Kazakhstan, in an attempt to build its reputation as mediator and the leading country in Central Asia, is seeking a position on the 15-member nonpermanent United Nations Security Council for 2017-2018.
Kazakhstan outlined its global priorities for its position on the prestigious governing and security body via the “Kazakhstan: United Nations Security Council 2017-2018” web site. Kazakhstan’s priorities are: food security, water security, energy security and nuclear security. The campaign for Kazakhstan’s seat for 2017-2018 launched in September 2014; the Government of Kazakhstan declared its candidacy for the seat on 1 June 2010. A promotional video was also released in late 2013.
The four priorities are vital to the stability of the Central Asia states particularly the issue of water security as the Aral Sea is nearly depleted and diplomatic spats between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan over water resources and the Rogun Dam. Water and energy security are the most prominent as the Central Asia states are primarily land locked developing countries and are resource rich. Many attempts have been made by Kazakhstan to rectify this issue through agreements: Concerning Use of Water and Energy Resources in Syr Darya River Basin (1998); A Kazakh-Chinese Joint Commission on the Use and Protection of Transboundary Rivers has been founded to regulate the use of water resources with China and resuscitating the Aral Sea. Kazakhstan’s Working Paper for the UNSC is already available on Kazakhstan’s UNSC website.
Kazakhstan’s current international commitments (even if unmet) and current programs are consistent with UNSC priorities: Initiated the Congress of Leaders and Traditional Religions, Launched the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), and held the chairmanship of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2010.
Kazakhstan maximizes the benefits of high-profile positions in seemingly low-level and weak organizations and committees. While the Chairmanship of the OSCE should not be downplayed— as Kazakhstan is a consolidated autocracy and the first former Soviet Republic to hold the position— the OSCE has been perceived as weak and unable to enforce its mandate and compliance. The organization failed to hold countries accountable for their human rights violations and make headway on transparency. Having a human rights violator (Kazakhstan) as the lead for Europe’s primary watchdog group was expected to damage the OSCE’s reputation. Kazakhstan’s location in a “rough neighborhood” made Kazakhstan a great candidate “to advance the organization’s mandate, invigorate efforts to settle existing conflicts, and generate discussions on important security, economic, and human development matters” according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Kazakhstan’s legacy was adding a “Eurasian dimension,” by “highlighting security problems stemming from the Afghan conflict, potential failed states, destabilizing economic and environmental problems, and vexing human rights issues.”
Kazakhstan has failed to implement the principles of OSCE and its own commitments. Human rights in Kazakhstan before and after the OSCE chairmanship were poor. Journalists continued to be jailed, freedom of speech and religion is restricted, and the government imprisons human rights defenders and activists. After Kazakhstan’s 2010 chairmanship, the country struggles to consolidate democratic reforms, create a multi-political party system, guarantee freedom of press/speech and human and political rights for all. Arbitrary detention is still rampant despite the government passing the National Prevention Mechanism on Torture in 2014 according to Human Rights Watch. Laws established to support human rights are sophistry and are never enforced, but are passed to make it appear that Kazakhstan is upholding its obligations. Kazakhstan has made great strides compared to many of its neighbors falling behind and struggling with implementing basic governance.
Kazakhstan is scooping up high-profile chairmanships in regional organizations for two primary reasons: to advance Kazakhstan’s image as a peacemaker and mediator; and to fulfill President Nazarbayev’s vision for Kazakhstan of being the “Eurasian Bridge,” linking Asia to Europe. With a track record of high participation in international organizations, Kazakhstan can benefit from and build lasting trade and political and economic relationships. Obtaining the UNSC seat reinforces Nazarbayev’s multi-vector foreign policy and adds diversity to the Asia bloc of countries of the 15 member UNSC.
If granted the 2017-2018 UNSC seat, Kazakhstan would be able to move beyond its regional problems while addressing global issues most importantly nuclear security and energy security. Kazakhstan has experience with global threats (nuclear security), extremism, and terrorism. This includes, but not limited to, renewing and strengthening arms control agreements, cracking down on organized crime involving nuclear materials, and negotiating intra-regional water agreements/arrangements in Central Asia. Kazakhstan’s history with nuclear work can be considered soft diplomacy: passing the annual “International Day Against Nuclear Tests” (29 August); and starting the NGO, the ATOM project, aimed at stopping nuclear testing and to bring awareness about the physical and environmental devastation caused by nuclear testing.
