Kazakhstan: The Democratic Path for Peace and Prosperity

Report Europe

Kazakhstan: The Democratic Path for Peace and Prosperity

October 7, 2005 18 min read
The Kassymzhomart Tokaev

The challenges of creating a modern democracy after more than two centuries of foreign domination have made the Kazakh experience a valuable one to be shared with other nations. Today, Kazakhstan has one of the world's fastest developing economies with multibillion-dollar foreign investment and a vibrant growing democracy and is walking on the world stage as a full partner with much older countries.


Kazakhstan's history restarted again in 1991, after a hiatus of several centuries. As the world predicted disaster for the nations reborn from the fallen Soviet Union, Kazakhstan survived and achieved quite a lot.


The first to extend its hand of friendship to Kazakhstan was the United States, with diplomatic recognition on December 25, 1991. The U.S. was already anticipating certain developments in the former Soviet Union by the late 1980s and was closely examining the idea of a sovereign Kazakhstan as a partner on the international stage.


After the breakup of the Soviet empire, the U.S. emerged as the single global superpower with special responsibilities for global affairs involving security, stability, and economic prosperity.


From the first moment of our independence, we have relied on the support of the United States of America. We shall always keep in our historical memory the undeniable fact that it was the U.S. government that underwrote, politically and legally, Kazakhstan's sovereignty. The U.S. was the first to open a diplomatic mission in our capital. The first big investment in Kazakhstan's economy came from American Chevron paving the way for future multibillion-dollar investments. American nongovernmental organizations have also been operational in Kazakhstan since the early days of our independence.


Kazakhstan and the U.S. are stable partners worthy of each other and needed by each other. We share mutual long-term strategic interests free of change from the winds of politics. Kazakhstan's foreign policy towards the United States is consistent and predictable, which strengthens the existing stable and broad partnership. Kazakhstan's diplomacy stems from an understanding that friendly and stable relations with the U.S. assure and protect our security, sovereignty, and economic prosperity.


Bilateral relations have evolved greatly over the past 14 years to reach a level of a wide-ranging strategic partnership. This strategic partnership has been built on our two nations' shared values. In the early 1990s, Kazakhstan started off with a firm commitment to a more secure world. We have also been committed to liberal values both in economy and political life early in our independence. These commitments are very strong and will not change.


Today, the Kazakhstan-United States partnership rests on three cornerstones: mutual economic interests, security, and shared values of democracy.


Our shared values made our hearts go out to the people of the Gulf Coast whose lives were shattered by Hurricane Katrina and the floods that followed. We are providing assistance to Katrina victims and wish them a speedy return to a normal life.


Kazakhstan highly values its extensive cooperation with the U.S. in the economic and investment spheres. American companies are well known for their pioneering activities in opening up the Kazakh market.


Today, through sustained commitment to economic liberalization, maintaining an attractive investment environment, making pragmatic policy choices, and pursuing cooperation with the West, Kazakhstan has emerged as an indisputable economic and political power in Central Asia and the Caucasus. Kazakhstan's economy is twice as large as the economies of all other Central Asian countries combined.


In March 2002, the U.S. Department of Commerce granted Kazakhstan market economy status under U.S. trade law, recognizing substantive market reforms in the areas of currency convertibility, wage rate determination, openness to foreign investment, and government control over production and allocation of resources.


U.S. companies are by far the largest foreign investors in Kazakhstan, accounting for more than $14 billion out of $45 billion in foreign direct investment(FDI) so far. These investments focus heavily on the hydrocarbons sector with Chevron, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, AES Corporation, and Halliburton all having a considerable stake. With the current upward trend in oil and gas prices in world markets, this investment takes on special significance.


The investment climate for U.S. companies in Kazakhstan is extremely favorable, not only in oil and natural gas, but also in other areas including technology, telecommunications, and food processing.


We strongly believe in the sanctity of contracts with foreign investors and will not change this position under any circumstances.


