Tuesday, 15 November 2016 00:00

Kazakhstan 2041: the Next Twenty-Five Years Featured

Svante E. Cornell, Johan Engvall and S. Frederick Starr

November, 2016, pp. 66

Read full textkz2041



Executive summary

Kazakhstan has come a long way in the twenty five years since it gained sovereignty. The leadership can point to impressive economic development,  stability, strengthened sovereignty, and respect for “brand Kazakhstan” on the international arena. Looking to the next twenty-five years and beyond, Kazakh authorities have set forth an ambitious vision for turning the country into one of the most developed in the world. On the road ahead, old challenges will remain and new ones will doubtless emerge. As it embarks on its further development Kazakhstan will be confronted by several crucial social, economic, political, and international realities:


  • Kazakhstan’s population will grow by 20% in the coming twenty-five years, but the ratio of dependents to working population is likely to double. As a result, further economic development will require improving the productivity of the economy, which in turn requires the application of new technologies, development of new fields, improved administration, and further improvements to the business climate.
  • Sustained economic growth will further accelerate urbanization, and by 2041 70% of the population could be living in urban areas. Meanwhile, Kazakhstan will continue to be a target for migrants from countries to its south. Government policies will need to prevent the emergence of unplanned, random settlements with potentially negative impact on environment, labor markets, urban governance, and social stability.
  • For a religiously diverse society like Kazakhstan, aspiring to be among the top 30 developed countries, there is no alternative to protecting the principle of a secular state, secular system of laws, secular courts, and secular education. The challenge is to combine the secularism of the state with tolerance and respect for all religions, while ensuring continued popular support for secular governance.
  • Western powers have failed adequately to recognize the importance of the commitment to secular government by Kazakhstan and other regional states such as Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan. While western powers and organizations have criticized government intervention in the sphere of religion, they have not acknowledged the challenges faced by these governments, and have erroneously predicted that many such actions would result in radicalization. Against the backdrop of events in the Middle East, Western powers should be much more cognizant of the value of this secular model and be more prepared to work collaboratively with Kazakhstan and other regional states to correct flaws in its application, most of which were inherited from Soviet times.
  • Kazakhstan’s information sphere, unlike its foreign relations, remains relatively isolated, with Russia the predominant external source of information for the average citizen. For Kazakhstan’s citizens to have the span of information commensurate with the country’s emerging global role, the multi-vector approach must be applied also to the sphere of information. This is an area that western powers have largely ignored, but where much could be done to link Kazakhstan and its region to the broader world in all its complexity.
  • Long-term economic development will require a transformation of Kazakhstan’s economic structure and management. Kazakhstan has exhibited vulnerabilities to negative developments in the world economy, and the near future is likely to be challenging. While Kazakhstan has chosen an economic model of state-led capitalism in strategic sectors complemented by market-driven practices in non-strategic sectors, a key challenge going forward will be for the state to avoid stifling private sector growth, especially in sectors that are key to the diversification of the economy. The role of the government should be to provide guidance, support and a stable economic framework, not to interfere or engage in activities best handled by market forces.
  • Rather than scatter its resources across too many areas, the government needs to prioritize carefully. All desirable ends are not compatible.
  • The ability to react proactively to a shift in world demand away from oil could determine the country’s economic future. Agriculture is a key area in this regard. Indeed,  Kazakhstan has the potential to become a bread basket of Eurasia. Yet in spite of recent improvements, the agricultural sector needs a radical overhaul. First, the incomplete reforms in land tenure must be brought to fruition. Then, in order to formulate the further reforms that are needed, the government should designate a single agricultural research and training center as the nation’s lead institution and charge it with facilitating the transformation of Kazakhstan’s agriculture. Such a body should maintain agricultural extension services in every district of the country to serve the public. Western governments and firms can play a key supportive role in this process.
  • New opportunities for the development of a modern production and  service economy will arise from Kazakhstan’s location at the hub of an enormous continental economic space. In the short term, this will mean continuing to supplement existing ties with former Soviet economies  and building stronger links to East Asia, Europe and the Middle East. In the longer term, however, the Indian subcontinent – with a population much larger and younger than China’s by 2041 – is likely to be just as important a trade partner to Kazakhstan. Plans for this eventuality should be formulated today.
