Sky Is The Limit For Middle Power Diplomacy

During a recent visit to Astana, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly marvelled at the vast sky above the Kazakh Steppe. I thought this was an apt allegory for the limitless potential for our cooperation and engagement with the world.

With a rich history and strategic location connecting Asia and Europe, Kazakhstan has long been a political and economic bridge between East and West. Today, under President Tokayev’s leadership and against the backdrop of geopolitical tumult, our country is becoming a key regional player in international affairs and diplomacy, seeking to foster peace and cooperation in our region and beyond.

In recent months, international attention on Kazakhstan and Central Asia has been framed largely, regretfully and again, in terms of great power competition. This is how many international commentators have framed a recent Central Asia tour by US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, and President Xi Jinping’s announcement of the first in-person China-Central Asia summit. While there is no doubt that all our partners play an important role in helping us serve as the bridge between East and West, this narrative downplays the agency of countries like ours in shaping our collective future and charting our own distinct paths.

Around the world, we have seen many examples of the fact that countries in the so-called “Global South” are moving ahead with their own agendas. It is evident in the way that India, Indonesia and others have created a new middle path, preserving time-tested relations with both East and West by refusing to take sides in the latest geopolitical conflicts. It can also be seen in how both Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, in hosting COP, are not only bringing together world leaders to discuss the response to the climate crisis but are also shaping climate priorities based on their own distinct agendas.

These achievements result from constructive dialogue rather than isolation. In Kazakhstan, our past and continuing efforts to promote peace include hosting talks on Iran’s nuclear program, facilitating Syrian peace talks and initiating institutions and platforms such as the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) and the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions.

These steps underline the fact that multilateral diplomacy is alive and should be continuously strengthened. In our view, active middle power diplomacy on global issues can galvanize better relations between great powers by fostering cooperation and pragmatically focusing on shared interests. These engagements can provide a neutral and unbiased platform, enabling great powers to collaborate on common goals, ultimately promoting mutual understanding and reducing tensions on the world stage.

However, we cannot act alone. As dialogue becomes increasingly vital, we are launching the inaugural Astana International Forum in June. This global platform will convene heads of state, academics, business leaders, and international media to address pressing global challenges. The Forum aims to revive action-oriented dialogue, counter polarization, and promote deeper economic cooperation under President Tokayev’s patronage, giving a voice to countries overshadowed by great power competition.

Empowering international dialogue allows us to identify innovative solutions to the key challenges of our time, from water security and climate change to future energy and health crises. At all costs we must avoid a world where a lack of dialogue and mutual understanding leads to calls for armed solutions, eroding trust in the international law-based order and risking a new era of great power competition. Only by working together can we leverage our collective skills to listen and be heard, fostering a sustainable future with fair and equitable international policies at its core.

The vast sky over Kazakhstan serves as a metaphor for the limitless potential of such cooperation. As we embark on this journey, let us remember how Kazakhstan and other dynamic middle powers can help shape a better future for all.

Roman Vassilenko
Roman Vassilenko
Deputy Foreign Minister of the Republic of Kazakhstan