The Most Successful Summit of ‘Asian OSCE’: How Astana Became the Diplomatic Capital of Asia Thanks to CICA

During the week, the eyes of the world were directed at Astana where the city hosted a series of international summits, the most important of which was The Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA).

Dmitry Babich

The idea of CICA originated in 1992, in Kazakhstan, and was voiced at the 47th General Assembly of the United Nations. At the time, very few people believed that something like “the Asian OSCE” could come into being. The Soviet Union had just collapsed, Tajikistan was going through a civil war, and international observers were discussing whether Central Asia would survive the seemingly inevitable “social upheavals” in Fergana Valley and in the Batkent region of Kyrgyzstan.

30 years later the results were astounding. CICA proved to be more successful than the OSCE, it became not just a forum, but a de-facto alternative active international organization with 28 member states from the Pacific to the Mediterranean, with its own Secretariat and, most importantly, with much more understanding between the participating nations than can be found in Europe. One of the main results of this week’s summit of CICA was the development of CICA’s own “executive power”: according to the Astana Statement, CICA will now have its own Council of Heads of State or Government, its own Secretary General, and its own active Secretariat, which will submit the documents issued by CICA for the approval by national parliaments.

Here are some statistics: CICA brought together in the capital of Kazakhstan representatives of 50 countries, with 11 heads of state present. The bilateral meetings that took place in the framework of CICA involved some of the people whom the global media names as the world’s top 10-15 newsmakers. Indeed, it was in Astana that President Vladimir Putin of Russia met Turkiye’s president Recep Tajip Erdogan and Palestine’s president Mahmud Abbas, to discuss the issues of global hunger and the peaceful settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It was in Astana that Iran’s president Ebrahim Raisi could address the widest possible international audience after his recent speech at the UN, calling for multipolarity and respectful attitudes in international relations.

Leaders of such different countries as Belarus and Qatar, Azerbaijan, and Tajikistan – all had the time and opportunity to address the international community with their ideas, concerns, and grievances. Which other country, except Kazakhstan, could give the floor to so many different leaders, without a single of them feeling in any way “out of place” or not entirely welcome? Let us remind our dear audience that several of the world’s top leaders (some of them present at this week’s summits in Astana) did not go to the recent General Assembly of the United Nations – precisely because they did not feel welcome in New York City. But everyone felt welcome in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan.

There were many problems discussed by leaders from different corners of the world, but there was one chairmanship in all of these many events – the chairmanship of Kazakhstan, embodied in the figure of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, a diplomat by profession.  

Did participants of CICA agree on everything and did they always share the same concerns? Of course, no. The president of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev spoke about the Karabakh problem, voicing his grievances about the conduct of Armenia; the president of Iran complained about the sanctions that his country had been enduring from the United States. They were politely listened to, they had a chance to present all of their arguments. This is diplomacy, and this is multipolarity in action.

Kazakhstan’s President Tokayev has every reason to be proud, realizing one of his greatest diplomatic ideas – CICA. The idea of such a forum sprang up in 1992 from Kazakhstan. But it was under Tokayev’s stewardship as Kazakhstan’s foreign minister that the CICA idea came to fruition. “Dreamed” up as an Asian analog of the European OSCE, CICA in many ways outdid its European prototype, which is now torn apart by the ambitions and animosities between such members of OSCE as Russia and the United States, Belarus, and Poland.

There are few such animosities in Asia, and Kazakhstan’s role in preventing conflict cannot be overestimated.

30 years have passed since the idea of CICA was first floated and 20 years have passed since Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev, as the then head of Kazakhstan’s diplomacy, organized the first summit of the heads of state of CICA. The achievements since then are visible for everyone to see.     

The author is Dmitry Babich, a Moscow-based journalist with 30 years of experience covering global politics, a frequent guest on BBC, Al Jazeera, and RT. 

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