Commitment to cooperation with the United States is not driven by dollars alone. Our close relationship is rooted in the days when Kazakhstan made a crucial decision to renounce unilaterally the world's fourth largest nuclear arsenal and accede to a pair of major treaties: the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).


In the early 1990s, the Kazakhstan government received several appeals from leaders of Arab nations urging the country to hold on to the inherited Soviet nuclear arsenal as an "Islamic bomb." Kazakhstan inherited 1,410 strategic and tactical nuclear warheads that had been deployed on Soviet SS-18 intercontinental ballistic missiles and Tu-95 bombers. Generous financial support and investments were guaranteed by the suitors. However, Kazakhstan decided to denuclearize completely and give up the weapons, which were transferred to Russia in 1995.


We greatly appreciate the fact that the United States has signed the Memorandum on Security Guarantees for Kazakhstan, which assures the independence and territorial integrity of our country and non-aggression, both conventional and nuclear, against it. President Nursultan Nazarbayev called the memorandum a vital instrument and the U.S.'s role "pivotal" for the security of Kazakhstan's statehood and its continued existence as a non-nuclear weapon state.


Kazakhstan and the U.S. have cooperated closely under the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program designed to help Kazakhstan rid itself of its unwanted nuclear legacy. CTR activities in Kazakhstan have included the destruction of ballistic missile silos, the dismantlement of former biological weapons facilities in Stepnogorsk and parts of the Pavlodar chemical plant, and the conversion of infrastructure at the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site, as well as burial of spent nuclear fuel.


Another example of Kazakhstan's commitment to the nonproliferation regime was the shipment of 600 kilograms of highly enriched uranium to the United States under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards in 1994.


It is quite understandable why Kazakhstan has been hailed repeatedly by the U.S. as a model for nonproliferation activities.


Unfortunately, until now no unified and fair approach in the international community to the most pressing issues of nuclear proliferation has been developed. Allegedly, non-state actors and terrorists have gained possession of nuclear weapons. We in Kazakhstan strongly believe that there must be no bargaining on issues of nuclear nonproliferation. There must be no excuse for nuclear weapons trade. There must be no mercy for the countries engaged in production or sale of nuclear weapons. There must be no differentiation between the "good" and "bad" countries so far as nuclear proliferation is concerned.


Having voluntarily given up its nuclear arsenal, Kazakhstan also urges nuclear weapons states to do more, including further reductions in their arsenals of non-strategic nuclear weapons and the pursuit of arms control agreements calling for both dismantlement and irreversibility. My country also agrees that nuclear weapon states should also reaffirm their commitment to negative security assurances under the NPT.


We appreciate the consistent dialogue with the U.S. government and civil institutions on democracy building in our country. We reaffirm our strong commitment to democratic values and fully acknowledge our international obligations with regard to human rights, democracy, and civil society. We need good advice and guidance; we need support and understanding.


Kazakhstan took an irreversible path of building up a nation committed to fundamental principles of political pluralism and the rule of law. Bold social and economic reforms created a solid foundation for a thriving civil society. We have held regular democratic elections, established an independent judiciary, and ensured freedom of speech. We provide for political pluralism, with twelve registered political parties and movements and 2,000 independent news media outlets. Five thousand nongovernmental organizations tackle a broad spectrum of issues, ranging from human rights to environmental protection.


The main accomplishment is that democracy has already become an irreversible process, taken deep root in Kazakhstan, and cannot be uprooted by anyone.


In his landmark state of the nation address in February of this year, President Nursultan Nazarbayev proposed a National Program of Political Reforms, a radically new stage of political and economic modernization. He further elaborated on this initiative when addressing Members of Parliament on September 1, when concrete measures were put forward to carry out the National Program.