  • To realize the emergence of Kazakhstan and the rest of Central Asia as a land bridge connecting both China and India with Europe, Kazakhstan should strengthen intra-regional contacts and interaction at all levels. Building on the Strategic Partnership Agreement signed by the presidents of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in 2013, Astana should upgrade contacts and interaction in the economic, social, and security spheres. By bringing closer the two most powerful states in the region, such partnership would discourage foreign powers from deciding matters over the heads of Central Asian states or by promoting their interests by exploiting differences among them. Western powers, and particularly the United States, should actively support such understanding between Central Asian states, as they would do more than anything to foster sovereignty, cooperation, and security on a regional basis.
  • Too much of Kazakhstan’s thinking and planning about the new trade routes is confined to the government. Governmental policy in Astana must encourage private initiatives in all the areas of “soft” infrastructure that makes trade possible, including logistics, warehousing, equipment maintenance, and insurance along the corridor that crosses its territory.
  • Western critics have wrongly assumed that open and effective governance and transparent electoral processes can be achieved easily and quickly. Rather than focus on the one-dimensional juxtaposition of authoritarianism and democracy, we recommend a shift of attention to “good governance.” This should be seen as a goal in itself and also as a key prerequisite to the development of governmental openness and election-based democracy. In light of the benchmark goals set in the Kazakhstan-2050 strategy, Kazakhstan should redouble its efforts to overcome its “governance deficit” and focus on establishing responsive and effective governmental agencies in all areas directly affecting the lives of citizens – particularly the improved delivery of services to the public and more transparent and accountable political processes.
  • Kazakhstan’s leaders have embraced the need for institutional reform. Along with improving the quality of governance, the reduction of corruption must stand at the top of the agenda. In order to reach its goals by 2041, Kazakhstan must transform fundamentally what it means to be a civil servant and the way services and goods are exchanged between public officials and citizens. This means continuing more rigorously the process of applying e-government technologies to cut back the number of useless face-to-face interactions between officials and citizens, encounters that invite the giving and receiving of bribes.
  • Western governments and organizations can cooperate fruitfully with Kazakhstan to improve governance and fight corruption, provided that they work with Kazakhstan’s government rather than on it, as has too often been the case in the past. Indeed, this is the only way that the cause of democratic development can be effectively advanced between now and 2041.
  • In the years between now and 2041 it is inevitable that Kazakhstan and its region will be deeply affected by globalization, and also by countercurrents to it. Two important variables will be the fate of radical trends in the Muslim world and the global posture of the United States. Adverse trends are possible in each area, but sound planning must also include the prospect that both will evolve in a positive direction before 2041 and in ways that will reinforce rather than further undermine Kazakhstan’s balanced, or “multi-vectored,” foreign policy.
  • On the regional level, Kazakhstan must expect important, even momentous, changes in both China and Russia, countries whose evolution in the past has been characterized by abrupt and dramatic tectonic shifts. Whether or not such change takes place in the next quarter century, Russia is a country in demographic and economic decline, whose population will be much less Russian and much more Turkic and Muslim by 2041. This is bound to have a significant impact on Russia’s foreign policy, and suggests that if Kazakhstan can manage its relations with Russia so as to preserve its sovereignty and independence in the short term, the likelihood of finding a positive modus vivendi in the longer term is strong.
  • Long before 2041, China will have become a post-boom middle/upper middle income state focused on maintaining central control over a vast and diverse territory and serving the needs of a rapidly aging population. While Kazakhstan is correct in prioritizing relations with China in the short term and medium term, it must also over time focus increasingly on the Indian subcontinent, which is bound to play a critical a role in its balanced foreign policy long before 2041. Western powers could play a positive role by helping to open transport and trade through Afghanistan to Central and South Asia.
  • Europe is unlikely to become a leading security actor in Central Asia between now and 2041. Yet because of its economic role, Europe will continue to play an important role in Kazakhstan’s balanced foreign policy. Indeed, if Kazakhstan chooses to further deepen its integration with European institutions, it might pursue a relationship similar to those offered to former Soviet states in Eastern Europe under the EU’s Eastern Partnership.


