Why the UN Security Council should embrace Kazakhstan

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With the turmoil in the former Soviet Union and the Middle East, the United States is searching for islands of stability in embattled regions and allies to fight Islamist extremism. One of such friends and strategic partners, Kazakhstan, just became the UN Security Council non-permanent member. This is a good opportunity to strengthen the relations between Washington and Astana. 

Few states have as deeply rooted and vital interest in peace as Kazakhstan.  Situated between the two giants, Russia and China, host to a large Russian-speaking minority, and relatively close to three epicenters of upheaval: Afghanistan and Central Asia, including Fergana Valley, the Middle East, and the North Caucasus, Kazakhstan’s leadership knows all too well the dangers of violence and war in and around its neighborhood.

Because of its strategic inheritance of the Soviet nuclear testing and intercontinental ballistic missile deployment, Kazakhstan has staunchly championed international nuclear disarmament and peace through strong support for non-proliferation, creation of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), and an exemplary religious tolerance and dialogue.

Therefore, the vote earlier this year that it should become a member of the UN Security Council for 2017-2018 makes sense.

More than many others, Kazakhstan bases on dialogue among the great powers and tolerant domestic policies. To be sure, some groups opposed its membership alleging imperfect democracy problematic human rights record. Allegation of government corruption are frequent. But Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and other authoritarians, with which Washington deals on a regular basis, have been long members of UN agencies like the Human Rights Council. Only egregious conduct in Syria led to the vote against Russia, as it sought to extend its membership in the Council. Kazakhstan can work on strengthening democratic institutions, while contributing to international security.

Moreover, the real criterion for Security Council membership is, like it or not, a state’s contribution to the maintenance of peace. And here Kazakhstan gets highest ranks. Manycommended Kazakhstan’s inclusiveness and willingness to promote mediation as it offered to do in the 5+1 talks with Iran.

While the past chairman of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), it has strong ties to Israel and Arab states, and good bonds with both Ukraine and Russia. It has maintained the peace at home, treating its large Russian diaspora with equality.

President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s “multi-vector” foreign policy (his own term) that has allowed Kazakhstan to have outstanding relationships with Beijing, Moscow, Washington, and Brussels, continues to be carried out despite growing international tensions.

The country has achieved impressive progress educating its population and in economic development. Kazakhstan is about to introduce a tri-lingual educational system (Kazakh, Russian and English). It is the regional leader in foreign investment per capita, and has a larger GDP than all other Central Asian states (Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan) combined.

Kazakhstan contributes to international economic security. It is a major grain exporter and has become a development assistance provider. Despite the fact that its ability to do so will continue to do depend on the export of energy and commodities, Kazakhstan, is the first Commonwealth of Independent States country to launch a cap and trade system that will decrease GHG emissions by 15 percent by 2050, equaling 1992 levels. 

In nuclear non-proliferation, it has taken a leading role in establishing Central Asia as a nuclear weapons free zone.

The U.S. should welcome Kazakhstan to the Security Council because it signals Central Asia’s growing importance. Former Soviet Islamic terrorists are active in Syria and Afghanistan, and some of the region’s governments are in a precarious security situation. They face serious economic, environmental, and potentially terrorist challenges that the UN must address through the Security Council.  For that, Kazakhstan needs to be within the UN’s corridors of power to galvanize members and U.N. subsidiaries into action.  Kazakhstan’s membership in the Council will serve as an excellent way of calling the UN members’ attention to the importance of Central Asia for China’s Belt and Road initiative, and to Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union,of which it is a member, as well as the potential for constructive international engagement by all the powers.

The sum total of these policies demonstrates Kazakhstan’s conviction and willingness to act in world affairs in ways that champion both regional and international security and stability. Kazakhstan deserves to be rewarded and encouraged not least because it can serve as a model for other current and future members of the Security Council to emulate.  International cooperation and integration is likely to encourage Kazakhstan to strive towards more transparency, good governance, and the rule of law.

Great powers might not like to hear it, but they could stand to learn something from Kazakhstan as a new member of the Security Council.

Dr. Stephen Blank is a Senior Fellow, American Foreign Policy Council and the Editor of Center Asia After 2014, Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, 2013.