Wednesday, 25 October 2017 18:25

Kazakhstan in Europe: Why Not? Featured

Svante E. Cornell and Johan Engvall

SILK ROAD PAPER

October 2, 2017

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Executive Summary

Is Kazakhstan a European state? The answer to this question could define the character of the country’s long-term relationship with European institutions and organizations, and profoundly affect the country’s social, political and economic development.

The timing of this question, however, might seem inopportune. European institutions face deep internal difficulties: the EU is reeling from Brexit and controversies with Hungary and Poland, and the Council of Europe faces serious problems with countries on Europe’s eastern and southeastern flanks that, much like Kazakhstan, straddle the boundaries between Europe and Asia. That may limit the appetite for discussing Kazakhstan’s relationship to Europe. Yet the question may no longer be pushed to an undetermined future.

Kazakhstan is undeniably a European state: it certainly fulfills the Council of Europe‘s two criteria of being “wholly or partly located in Europe” and a country “whose culture is closely linked with the European culture.”1 Indeed, much like Turkey and Russia, it is a country that straddles the geographic divide between the two continents. And since independence, Kazakhstan has defined itself as a state that combines, in a positive and reinforcing manner, a European and an Asian identity. Yet for the first 25 years of its independence, the question of the country’s European identity did not take center-stage. European institutions were gradually expanding into central and Eastern Europe, somewhat reluctantly going as far as defining the South Caucasus as a part of Europe. Meanwhile, Kazakhstan’s centralized government structure and top-down approach to reforms limited its European ambitions.

Nevertheless, important developments underway in Central Asia raise the question anew. Already in 2008, Kazakhstan’s government presented a three-year state program labeled “The Path to Europe”. More significantly, from 2015 onward Kazakhstan has redoubled its reform agenda, beginning with a 100-step program focused on transparency and efficiency of government. By 2017, the country had adopted a package of fundamental constitutional reforms that, among others, devolve powers from the President’s office to the parliament. And as has been the case elsewhere in the post-Communist world, it is primarily to Europe and European institutions that Kazakhstan’s reformers turn for standards, guidance and assistance as they seek to design and implement steps to achieve the lofty development goals that Kazakhstan’s President has set for the country.

This is happening at a time when Europe is beginning to realize Central Asia’s role as a transport corridor to east and south Asian destinations, and when neighboring Uzbekistan is, too, embarking on a path of fundamental reforms. After Kazakhstan and the EU signed a groundbreaking Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement in 2015, the question is how Europe’s relationship to Kazakhstan – and by extension to Central Asia as a whole – can be further developed.

It is not only geography that makes Kazakhstan a European state. Indeed, the prevailing national conception in Kazakhstan is based on an understanding of Eurasianism that differs starkly from the Russian definition of the term. Kazakhstani Eurasianism does not view itself as a geopolitical space distinct from both Europe and Asia, but as embodying the positive meeting space between Europe and Asia, drawing on both. And indeed, a closer look at Kazakhstan’s development since independence highlights the important European aspects of its statehood. Kazakhstan is a secular state with a civic conception of the nation based on an inclusive, citizenship-based understanding of membership in the national community. That in itself makes it highly compatible with European norms and principles. In addition, Kazakhstan’s leadership has embarked on significant education reforms that seek to align the country with European standards, ensuring that the next generation of Kazakhstanis will find much in common with their European counterparts.

It is mainly Kazakhstan’s political and economic model that has diverged from Europe: since independence, while performing as a leading economic liberalizer, Kazakhstan has adopted a top-down approach to state-building and an evolutionary approach that has put economic reform before political reform. This model emphasizes evolutionary progress, organic development and a political process based on national consensus, rather than an immediate transition to European-style democracy with pluralistic and ideologically competitive political processes where reforms emerge out of ideological and group competition. Yet even there, the recent reform agenda suggests Kazakhstan is gradually moving its political system in a European direction.

Kazakhstan is a European country, but European states and institutions have so far failed to treat it as such. It is only in the OSCE that Kazakhstan has operated as a full member, including holding the rotating presidency of the organization in 2010. With all other European organizations, Kazakhstan has established ties, which nevertheless often leave the fundamental nature of the relationship unclear. Kazakhstan does not have any ambitions of NATO membership, but has paid close attention to cultivating relationships with the alliance as part of its multi-vector foreign policy. It remains the only Central Asian country to have an Individual Partnership Action Plan, through which it actively cooperates with the alliance. This relationship is naturally constrained by Kazakhstan membership in the Collective Security Treaty Organization, but is a valuable one in which both parties appear aligned on fundamental goals. And while Kazakhstan is not a member of the OECD, it has long cooperated with the organization, and formally launched a bid for membership that is likely to be received on its merits, and its outcome dependent on Kazakhstan’s own reform process.