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  • ASIA Spotlight with Prof. S. Frederick Starr on Unveiling Central Asia's Hidden Legacy
    Thursday, 28 December 2023 00:00

    On December 19th, 2023, at 7:30 PM IST, ASIA Spotlight Session has invited the renowned Prof. S Fredrick Starr, who elaborated on his acclaimed book, "The Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia's Golden Age from the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane." Moderated by Prof. Amogh Rai, Research Director at ASIA, the discussion unveiled the fascinating, yet lesser-known narrative of Central Asia's medieval enlightenment.

    The book sheds light on the remarkable minds from the Persianate and Turkic peoples, spanning from Kazakhstan to Xinjiang, China. "Lost Enlightenment" narrates how, between 800 and 1200, Central Asia pioneered global trade, economic development, urban sophistication, artistic refinement, and, most importantly, knowledge advancement across various fields. Explore the captivating journey that built a bridge to the modern world.

    To know watch the full conversation: #centralasia #goldenage #arabconquest #tamerlane #medievalenlightment #turkish #economicdevelopment #globaltrade

    Click here to watch on YouTube or scroll down to watch the full panel discussion.

  • Some Lessons for Putin from Ancient Rome
    Thursday, 04 January 2024 17:01
    By S. Frederick Starr 
    American Purpose
    January 4, 2024
    Vladimir Putin, having sidelined or destroyed all his domestic opponents, real or imagined, now surrounds himself with Romano-Byzantine pomp and grandeur. The theatrical civic festivals, processions of venerable prelates, cult of statues, embarrassing shows of piety, endless laying of wreaths, and choreographed entrances down halls lined with soldiers standing at attention—all trace directly back to czarism, to Byzantine Constantinople, and ultimately to imperial Rome. Indeed, Putin considers himself as Russia’s new “czar,” the Russified form of the Latin “Caesar.”
    But besides all the parallel heroics, Roman history offers profound lessons for today’s world. All of America’s Founders saw the Roman Republic as the best model for their own constitution. Napoleon, Mussolini, and Hitler, by contrast, found in imperial Rome a stunning model for their own grandeur. True, some of Rome’s ancient chroniclers, including the celebrated Livy, so admired specific politicians that they saw only their good sides and ignored the problems and failures. Yet there were others, notably the pessimistic Sallust, who not only wrote bluntly of history’s painful issues but delved deep into their causes and consequences.
    Is Putin likely to delve into the history of Rome for insights on his own situation? Unfortunately for Russia, Putin is not a reader, preferring instead to engage in exhibitionist athletic activities, preside at solemn ceremonies, or offer avuncular obiter dicta. However, if he would study the Roman past, he might come to realize that that model presents more than a few chilling prospects that he will ignore at his peril.
    To take but one example, a glance at Roman history would remind Putin that self-declared victories may not be as victorious as he and Kremlin publicists want to think. Back in the 3rd century B.C., when Rome was still a small state in central Italy, it was attacked by a certain King Pyrrhus, a rival ruler from Epirus, a region along today’s border between Greece and Albania. In his first battles Pyrrhus routed the Roman legions, and celebrated accordingly. But matters did not end there.
    Like Pyrrhus, Putin’s army scored some early victories in its war on Ukraine. As recently as December 1, Putin’s Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu was still claiming, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, that Russian forces “were advancing on all fronts.” Pyrrhus made similar false claims, only to discover that his own soldiers were no match for the determined Romans. As the Romans drove Pyrrhus’ army from the field, he groused, “If we win one more such victory against the Romans we will be utterly ruined,” which is exactly what happened. Pyrrhus’ statement gave Romans the term “Pyrrhic victory,” which we still use today. Putin should apply it to his “victories” at Bakhmut and Avdiivka.
    Another crisis in Rome’s early formation as a nation occurred when a peasant uprising threatened Rome itself and, according to the historian Livy, caused panic in the Roman capital. In desperation, the elders turned to Lucius Cincinnatus, who was neither a military man nor a professional politician, but who had earned respect as an effective leader. It took Cincinnatus only fifteen days to turn the tide, after which he returned to his farm. George Washington rightly admired Cincinnatus and consciously emulated him, returning after the Battle of Yorktown to Mount Vernon. By contrast, Putin’s “special military operation,” planned as a three-day romp, is now approaching the end of its second year. Putin, no Cincinnatus, doomed himself to being a lifer.