Kazakhstan, while pursuing these initiatives, offers the UNSC non-permanent Security Council distinct advantages. Kazakhstan would expectedly act as a mediator, but many members such as Russia and China, may attempt to exploit Kazakhstan’s membership, calling on Kazakhstan for support, as China and Russia tend to veto and block actions by other UNSC members. Kazakhstan, in such a scenario, would most likely abstain or make the decision reinforcing its “mediation” stance. This would be no surprise to Russia. From an international security perspective (beyond the issue of nuclear terrorism), Kazakhstan aligns itself with Russia-led organizations as they primarily deal with regional issues such as separatism, extremism, and terrorism. Kazakhstan would also serve as the outlier of the Soviet states (along with the Baltics) that is able to disagree with Russia without retaliation. As a result of the multi-vector foreign policy, Kazakhstan has friendly (or stable) relationship with most P5 members.
India supports Kazakhstan’s seat on the 15 member UNSC as “both leaders affirmed their commitment to the negotiations on comprehensive reform of the council.” According to the Astana Times, “Nazarbayev reiterated his country’s support for India’s application to be a permanent member of the expanded UN Security Council.” If both India and Kazakhstan were to become members, their policies would be mutually reinforced as India is recognizing the strategic importance of Central Asia and in recent months increased relations with Kazakhstan. India became a full member of the SCO on 11 July 2015. Kazakhstan’s and India’s presence on the council would challenge the notion that developing countries or “countries in transition” are unable to fulfill the role of power players and would balance out the P5.
As global issues are no longer dominated by a hegemon or a bipolar power structure and cooperation is conducted on a regional level, the UNSC membership is expected to reflect the shift.
Kazakhstan’s relations and memberships are on a regional level, but memberships in organizations like the SCO, CSTO, and the EAEU have not provided Kazakhstan the opportunity to make impactful decisions and author substantial policy. Kazakhstan relies on bilateral or multilateral relationships and organizations to execute its policy or to project ideas. Kazakhstan’s involvement with organizations like the SCO and CSTO have been narrowly focused primarily on economics and security respectively and often Russia and China set the agenda. Debate continues over the proportionality of representation and “geopolitical shifts have led to the radical changes in the distribution of power, interstate interactions on the global playing field, economic fluctuations, and the growth of political confidence of rising nations.”
Kazakhstan within the last ten years has increased participation and has expanded its reach not only through natural resource markets and trade, but also diplomatically. Kazakhstan’s further integration is demonstrated accession to the World Trade Organization. Mediating high level talks between Syrian rebels (late May 2015), Iran Nuclear Talks (February and April 2013), and the Ukraine Peace Talks with individual leaders (Putting and Poroshenko) the Normandy Group—France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine. The talks in Kazakhstan in February and April 2013 made little progress, but were lauded by the Kazakhstan Government as Astana has “consistently advocated for peaceful dialogue and negotiations” and “Kazakhstan “was proud to have made a practical contribution to the negotiations on Iran’s nuclear [program.]”
Kazakhstan may not be able to convince Russia or China on many pressing global security issues, but Kazakhstan’s participation on the UNSC might mitigate some tension. It is unlikely that Kazakhstan’s participation would end badly for Kazakhstan as many of the agitators on the P5—China and Russia—have too much to lose to endanger their diplomatic relations with Kazakhstan. By winning a seat on the UNSC, Kazakhstan will be able to continue its policies it wished to implement during time overseeing the OSCE to better its country and nations facing the same issues.
Preventing Violent Extremism through Education in Central Asia
The UNESCO Almaty Cluster Office in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan and UNESCO Headquarters, in collaboration with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), held a Sub-regional workshop on the prevention of violent extremism through education on 13-15 November in Almaty.
UNESCO’s approach to preventing violent extremism through education is related to its work on Global Citizenship Education (GСED). Based on its long-standing commitment to peace and human rights education, the GCED strives to foster respect for all, create a sense of belonging to humanity and help students become responsible and active citizens. Thus, the GCED creates conditions for strengthening students’ commitment to renouncing violence and peace and creating conditions for protection from hatred, discrimination and violent extremism.