By contrast, the country’s relationship with Council of Europe is surprisingly underdeveloped. In fact, as a European country, Kazakhstan should normally be eligible for membership in this organization. Yet there is little indication that the CoE has treated Kazakhstan as the European country that it is. The Council of Europe – in which both Russia and Turkey are members – has remained deliberately vague about Kazakhstan’s prospects for a closer relationship with the organization, while, in sharp contrast, it has set the strategic objective of integrating Belarus as a full member. Given Kazakhstan’s current reform effort and its closer relationship with the CoE’s Venice Commission, with which it consulted on its constitutional reforms, this approach is no longer workable. A continued reluctance on the part of the CoE to embrace Kazakhstan’s long-term integration with the organization can only be interpreted as an unstated denial of its European identity. That, clearly, would clash with the values-based nature of the Council of Europe.

Kazakhstan’s relationship with the EU is a more positive story, given the signing of the Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement in 2015. Yet even here, the EU in the past decade drew an unnecessarily sharp line between the countries on the western and eastern shores of the Caspian Sea. While its Eastern Partnership, launched in 2009, was an important step in acknowledging the European aspirations of six countries in Eastern Europe, it happened as the EU developed a strategy for Central Asia which, while a good thing in principle, handled the region as something entirely foreign to Europe. But since then, this hard line has begun to erode. The one-size-fits-all approach envisaged in the Eastern Partnership has given way to individualized relationships with differing degrees of association with EU norms and regulations. As a result, Kazakhstan’s agreement with the EU is different in degree rather than in nature from the agreement that Armenia has initialed, or the one Azerbaijan is currently negotiating. As such, there is no reason why Kazakhstan, going forward, should not be treated at par with members of the Eastern Partnership if it so desires and takes the necessary steps in that direction.

For Kazakhstan, the main question is to what extent its leadership is prepared to fully embrace its European identity. Doing so will require far-reaching reforms in the country’s governance, and particularly in its political and judicial systems as well as in the protection of human rights. Such changes are likely required anyway, if Kazakhstan is to achieve the lofty goals set by its leadership for the coming three decades. The key point here is that such reforms may be more likely to succeed if Kazakhstan can benefit from the systematic assistance of European states and organizations. That, in turn, will be more likely to materialize if these bodies recognize Kazakhstan’s European identity.

Kazakhstan has set its sights on joining the world’s most developed countries, in the process holding itself to an entirely new set of benchmarks, and embarking on a program of political reforms that, if implemented, would make the country considerably more aligned with European standards of governance. This process will take years if not decades, but it nevertheless means that Europe must look at Kazakhstan with fresh eyes, and reconsider the role European organizations can and should play in assisting Kazakhstan’s reform program.

 

 

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News

  • New Article Series on Changing Geopolitics of Central Asia and the Caucasus
    Wednesday, 24 November 2021 11:53

    Eurasia

  • CACI Initiative on Religion and the Secular State in Central Asia and the Caucasus
    Sunday, 24 January 2021 13:53

    In 2016, the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program launched an initiative on documenting the interrelationship of religion and the secular state in the region. This initiative departed from the fact that little systematic reserch had been undertaken on the subject thus far. While there was and remains much commentary and criticism of religious policy in the region, there was no comprehensive analysis available on the interrelationship of religion and the state in any regional state, let alone the region as a whole. The result of this initiative has been the publication of six Silk Road Papers studying the matter in regional states, with more to come. In addition, work is ongoing on a volume putting the regional situation in the context of the Muslim world as a whole.

     

    Case Studies

    Each study below can be freely downloaded in PDF format.

    az-formula-SRSP

    Azerbaijan's Formula: Secular Governance and Civil Nationhood
    By Svante E. Cornell, Halil Karaveli, and Boris Ajeganov
    November 2016   




    2018-04-Kazakhstan-SecularismReligion and the Secular State in Kazakhstan
    By Svante E. Cornell, S. Frederick Starr and Julian Tucker
    April 2018

     

     

     

    1806-UZ-coverReligion and the Secular State in Uzbekistan
    Svante E. Cornell and Jacob Zenn
    June 2018

     

     

     

    2006-Engvall-coverReligion and the Secular State in Kyrgyzstan
    Johan Engvall
    June 2020

     Event video online

     

    2006-Clement-coverReligion and the Secular State in Turkmenistan
    Victoria Clement
    June 2020

    Event video online

     

     

     

    Articles and Analyses

    Svante E. Cornell, "Religion and the State in Central Asia," in Ilan Berman, ed., Wars of Ideas: Theology, Interpretation and Power in the Muslim World, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2021.

    Svante E. Cornell, "Central Asia: Where Did Islamic Radicalization Go?" in Religion, Conflict and Stability in the Former Soviet Union, eds. Katya Migacheva and Bryan Frederick, Arlington, VA: RAND Corporation, 2018.

  • Basic Principles for the Rehabilitation of Azerbaijan's Post-Conflict Territories
    Wednesday, 07 October 2020 09:01

    Rehab-coverIn 2010, the CACI-SRSP Joint Center cooperated with Eldar Ismailov and Nazim Muzaffarli of the Institute for Strategic Studies of the Caucasus to produce a study of the methodology and process for the rehabilitation of the occupied territories in Azerbaijan. The study was written in the hope that it would prove useful in the aftermath of a negotiated solution to the conflict.