    Roman history is a millennium-long showcase of motivation or its absence. In this context, Putin might gain further insights by examining Rome’s centuries-long battle against the diverse tribes pressing the empire from the north. For centuries Rome’s legionnaires were well trained, disciplined, and committed. The list of their early victories is long. Both Julius Caesar and the philosopher-emperor-general Marcus Aurelius succeeded because they motivated and inspired their troops. But over time the Roman army was increasingly comprised of hirelings, déclassé men who fought not to save the empire but for money or a small piece of the bounty. Inflation and rising costs outpaced pay increases. Punishment was severe, in some cases including even crucifixion. In the end, Rome’s army eroded from within.
    This is what is happening to the Russian army today. Putin attacked Ukraine in February 2022 with what was then an army of several hundred thousand trained professional soldiers. But after the Ukrainians killed more than 320,000 Russian troops, their replacements were unwilling and surly conscripts and even criminals dragooned from Russia’s jails. Putin quite understandably fears such soldiers. Putin’s army, like that of the late Roman Empire, is collapsing from within.
    By contrast, Ukraine’s army at the time of the invasion was small and comprised mainly Soviet-trained holdovers. Both officers and troops of the line had to be quickly recruited from civilian professions and trained. Yet they quickly proved themselves to be disciplined and resourceful patriots, not tired time-servers. True, Ukraine is now conscripting troops, but these newcomers share their predecessors’ commitment to the nation and to their future lives in a free country.
    Sheer spite and a passion for avenging past failures figured prominently in Putin’s decisions to invade both Georgia and Ukraine. Roman history suggests that this isn’t smart. Back in 220 B.C., Rome defeated its great enemy, the North African state of Carthage. Anticipating Putin, the Carthaginian general Hannibal sought revenge. Acting out of spite, he assembled 700,000 foot soldiers, 78,000 mounted calvary, and a force of war elephants, and crossed the Alps. Though he was a brilliant general, Hannibal’s war of spite turned into a disaster.
    Why did Hannibal lose? Partly because of his sheer hubris and the spite that fed it, and also because the Romans avoided frontal battles and simply ground him down. They were prudently led by a general named Fabius Maximus, whom later Romans fondly remembered as “the Delayer.” Today it is the Ukrainians who are the Delayers. By grinding down Putin’s army and destroying its logistics they have positioned themselves for victory.
    The Roman Republic fell not because of any mass uprising but because of the machinations of Julius Caesar. A victorious general, Caesar looked the hero as he was installed as imperator. As was customary at such ceremonies, an official retainer placed behind the inductee solemnly repeated over and over the admonition to “Look behind you!” Caesar failed to do so and underestimated the opposition of a handful of officials and generals who feared the rise of a dictator perpetuus. Even if Putin chooses not to read Cicero, Plutarch, or Cassius Dio, he could productively spend an evening watching a Moscow production of Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar.
    Turning to a very different issue, Putin seems blithely to assume that whenever Russia defeats a neighboring country it can easily win the hearts and minds of the conquered, whether by persuasion or force. This is what many Roman generals and governors thought as well, but they were wrong—fatally so. Speaking of the impact of corrupt officials sent by Rome to the provinces, the great orator-politician Cicero declared to the Roman Senate, “You cannot imagine how deeply they hate us.” Does Putin understand this?
    Finally, it is no secret that Russia today, like ancient Rome, is increasingly a land of immigrants; its economy depends on impoverished newcomers from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and elsewhere in Central Asia who fled to Russia in search of work. Yet Moscow treats them as third-class citizens and dragoons them as cannon fodder or “meat” to die by the thousands on the Ukrainian front. Rome faced a similar problem and wrestled with it unsuccessfully over several centuries. Over time the despised immigrants who poured across the Alps from Gaul demanded a voice in Roman affairs, and eventually took control of the western Roman Empire.
    Sad to say, neither Putin himself nor any others of Russia’s core group of leaders show the slightest interest in learning from relevant examples from Roman history or, for that matter, from any other useable past. Together they provide living proof of American philosopher George Santayana’s adage that, “Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.” In Putin’s case, though, he seems never to have known it. 

