The opportunity for global leaders to meet as they did in New York at the United Nations last month is always significant. But what made the formal and informal discussions at the General Assembly even more vital this year was the backdrop which UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres characterised as ‘a world of disquiet.’
It is a world more riven with tensions and suspicions and, as we have said before, when the will to work together to overcome challenges seems weaker. There is a desperate need to find ways to stop this slide to division and instability.
In his first address to the UNGA, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev did not pull his punches over why there was so much anxiety or what needed to be done. He talked about the “alarming new global reality” and challenged his fellow leaders to think afresh about why people were so worried about the future.
In a world of anxiety, of course, the threat from nuclear weapons inevitably looms larger. At worst, there is a fear that disputes might lead, perhaps by mistake or through misunderstanding, to these terrifying weapons being used. At best, this uncertainty encourages countries to try to add these weapons to their arsenals and can dissuade states which already have them from carrying through commitments to reduce their number. We are seeing signs of these disturbing trends today.
President Tokayev appealed to countries not to give in to these fears but to work instead to eliminate nuclear weapons. This goal, he said, remained his country’s main foreign policy priority. He called on the UN’s other 192 members to commit themselves to achieving it. He singled out the creation of the nuclear weapons-free zone in Central Asia as the type of practical initiative which can provide key building blocks towards the overall ambition.
It was a speech, too, which confirmed Kazakhstan’s strong support for the UN and its values. While other countries and their leaders can at times seem to doubt the role that the UN and multilateralism can play in the world today, they are not shared here. It is clear that Kazakhstan believes a strong, modernised UN remains indispensable for peace, security and development.
This belief was confirmed by the offer to host a new regional UN Centre for the sustainable development goals in Almaty, which is becoming an increasingly important hub for international organisations. His appeal for the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), an initiative first proposed by First President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, at the UNGA 27 years ago, to now be turned into a fully-fledged regional security and development body, also demonstrated the deep commitment to cooperation and dialogue as the only way forward for the world.
It was why President Tokayev committed his country to do everything possible to help build confidence, resolve conflicts and reduce tensions. Again, he gave the practical example of the Astana Process on the Syrian conflict to show what could be achieved in even the bitterest of disputes. These discussions, which many feared were doomed to failure, have helped pave the way for a cessation of hostilities and the safe return of refugees.
His words about mediation in conflicts were coupled in New York with a strong plea for the world not to forget about the plight of Afghanistan. He called for global support for the country’s people and democratic process so Afghanistan could take its place within a prosperous, secure and stable Central Asian region.
The conflicts in Afghanistan and Syria, along with others, have inevitably helped fuel an increase in the threat from violent extremism. President Tokayev called for greater cooperation to tackle this globally, under the umbrella of the UN. But there was an important human side to this determined campaign against terrorism. He offered, too, to share Kazakhstan’s experiences at re-integrating its citizens who had moved abroad after being seduced by the false appeals of foreign extremism. It is a programme that has won international attention and approval – and another example of an approach which, as well as identifying challenges, also offered solutions.