The workshop was organized within the framework of the partnership of UNESCO and UNODC on “Education in the spirit of global citizenship in support of the rule of law”. It strengthened the capacity of education stakeholders to implement educational measures and approaches to prevent violent extremism in an effective and appropriate manner. More specifically, the workshop provided a common discussion platform for a clearer understanding of the issues of violent extremism in the Central Asian region, as well as discussed new tools and innovative approaches and drew up a plan for further action to prevent violent extremism through education in Central Asia.
During the workshop, the participants also had a chance to visit the Nazarbayev Intellectual School and Almaty State College of Tourism and Hospitality Industry and observe open classes on global citizenship education and values.
The workshop brought together education stakeholders from all over Central Asia, including representatives from the ministries of education and community development, universities and research institutes, as well as youth organizations and civil society. International experts from France, UNODC, UNESCO as well as other UN agencies and international organizations also took part in the event.
Developing the IT sector will make Central Asia more united and independent
This September marked the second anniversary of the death of Islam Karimov, the former President of Uzbekistan, and the de-facto accession to power of Shavkat Mirziyoyev (who was later officially elected to the presidency in December 2016).
In record-breaking time President Mirziyoyev solved border disputes with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – which had previously been considered unsolvable, significantly strengthened relations with Kazakhstan, conducted sweeping economic reforms, and opened Uzbekistan to foreign investments.
The activity of the new reformist president led to positive changes not only in Uzbekistan itself, but in the region as a whole. The change of power in Uzbekistan – the most highly populated Central Asian country, located right in the middle of the region – marked the beginning of the Central Asian Spring, which, in contrast to the Arab Spring, has been characterized by gradual reforms and, above all, economic liberalization.
In March 2018, for the first time since the beginning of the 2000’s, a summit of the Central Asian countries’ leaders took place in Astana, Kazakhstan. It was attended by presidents of every country in the region (except Turkmenistan which was represented by the Chair of the country’s parliament). This summit, along with a notable strengthening of connections between the two most prominent countries of the region – Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan – laid the ground for talks regarding the creation of a new regional union, the goal of which would be to strengthen the economic independence of the Central Asian region, and later its political independence as well.
The first attempts at economic unification of Central Asian countries date back to the mid-1990’s, and were being undertaken as late as the mid-2000’s. However, each time those attempts were beset with insurmountable obstacles – the position of the late Uzbek president Islam Karimov who basically isolated Uzbekistan from any foreign influence, the border conflicts between Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, and the personal ambitions of the Central Asian countries’ leaders.
It is rather ironic that Uzbekistan – which for а long time halted the process of regional integration – is today, along with Kazakhstan, its primary moving force. Riding the wave of “the Uzbek thaw,” and highlighted against the backdrop of problems associated with the functioning of the Eurasian economic Union, for the first time in many years the conditions for the creation of a regional union are favorable.
For now, the countries of the region are treading very carefully when it comes to this idea. There have been too many unsuccessful attempts at unification in the past, and interstate contradictions are still too strong, as well as the differences in the countries’ approach to issues. Besides, such unification may not be well liked by the “Big Neighbors” of the region – Russia and China – who may put forth efforts to prevent the emergence of a strong and independent regional player.
The geographic location of Central Asia also provides its opponents with an advantage: each country individually (and the region as a whole) is landlocked, and as a consequence the operation of logistical and energy chains is fully dependent on the goodwill of the “Big Neighbors.” Only fundamental changes to the very structure of the regions’ economy can help overcome this dependence. Such changes are now underway.
Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are striving to abandon the natural resource-dependent model and develop innovations. An example of that is the “Astana Hub” – a financial and technological center which has the capabilities to speed up the technological upgrading not just of Kazakhstan alone, but the entire Central Asian region.
The simultaneous development of an IT ecosystem of innovations in the countries of Central Asia will create new possibilities for regional collaboration, as well as for collaboration of the Central Asian IT sector with global centers of the IT industry.