    ABOUT THE AUTHORSS. Frederick Starr, is a distinguished fellow specializing in Central Asia and the Caucasus at the American Foreign Policy Council and founding chairman of the Central Asia Caucasus Institute.

    Additional Info
    • Author S. Frederick Starr
    • Publication Type Analysis
    • Published in/by American Purpose
    • Publishing date January 4, 2024
  • CACI Chairman S. Frederick Starr comments on "Preparing Now for a Post-Putin Russia"
    Friday, 03 November 2023 18:30

    Whether Russian President Vladimir Putin dies in office, is ousted in a palace coup, or relinquishes power for some unforeseen reason, the United States and its allies would face a radically different Russia with the Kremlin under new management. The geopolitical stakes mean that policymakers would be negligent not to plan for the consequences of a post-Putin Russia. On November 2, 2023, CACI Chairman S. Frederick Starr joined a panel organized by the Hudson Institute’s Center on Europe and Eurasia for a discussion on how US and allied policymakers can prepare for a Russia after Putin.

    Click here to watch on YouTube or scroll down to watch the full panel discussion.

  • Central Asia Diplomats Call for Closer Ties With US
    Monday, 26 June 2023 00:00

    REPRINTED with permission from Voice of America News
    By Navbahor Imamova

    WASHINGTON -- U.S.-based diplomats from Central Asia, a region long dominated by Russia and more recently China, say they are eager for more engagement with the United States.

    Many American foreign policy experts agree that a more robust relationship would be mutually beneficial, though U.S.-based nongovernmental organizations express deep concerns about human rights and authoritarian rule in the five countries: Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

    Michael Delaney, a former U.S. trade official, argued in favor of greater engagement this week at a webinar organized by the American-Uzbekistan Chamber of Commerce.

    He noted that three of the five republics are World Trade Organization members and the other two are in the accession process — a goal actively encouraged by the U.S. government.

    "I've always believed that this is a geographically disadvantaged area. There are relatively small national economies," he said. But, he said, collectively the region represents a potentially more connected market, about 80 million people.

    Key issues

    In this virtual gathering, all five Central Asian ambassadors to Washington expressed eagerness to work on issues the U.S. has long pushed for, such as water and energy sustainability, security cooperation, environmental protection and climate, and connectivity.

    Kazakhstan's Ambassador Yerzhan Ashikbayev said that despite all factors, the United States does not want to leave the field to China, its global competitor, which actively invests in the region.

    "Recent visit by 20 companies to Kazakhstan as a part of certified U.S. trade mission, including technology giants like Apple, Microsoft, Google, but also other partners like Boeing, have shown a growing interest," Ashikbayev said.

    The Kazakh diplomat described a "synergy" of economies and diplomatic efforts. All Central Asian states are committed to dialogue, trade and multilateralism, he said. "As we are witnessing the return of the divisive bloc mentalities almost unseen for 30 years, it's in our best interest to prevent Central Asia from turning into another battleground of global powers."