    Such a resolution nevertheless did not materialize. At present, however, it appears that some of these territories are returning to Azerbaijani control as a result of the military conflict that began in late September, 2020. While it is regrettable that this did not come to pass as a result of negotiations, it is clear that the challenge of rehabilitating territories is as pressing today as it would be in the event of a peaceful resolution - if not more, given the likelihood that such a solution would have included a time-table and provided the Government of Azerbaijan and international institutions time for planning.

    It is clear that the study is a product of a different time, as much has changed since 2010. We fully expcect many updates and revisions to be needed should the recommendations in this study be implemented today. That said, we believe the methodoloy of the study and its conclusions remain relevant and would therefore like to call attention to this important study, published in English, Russian and Azerbaijani versions.

    Click to download:

    BASIC PRINCIPLES FOR THE REHABILITATION OF AZERBAIJAN’S POST-CONFLICT TERRITORIES

     

  • Resources on the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict
    Monday, 05 October 2020 08:19

    Resources on the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict

     

    The Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program have a long track record of covering the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict. This page presents the key resources and most recent analysis. 

    In 2017, Palgrave published the first book-length study of the International Politics of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict, edited by Svante Cornell. The book concluded by arguing that if international efforts to resolve the conflict are not stepped up, “the ‘four-day’ war of April 2016 will appear a minor skirmish compared to what is sure to follow”.

    In 2015, CACI & SRSP released the Silk Road Paper  “A Western Strategy for the South Caucasus”, which included a full page of recommendations for the U.S. and EU on the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict. These are reproduced below:

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    Develop a substantial and prolonged Western initiative on the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict.

    o This initiative must be led by the United States, in close consultation with its European partners – primarily the EU Commission and External Action Service, and France. Barring some process to reinvigorate the Minsk Process – a doubtful proposition given Western-Russian relations in the foreseeable future – Western leaders must be prepared to bypass that process, utilizing it where appropriate but focusing their initiative on developing direct negotiations between the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders.

    o The U.S. and its European partners must abandon the practice of relying solely on the Minsk Group co-chairs to resolve the Karabakh conflict. These diplomats have contributed greatly to formulating a workable framework agreement. However, strong and sustained U.S. Government leadership from the top level is needed to complement or, failing that, to replace the Minsk Process. In practice, this means the expressed support of the President, involvement of the White House, and leadership manifested in the appointment of a distinguished citizen as Special Envoy for the resolution of the conflict.

    o The EU must take a more clearly defined and substantial role in the process, by integrating to the highest degree possible the French co-chairmanship of the Minsk Group with EU institutions. While Washington will need to take the lead on the political side, it would be natural for the EU to take the lead in organizing an international development program for the currently occupied Azerbaijani provinces and Karabakh itself. That effort, too, would need to be led by a senior EU figure.

    --------------------------------------------

    In 2011, CACI & SRSP helped launch an extensive study of the steps needed for the post-conflict rehabilitation of Azerbaijan's occupied territories, in cooperation with Eldar Ismailov and Nazim Muzaffarli of the Institute for Strategic Studies of the Caucasus. The monograph "Basic Principles for the Rehabilitation of Azerbaijan's Post-Conflict Territories" can be accessed here

     

    More background resources:

    Svante E. Cornell, "Can America Stop a Wider War Between Armenia and Azerbaijan?", The National Interest, October 2020

    Brenda Shaffer and Svante E. Cornell, Occupied Elsewhere: Selective Policies on Occupation, Foundation For Defense of Democracies, January 2020. 

    Brenda Shaffer and Svante E. Cornell, "The U.S. Needs to Declare War on Proxies", Foreign Policy, January 27, 2020

    Svante E. Cornell, “The Raucous Caucasus”, American Interest, May 2017

    Svante E. Cornell, Small Nations and Great Powers: A Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict in the Caucasus, RoutledgeCurzon, 2001.

    Svante E. Cornell, The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict, Uppsala University, 1999

    More recent analysis:

    Turkey Seeks to Counter Russia in the Black Sea-Caucasus Region,” Turkey Analyst, 10/5/20, Emil Avdaliani

    Turkey’s Commitment to Azerbaijan’s Defense Shows the Limits of Ankara’s Tilt to Moscow,” Turkey Analyst, 9/25/20, Turan Suleymanov & Bahruz Babayev

     “Cross-Border Escalation between Armenia and Azerbaijan,” Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 9/25/20, Natalia Konarzewska

    Russia and Turkey: Behind the Armenia-Azerbaijan Clashes?”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 8/31/20, Avinoam Idan

    Armenia and the U.S.: Time for New Thinking?”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 10/2/19, Eduard Abrahamyan.

    Why Washington Must Re-Engage the CaucasusCentral Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 7/8/19, Stephen Blank

    Azerbaijan’s Defense Industry Reform”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 5/7/19, Tamerlan Vahabov.

    Military Procurements on Armenia's and Azerbaijan's Defense Agendas”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 3/27/19, Ilgar Gurbanov

    Armenia's New Government Struggles with Domestic and External Opposition,” Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 3/20/19, Armen Grigorian.

    Bolton's Caucasian Tour and Russia's Reaction”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 12/17/18, Eduard Abrahamyan.