President Nursultan Nazarbayev intends to set up and lead the State Commission on the elaboration and implementation of further democratic reforms. The Program will cover a six year period and is to be implemented in two phases: 2006-2008 and 2009-2011. It envisions, in particular, active development of local self-governance, extending considerably the responsibilities of local elected authorities, and strengthening the rights and supervisory functions of Parliament including its participation in formation of the government. Particular emphasis is given to the increased role of political parties, NGOs, and trade unions. In the coming three years, comprehensive efforts will be undertaken to consolidate guarantees of rights and freedoms for citizens. The Program also includes measures to promote independence of the judiciary, increased transparency, and the effectiveness of justice. Special importance in the democratization of Kazakh society is attached to the development and support of the news media and the fight against corruption.


Kazakhstan stands on the eve of crucial events that could determine our destiny for many years ahead. The upcoming presidential election, due to take place this December, is a great challenge and test for us. We are fully determined to ensure fairness, transparency, and compliance with international standards. We want our upcoming election to be an example for the region.


We strongly believe that the cooperation of free societies is paramount for ensuring prosperity. We, therefore, invite international experts to monitor our electoral process, as their objective and balanced assessments will be very important to us.


The free and fair election will be a demonstration of our strengthening democracy and a strong argument in favor of Kazakhstan's bid to chair the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2009. We hope to receive the support of the United States on this issue.


From my perspective, these achievements show Kazakhstan's readiness for the OSCE Chairmanship. Our nation has a clear vision of responsibilities to be assumed, as well as theability to carry them off. We are ready to contribute to further progress of the OSCE. We believe that if consensus is reached in favor of Kazakhstan, it will be a proof of the principles of justice and equality. This decision would give a new impetus to the more rapid evolution of Central Asia.


We further believe the success of Kazakhstan, a predominantly Muslim nation which has only recently left a totalitarian system, in pursuing market reforms and building democracy in a very complicated region, should be welcomed by the United States as a convincing example useful in promoting economic and political freedoms around the world.


On our side, we stand ready to legally and politically protect interests of the United States in Kazakhstan and the entire region. I believe this is in the best interests of the peoples of both our nations.


My recent visit to the U.S. and meetings with top officials of the Bush Administration confirmed that we speak the same language on almost each and every issue in our bilateral agenda. This is why there is every reason to believe bilateral cooperation will not weaken but will gain new strengths and instill greater optimism.


Today, the world faces new security threats and challenges. Even the greatest powers cannot tackle them alone and need assistance. This is especially true for international terrorism and regional conflicts that influence global affairs.


Kazakhstan has a clear vision of the U.S.'s special responsibilities for maintaining global security and stability and its role in international relations for years to come. In this regard, we are one with the United States. We provide critical assistance in both Afghanistan and Iraq within the framework of the growing strategic partnership.


We are grateful to American for liberating Afghanistan from the Taliban because the Taliban regime represented a serious threat to all the neighboring countries of Central Asia, including Kazakhstan. For that reason we joined the antiterrorist coalition and provided free overflight rights to coalition aircraft. Almaty airport is available to the U.S. Air Force for emergency landing and refueling as part of operations in Afghanistan.


The situation in Afghanistan is still very unstable, but the position of Kazakhstan is clear and unequivocal: we stand for the continuation of operations by the antiterrorist coalition in Afghanistan.


Despite some reservations regarding the production of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, we, nevertheless, made a difficult decision and sent our troops to Iraq to express solidarity and support of the U.S. efforts to build democracy and civil society there.


In fact, Kazakhstan turned out to be the only country in Central Asia and one of the very few Muslim countries to deploy a military contingent to Iraq. Thirty Kazakh army engineers in Iraq have already destroyed more than three-and-a-half million pieces of deadly ordnance in two years of operations.


We lost one officer and four of our soldiers have been injured, but we are determined to continue this assistance as long as it is needed to defeat the dark ideology of terror. In this respect, our commitment is very strong and solid.


Kazakhstan believes that this is not the proper time for debate over the legitimacy of the military operation of the U.S. led coalition in Iraq. It is time to demonstrate the solidarity of the international community to help the Iraqi people rebuild the country, making it a success story in creating democracy in the Middle East.


We also believe the United Nations must show greater involvement in conflicts like Iraq. There is no alternative to the UN as a universal organization. We support the United Nations and feel the UN has to be more active in providing an international umbrella for deployment of troops in Iraq.