    During his first tour of Central Asia earlier this year, Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, meeting separately with the foreign ministers of all five countries.

    That was deeply appreciated, said Meret Orazov, Turkmenistan's longtime ambassador, who also praised the regular bilateral consultations the U.S. holds with these countries.

    Uzbek Ambassador Furqat Sidiqov sees the U.S. as an important partner, with "long-standing friendship and cooperation which have only grown stronger over the years."

    "The U.S. has played a significant role in promoting dialogue and cooperation among the Central Asian nations through initiatives such as the C5+1," he said, referring to a diplomatic platform comprising Washington and the region's five governments.

    "This is where we address common concerns and enhance integration," said Sidiqov. "We encourage the U.S. to bolster this mechanism."

    Tashkent regards Afghanistan as key to Central Asia's development, potentially linking the landlocked region to the markets and seaports of South Asia. Sidiqov said his country counts on American assistance.

    'Possibility of positive change'

    Fred Starr, chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute in Washington, ardently advocates for the U.S. to adopt closer political, economic and people-to-people ties with the region.

    In a recent paper, he wrote that among dozens of officials, diplomats, entrepreneurs, experts, journalists and civil society leaders interviewed in Central Asia, "even those most critical of American positions saw the possibility of positive change and … all acknowledged that the need for change is on both sides, theirs as well as ours."

    This is the only region that doesn't have its own organization, said Starr, arguing that the U.S. could support this effort. "We have not done so, probably because we think that this is somehow going to interfere with their relations with their other big neighbors, the north and east, but it's not going to. It's not against anyone."

    "Easy to do, low cost, very big outcome," he added, also underscoring that "there is a feeling the U.S. should be much more attentive to security."

    "Japan, the European Union, Russia, China, their top leaders have visited. … No U.S. president has ever set foot in Central Asia," he said. He added that regional officials are left to wonder, "Are we so insignificant that they can't take the time to visit?"

    Starr urges U.S. President Joe Biden to convene the C5+1 in New York during the 78th session of the U.N. General Assembly in September. "This would not be a big drain on the president's time, but it would be symbolically extremely important," he said. "All of them want this to happen."

    Read at VOA News

  • Read CACI Chairman S. Frederick Starr's recent interview on the resurgence of Imperial Russia with The American Purpose
    Tuesday, 23 May 2023 00:00

    Why Russians Support the War: Jeffrey Gedmin interviews S. Frederick Starr on the resurgence of Imperial Russia.

    The American Purpose, May 23, 2023

    Jeffrey Gedmin: Do we have a Putin problem or a Russia problem today?

    S. Frederick Starr: We have a Putin problem because we have a Russia problem. Bluntly, the mass of Russians are passive and easily manipulated—down to the moment they aren’t. Two decades ago they made a deal with Vladimir Putin, as they have done with many of his predecessors: You give us a basic income, prospects for a better future, and a country we can take pride in, and we will give you a free hand. This is the same formula for autocracy that prevailed in Soviet times, and, before that, under the czars. The difference is that this time Russia’s leader—Putin—and his entourage have adopted a bizarre and dangerous ideology, “Eurasianism,” that empowers them to expand Russian power at will over the entire former territory of the USSR and even beyond. It is a grand and awful vision that puffs up ruler and ruled alike.

    What do most Russians think of this deal? It leaves them bereft of the normal rights of citizenship but free from its day-to-day responsibilities. So instead of debating, voting, and demonstrating, Russians store up their frustrations and then release them in elemental, often destructive, and usually futile acts of rebellion. This “Russia problem” leaves the prospect of change in Russia today in the hands of alienated members of Putin’s immediate entourage, many of whom share his vision of Russia’s destiny and are anyway subject to Putin’s ample levers for control. Thus, our “Putin problem” arises from our “Russia problem.”

    Click to continue reading...