There is no doubt that the responsibilities of a seat on the UNSC and the work-load involved are high. But by providing additional opportunities for Kazakhstan to interact at the highest level as an equal, responsible and independent partner, both Kazakhstan’s reputation and influence on the international arena are strengthened. The last month and this two-year term on the Security Council will be seen as an important period in Kazakhstan’s evolution.