Kazakhstan is the most powerful state in Central Asia by virtue of its size, ample natural resources, strategic location, economic achievements, and political stability. When we look across the region, we cannot but see problems that hinder our development and that of our neighbors. These problems include corruption, economic underdevelopment, drug trafficking, illicit arms trade, illegal migration, and trafficking in persons. It is against this background that we can see why Kazakhstan believes the only way to ensure success of the region lies in greater commitment to a market economy and liberal political reforms and through greater regional integration.


Kazakhstan is the only success story in the region in terms of political, social, and economic development. At the same time, we are certain our future prosperity will be directly influenced by a broader regional setting. It can hardly be a success if carried out in isolation from neighboring Central Asian states.


However, the same is true for our neighbors. Kazakhstan's development remains crucial for the prosperity and stability of the entire region. Kazakhstan is literally the heart of a Greater Central Asia and in many ways the key for future development of Eurasia. It is destined to lead sustainable development in Central Asia.


We are pragmatic, as we cannot afford to have "failed states" across the border. We fully understand the burden of this responsibility and are ready to help our neighbors. President Nursultan Nazarbayev's initiative on the establishment of the Union of Central Asian States, announced this February, serves these purposes and aims to enhance economic integration and coordinate policymaking and implementation against threats to security and stability of the region.


The need for wider economic integration has been obvious, from both an economic and a historical perspective. All Central Asian states recall with pride the era when their lands played a crucial role in world trade, linking Europe with China along the Great Silk Road.


Only by reintegrating the economies of Central Asia will we be able to avoid future crises caused by overpopulation, lack of investment in resource development, and the absence of adequate markets.


I think Kazakhstan and the United States can and should work together to promote such integration. The initiatives of Kazakhstan and the United States on the Central Asian Union and the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement known as TIFA are real mechanisms thathave the potential to breathe a new life into regional trade and strengthen stability. Kazakhstan, the most developed country in a region with huge potential, is ready to be a driving force behind these processes, which in our view should also be extended to Afghanistan.


The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) has fulfilled its historic charge-and it is a matter of discussion whether successfully or not-by not allowing the newly independent states to sink into chaos.


From our point of view, the CIS should be preserved as an integration platform because it has not exhausted its political and economic potential. However, drastic measures should be taken to make the CIS better able to respond adequately to new threats and challenges. This organization needs to be reformed. If not, it will fail to meet the expectations of the people who live together in the same state for decades.


The last CIS Summit in Kazan, Russia, confirmed a political will to keep the organization alive when the heads of member states symbolically declared the year 2006 as the Year of the Commonwealth.


CIS leaders agreed to renewed efforts to make the organization more results-oriented, especially in economic matters, as we need to open borders and introduce free trade, and in the fields of security and humanitarian work. Decisions made in Kazan on military cooperation and common border policy, and fighting terrorism, militant extremism, and illegal migration are vivid examples of such willingness.


These measures reflect the scope and content of a reform package proposed by President Nazarbayev a year ago at the CIS Astana summit.


Various groups and organizations in Eurasia might and should closely cooperate and interact to address common problems and pursue common objectives. We value the major principles and goals of GUAM, an organization that includes Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova.


The increasingly influential Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is one such regional organization. It includes Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Russia, and China.


Today, the SCO is registered with UN General Assembly as an observer. It concluded cooperation memoranda with ASEAN and the CIS Executive Committee and plans to develop cooperation with NATO, OSCE, and other international organizations. A SCO-Afghanistan contact group will begin working soon.


The SCO, established first and foremost to develop confidence building measures in border regions of the former USSR and China, has quickly expanded the scope of interaction among its member states to include further security arrangements, international counterterrorism, and economic cooperation.


The SCO serves as an example of successful rapprochement between former military and ideological enemies. Membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Kazakhstan's strategic interests, and we will continue to support it. The organization's appeal was evident when India, Iran, Mongolia, and Pakistan joined the group as observers at the SCO summit last July in Astana.


