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Kazakhstan - Foreign Relations

Kazakhstan has stable relationships with all of its neighbors. Kazakhstan has good relations with its neighbors, although the government is concerned that the borders with Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan are vulnerable to penetration by extremist groups. Kazakhstan is a force for stability in the region. Relatively prosperous and at peace internally, it does not employ territorial, ethnic, economic, or energy threats or claims against its neighbors. Its "multi-vector" foreign policy adroitly balances its major partners -- Russia, China, the United States, and the European Union -- as well as important regional players like India and Iran.

Kazakhstans President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, is equally welcome in Moscow, Beijing, and Washington, due in large part to Kazakhstans vast quantities of hydrocarbons. Kazakhstan is located between major world and regional powers, and Nazarbayev seeks to become a regional leader. Kazakhstans geopolitical importance has made it a priority for nations with security and economic interests in the region.

Kazakhstan is a member of the United Nations, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and North Atlantic Cooperation Council, and served as chairman in office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 2010. It also is an active participant in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO) Partnership for Peace program. Kazakhstan also is a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization along with Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan established the Eurasian Economic Community in 2000 to re-energize earlier efforts at harmonizing trade tariffs and the creation of a free trade zone under a customs union. Kazakhstan is the founding member of the Conference for Interaction and Confidence in Asia. Kazakhstan also engages in regional security dialogue with ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations). Kazakhstan has signed the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty (1992), the START Treaty (1992), the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (1993), the Chemical Weapons Convention, and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (2001).

From the onset of independence, President Nazarbayev sought international support to secure a place for Kazakstan in the world community, playing the role of bridge between East and West, between Europe and Asia. The United States and other nations also gave Kazakstan quick recognition, opening embassies in Almaty and receiving Kazakstani ambassadors in return. Almost immediately upon its declaration of independence, the republic gained a seat in the United Nations, membership in the CSCE, and a seat on the coordinating council of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Under the leadership of Nazarbayev, who maintained personal control of foreign policy, Kazakstan eagerly courted Western investment. Although foreign aid, most of it from Western nations, began as a trickle, significant amounts were received by 1994. In practice, however, Nazarbayev was ambivalent about moving too fully into a Western orbit.

In the period shortly after independence, policy makers often discussed following the "Turkish model," emulating Turkey in incorporating a Muslim cultural heritage into a secular, Europeanized state. Turkey's president Turgut zal made a state visit to Kazakstan in March 1991 and hosted a return visit by Nazarbayev later the same year. Soon afterward Nazarbayev began to echo Turkish talk of turning Kazakstan into a bridge between Muslim East and Christian West. In practice, however, the Turks proved to be more culturally dissimilar than the Kazakstanis had imagined; more important, Turkey's own economic problems meant that most promises of aid and investment remained mostly just statements of intentions.

As Turkey proved itself a disappointment, President Nazarbayev began to speak with increasing enthusiasm about the Asian economic "tigers" such as Singapore, the Republic of Korea (South Korea), and Taiwan. Among the republic's first foreign economic advisers were Chan Young Bang, a Korean American with close ties to South Korea's major industrial families, and Singapore's former prime minister, Li Kwan Yew.

The most compelling model, however, was provided by China, which quickly had become Kazakstan's largest non-CIS trading partner. The Kazakstani leadership found the Chinese combination of rigid social control and private-sector prosperity an attractive one. China also represented a vast market and appeared quite able to supply the food, medicine, and consumer goods most desired by the Kazakstani market.

However, the relationship with China has been a prickly one. Kazakstan's fears of Chinese domination remain from the Soviet era and from the Kazaks' earlier nomadic history. A large number of Kazaks and other Muslims live in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of China, just over the border. Direct rail and road links have been opened to rmqi in Xinjiang, and Chinese traders in Kazakstan are prominent in the thriving barter between the two nations. However, China is plainly nervous about any contact that would encourage separatist or nationalist sentiments among its own "captive peoples." For its part, Kazakstan has expressed unease about the large numbers of Chinese who began buying property and settling in the republic after the end of Soviet rule. Kazakstan also has reacted angrily but without effect to Chinese nuclear tests at Lob Nor, China's main testing site, located within 300 kilometers of the common border.

Nazarbayev was hesitant to court investment from the Middle East, despite high levels of Turkish and Iranian commercial activity in Central Asia. Unlike the other Central Asian republics, Kazakstan initially accepted only observer status in the Muslim-dominated ECO, largely out of concern not to appear too "Muslim" itself. Over time, however, the president moved from being a professed atheist to proudly proclaiming his Muslim heritage. He has encouraged assistance from Iran in developing transportation links, from Oman in building oil pipelines, from Egypt in building mosques, and from Saudi Arabia in developing a national banking system.

Most of Kazakstan's foreign policy has, not unnaturally, focused on the other former Soviet republics and, particularly, on the potential territorial ambitions of Russia. Since Gorbachev's proposal for a modified continuation of the Soviet Union in late 1991, Kazakstan has supported arrangements with Russia that guarantee the republic's sovereignty and independence, including a stronger and institutionally complex CIS.

As the CIS failed to develop a strong institutional framework, Nazarbayev attempted to achieve the same end in another way, proposing the creation of a Euro-Asian Union that would subordinate the economic, defense, and foreign policies of individual member states to decisions made by a council of presidents, an elective joint parliament, and joint councils of defense and other ministries. Citizens of member nations would hold union citizenship, essentially reducing the independence of the individual member republics to something like their Soviet-era status. The proposal, however, met with little enthusiasm, especially from Russia, whose support was crucial to the plan's success.

Nazarbayev pursued bilateral trade and security agreements with each of the former republics and in September 1992 unsuccessfully attempted to have Kazakstan broker a cease-fire between Armenia and Azerbaijan that also would set a precedent for settling interrepublic and interregional strife in the former republics. Nazarbayev also participated in the fitful efforts of the five Central Asian leaders to create some sort of regional entity; the most promising of these was a free-trade zone established in 1994 among Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakstan. Kazakstan also contributed to efforts by Russia and Uzbekistan to end the civil war in Tajikistan. Kazakstani troops were part of a joint CIS force dispatched to protect military objectives in and around the Tajikistan's capital, Dushanbe.

Nazarbayev states clearly that Russia is Kazakhstan's number-one strategic partner for any number of reasons -- geography, history, economics, infrastructure, language, and culture. But he makes likewise clear, usually in private, that Kazakhstan greatly values its independence and has no intention of being anyone's "privileged sphere of influence." Despite the close relations between Moscow and Astana, Russia's post-colonial psychology often causes it to over-play its hand dealing with Kazakhstan. The brief Russia-Georgia war in 2008 seems to have been, to a degree, a wake-up call for Nazarbayev, and he recalibrated his foreign policy somewhat to the advantage of the United States. But it's fine-turning; he doesn't make wild swings like Uzbekistan's Karimov between Moscow and Washington.

The 2014-2015 events in Ukraine presented a specific twist to the larger issue facing Central Asian states, namely how to "get along" surrounded by large powers who may not have their best interests at heart. Of particular note were comments by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who said in August 2014 that "the Kazakhs never had any statehood" and that it would be beneficial for the Kazakh people to "remain in the greater Russian world." Putin basically threw down a marker when he called Kazakhstan an artificial country.

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Page last modified: 30-03-2015 18:47:49 ZULU