The 77th General Assembly of the United Nations was characterized by a general feeling of anxiety and alarmism. Some speakers limited themselves to accusations, blaming other members of the “community of nations” for the generally accepted fact that the world’s security situation and economic perspectives are visibly worsening. A balanced assessment of the situation with a clear statement of the common goals for humanity became especially valuable at this hour.
The approach, suggested by Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev, stated his preference for coming together in these difficult times. It is conservative in the sense that it suggests preserving some of the old and tested principles used by the United Nations for the preservation of relative peace and stability on the planet over the last 70 years.
“There is nothing more important now than to return to the foundational principles that lie at the root of this universal organization. In particular, we must rethink the linkages between three primordial principles: the sovereign equality of states, the territorial integrity of states, and peaceful coexistence between states,” Tokayev said.
On the other hand, it should be noted that Kazakhstan’s conservative approach does not mean passivity and blind adherence to status quo. Changes are needed, but they should be introduced by a consensus, in constant discussion, with all vital interests of the involved parties being respected and protected. Hence the call of the Kazakh president for conferences, as well as other international events and permanent bodies: humanity has not invented any better means for reaching a consensus. The immediate goal is something we have been taking for granted for far too long: peace. And, of course, President Tokayev was not alone at the UN in this approach.
“We entered a new stage of change and turmoil… Peace is like air and sunshine. We take them for granted, sometimes forgetting that we can’t live without them. In the same way peace is a necessary prerequisite for the future of all of mankind. Turmoil and war can only open Pandora’s box, they can’t solve problems,” said China’s foreign minister Wang Yi in his speech at the General Assembly.
But what are the concepts of territorial integrity and the sovereign equality of states, exactly? These are the principles protecting humanity from continued, never-ending wars. Just like legal principles protect the private property and lives of individuals on the basis of equality of everyone before the law, the two first principles lead to the implementation of the third principle mentioned by President Tokayev – peaceful coexistence between states. “These three principles are inter-dependent,” President Tokayev added, and here one has to agree.
Kazakhstan is one of the few, in fact the only one among new independent states that emerged on the territory of the late Soviet Union in 1991 that has enjoyed a truly impeccable reputation in terms of peace protection and managed to preserve good relations with both East and West. Kazakhstan is indeed devoted to the “non-block” approach to international affairs, which almost everyone at the UN supports in words, but which very few states, in fact, practice. As a result, Kazakhstan is neither in an “Eastern” block of nations nor in the “Western” one. Kazakhstan is not a member of NATO, and everyone agrees that its membership in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) cannot be used against any foreign country. (Every resolution of every summit meeting of the CSTO member countries includes a provision that “it is not directed against any third party,” and Kazakhstan vigorously insists on this principle.)
Does this make Kazakhstan vulnerable and lonely on the world stage? No, on the contrary, it makes Kazakhstan a valuable asset for all sorts of peace missions. Kazakhstan does not have territorial disputes with its neighbors, the country has successfully stayed above the two waves of “post-Soviet wars” that shattered Tajikistan, as well as the relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Russia and Georgia, and now, of course, Ukraine and Russia. The first wave came in the wake of the weakening and subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union in 1988-1991; the second wave of wars followed several expansions of NATO and the invitation of Ukraine and Georgia into NATO in 2008.
When did wars become possible in the Eurasian region? As the Soviet Union grew weaker in 1988-1991, nationalist groups in many of its former constituent republics perceived this as an opportunity for redrawing the borders, thus breaking the principles mentioned in President Tokayev’s speech at the UN General Assembly. This breach of principles led to numerous conflicts. After NATO’s expansions and the promise to continue the process started in Bucharest in 2008, some countries viewed it as another opportunity to solve their problems with separatist movements on their territories (Georgia versus South Ossetia in 2008; tensions between Moldova and Transnistria; numerous other misfortunes).
President Tokayev made it very clear: Kazakhstan does not support separatism. He had the courage to say it to the face of Russia’s president Vladimir Putin at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum: Kazakhstan will not recognize the quasi-states on the territory of Ukraine. Not because Kazakhstan disregards the rights of ethnic Russians, but because the creation of new quasi-states and their armed struggle for independence is no longer acceptable in the modern world. It has already led to numerous wars, and war is never the solution, as history has shown many times!
So, if war is not a legitimate method of redress, how then can we correct the inequalities and imbalances of today’s world? President Tokayev’s proposal is to engage in cooperation, dialogue, and to seek agreements where they can be found. Primarily, on Kazakhstan’s “native turf” in Central Asia. The President’s proposals here deserve to be quoted in full:
“We look forward to contributing to the consultations at the ministerial meeting next year and to the holding of the 2024 Summit of the Future.
We must move from simply responding to global challenges and crises to preventing and better predicting emerging trends and integrating our assessments into strategic planning and policymaking.
For this very purpose, Kazakhstan proposed 30 years ago the idea of convening the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA).
In the context of new challenges and threats we hope to transform CICA into a full-fledged international organization at the upcoming summit in October in Astana to contribute to global mediation and peace-making.”
The same principled position was reaffirmed by President Tokayev during his recent visit to the Turkistan region in the south of Kazakhstan: “Our foreign policy will stay based on neutrality… This policy will be well balanced and constructive. And of course it will continue to be a multivector policy. Kazakhstan will make every effort to develop its relations of an alliance with Russia, of strategic partnership with China, of multilateral cooperation with fraternal Central Asian states… This policy has been highly appreciated by the international community. It fits the highest priorities of our country.”
What can one add here, other than saying that this is the way forward? We see what is going on in Europe. If Kazakhstan’s approach allows us to avoid the same turmoil in Asia, Kazakhstan could become “the Switzerland of the 21st century,” a real engine for peace and cooperation between nations.
The author is Dmitry Babich, a Moscow-based journalist with 30 years of experience of covering global politics, a frequent guest on BBC, Al Jazeera and RT.