Central Asia’s old economic model relied on each of the countries having different and separate economic relations with its “Big Neighbors” and – facilitated by those “Big Neighbors” acting as intermediaries – with countries of the West. The new Central Asian model envisions the five countries – Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan – being integrated into a common economic market and having direct connections with Western markets, bypassing the intermediary function of the “Big Neighbors.” As shown through the success of the European Bank’s ‘Investing in Central Asia’ forum which aimed to highlight opportunities for business expansion into the region, Central Asian countries will become integrated into the world ecosystem both in the information and economic realms.
However, in order to implement this plan both the Western business world and the political decision makers have lots of work ahead of them. As the new “IT tiger,” Central Asia may be interesting to the world industry’s giants only as a united region, and they must view it as such already, by extending a certain credibility to the new economic initiatives originating in that region. This means opening regional offices in the local IT clusters and entrusting them first with outsourcing and then with R&D, serving as evangelists of the new economy in contacts with representatives of the Central Asian countries’ governments, and considering the possibilities of investing into local startups jointly with governments. Western policymakers will need to get ready to provide the most favorable environment to the IT industry for any trade and economic relations with countries of the region.
As energy exports are the foundation of economic well-being for the majority of the region’s countries, it places those countries in the position of competitors who are dependent on their neighboring states, above all Russia and China. Developing advanced technologies, attracting Western investments and Western experience, and creating a Central Asian IT market will serve a dual purpose: in reducing the Central Asian countries’ dependence on their neighbors, and in becoming the catalyst for unification processes in the region.
Turkmenistan, the heart of the Silk Road
Over 140 years have passed since Ferdinand von Richthofen, a German geologist, geographer and traveler and the president of the Berlin Geographical Society, coined the term Silk Road. Several more decades had passed before scholars in different countries became seriously interested in this phenomenon of the antique and medieval world and began to study specific routes of caravan trade where Turkmen land had an important place. The Silk Road era, which lasted for more than 15 centuries, has left thousands of monuments and landmarks along the entire route from the Mediterranean to the Far East. Many of them are located on the territory of Turkmenistan.
In the modern era, the legendary route is being restored in a new quality, carrying the idea of revitalizing and strengthening trade, economic, humanitarian, and cultural ties between states and peoples. In his book, “Turkmenistan, the Heart of the Silk Road,” Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, citing facts of national history, ancient tales and legends, as well as events and developments from the country’s modern life, notes that a fundamental role in the evolution and active use of the Silk Road, each of its branches being on the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites, belongs to, among others, the Turkmen people.
Thus, as our state carries out major transport projects of the century, a modern history is being written and the idea of restoring the Silk Road – the heart of which is independent and neutral Turkmenistan – is being revisited.
The Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan-Iran transnational railway line that has been put into operation can carry up to 10-12 million tons of cargo and makes it possible to connect to transport infrastructure in the east and south, gaining access to dynamically developing markets. Turkmenistan believes it is essential to focus efforts on ensuring that the opportunities for Central Asian and Caspian states arising in connection with these major transit projects be used to the maximum degree possible.
Convenient and safe international corridors using rail, motor, air, and water transport ensure the sustainable development of the entire region, foster neighborly relations between nations, strengthen cooperation, expand the volumes of trade turnover and help address a number of social issues. As a strategic goal defining the contours of a new, large-scale format of cooperation on the continent, they help create wide-ranging and promising geoeconomic configurations. In this context, it is important to note that an international sea port in the city of Turkmenbashi is due to be put into operation in the very near future.
The state invests heavily in modernizing the material and technical base of the transport sector and improving management through modern technology. High priority is given to developing sea and river transport infrastructure. Active work is under way to improve passenger and cargo transportation, develop ports and port facilities, and streamline state oversight over the safety of shipping and navigation.
Central and South Asia is a space for active international cooperation. Ancient trade routes passed across these territories for centuries, bringing Asia and Europe closer together. At present, countries in these regions play an important role in expanding global economic partnership. The implementation of projects in these areas opens up great prospects for the optimization of transport, energy and cultural ties in the Eurasian space. Therefore, as Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov noted, our region is emerging as a major link in the formation of a new trade and economic partnership model on the continent, which, in turn, opens up opportunities for creating a platform for more wide-ranging cooperation. This is a vivid example of deeply innovative thinking in the global geoeconomic configuration and a vision of strategic perspectives for its development.
First published in our partner International Affairs
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