So far as the United States presence in Central Asia is concerned, we view it as one of the important factors of regional stability, strengthening the independence and sovereignty of Kazakhstan as well as that of other countries in the region. It is a natural complement to U.S. political and economic engagement in this region of strategic interest.


Reform of the United Nations is one of the most pressing issues the world faces today as the organization is in danger of becoming outdated and irrelevant.


The credibility of the United Nations has been shattered by an immense array of global problems that it has not yet proved capable of handling effectively. This is evident in the case of the rising global threat posed by rogue states and international terrorism.


Kazakhstan views the UN as a key element of an emerging international order. This year's Sixtieth Anniversary of the United Nations should be an occasion for momentous decisions regarding the most far-reaching reform in the entire history of the UN, with due regard to its high prestige and effectiveness of its bodies.


Kazakhstan believes the UN must undergo radical restructuring, including reform of its Charter, reform of its major institutions, and streamlining of its bloated bureaucracy. However, modernization should be carried out carefully, as the process is fraught with serious consequences posing greater danger of dividing nations than uniting them.


The reform process should focus on the transformation and modernization of the UN system as a whole, providing equitable geographical representation and respect for sovereign equality of states. Kazakhstan is strongly convinced that solutions to the most principal issues, such as Security Council expansion, will be found in a greater reform context. Reform must primarily be about enhancing accountability, transparency, and effectiveness of all main organs of the United Nations, particularly the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council.


Particular attention should be given to developing an effective counterterrorism strategy that not only focuses on coordinated measures to fight this global menace, but also provides for the elimination of causes of terrorism.


Even though Kazakhstan has yet to join the WTO, we are convinced the existing multilateral trading system is balanced against the interests of developing countries and countries in transition. We hope the international community can finalize the Doha Round of trade talks with due respect to these concerns.


As a landlocked country, Kazakhstan encourages full consideration of interests of that category of countries. We call for an unconditional implementation of the 2003 Almaty Action Program, as it relates to decision making in the areas of economic development, international trade, and interregional cooperation.


Sustainable development and environmental protection are definitely a priority for Kazakhstan, which has been affected by such man-made and natural disasters as the dying Aral Sea and the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site. The humanitarian, social, and economic implications of these and other disasters continue to have a negative effect on the sustainable development of not only Kazakhstan but the whole of Central Asia. Kazakhstan calls for closer and more comprehensive international cooperation on these problems.


Kazakhstan strongly believes that it is necessary to fully tap the potential of regional organizations. Regional organizations play an increasingly active role in strengthening security, developing economic cooperation, and creatingthe conditions for nation's prosperity. Kazakhstan calls for the establishment of a Council of Regional Organizations at the United Nations, under the Secretary-General, which would assume the coordination of these regional mechanisms.


It would be a mistake to treat human rights as though there was a trade off to be made between human rights and such goals as security and development. Comprehensive compliance by all countries with multilateral human rights treaties and adaptation of domestic legislation to existing international standards in this area constitute one of the main factors of international peace and security. We also welcome the establishment of a Democracy Fund at the United Nations.


Kazakhstan believes each country's positive experience in conducting interfaith dialogue is extremely important and must be shared to promote more harmonious relations in societies and stronger interfaith and intercultural ties.


The initiative of President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan to convene the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in September 2003 in Astana has become Kazakhstan's tangible contribution to interfaith and intercultural understanding, harmony, and cooperation.


Kazakhstan notes that the latest report of the UN Secretary-General and the report of the High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change both fail to mention the importance of interfaith dialogue. This omission should be corrected with the inclusion of specific provisions on this subject into the final document of the Summit.


To conclude, Kazakhstan sees a lot of challenges facing the world today. Yet, they can and should be tackled with the international community working as one. Together, we can build a safer and more prosperous world for our children.


The Honorable Kassymzhomart Tokaev is Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Mr. Tokaev delivered these remarks to The Heritage Foundation on August 23, 2005.


The Kassymzhomart Tokaev