Friday, 27 November 2020 00:00

Kazakhstan’s Role in International Mediation under First President Nursultan Nazarbayev Featured

Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program
Silk Road Paper
November 2020

 

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Kazakh-mediation-cover 450In the past decade, Kazakhstan has emerged as an important player in the world of mediation of international disputes. Its role in convening the Astana talks on Syria are the most well-known example, but Kazakhstan’s activity goes far beyond this. In fact, involvement in international mediation has emerged as yet another facet of Kazakhstan’s foreign policy, alongside its high profile in multilateral organizations.

In fact, Kazakhstani mediation builds on two aspects of Kazakhstan’s foreign policy: the country’s multi-vector foreign policy and its activism in international institutions. Landlocked, surrounded by large powers and closely tied to Russia by economics and demographics, Kazakhstan’s efforts to assert its independence have always been a balancing act. Kazakhstan’s First President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, established the country on the international scene in the 1990s primarily by his historic decision to renounce Kazakhstan’s nuclear weapons, and his careful efforts to build independent statehood in the political realm while simultaneously working to restore economic integration among former Soviet states. Kazakhstan’s model has been to maintain close relations with Russia, but simultaneously to strive to strengthen its ties with other partners – first China, then the United States, subsequently Europe and Asian powers – to obtain a positive balance in its foreign relations. This “multi-vector” foreign policy has since become a model that has been adopted by the Central Asian region as a whole.

An active role in multilateral diplomacy was key to Kazakhstan’s foreign policy from the beginning: immediately upon independence, Nazarbayev initiated the idea of a Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building in Asia, which materialized in the decade that followed. Kazakhstan also took on an active role in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, becoming the first post-Soviet state to chair the organization in 2010. Not stopping there, Kazakhstan successfully campaigned for a non-permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council, and served on the Council from 2017 to 2019.

Kazakhstan’s first initiative in the field of international mediation took place already in late 1991, when President Nazarbayev partnered with Boris Yeltsin to seek to mediate the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. But it is in the past decade that these efforts have been rekindled, against the background of a gradual intensification of geopolitical competition in Eurasia writ large. Kazakhstan’s first effort took place during its OSCE Presidency, when it intervened to attenuate the crisis in neighboring Kyrgyzstan. By assisting in removing ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev from the country, Kazakhstan contributed to easing tensions in the country.

Kazakhstan next focused on nuclear diplomacy, an issue with which the country had considerable familiarity. After offering to host an international Low Enriched Uranium Bank, President Nazarbayev succeeded in hosting two successive summits in Almaty on the Iranian nuclear program in 2013. These efforts aimed at seeking a negotiated solution that would halt the escalation of tensions that risked a greater military conflagration. While talks in Almaty did not resolve the matter, they directly paved a way for the Geneva talks that eventually led to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iranian nuclear program.

Over the following several years, Kazakhstan focused on alleviating tensions among its close partners – Russia, Turkey and the West. In 2014, Nazarbayev sought to bridge the divide between Russia and the West on Ukraine. Kazakhstan played an active role in facilitating dialogue among Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany that manifested in the Normandy Format. Two years later, Kazakhstan took a hands-on approach in resolving – at least for a time – the dispute between Russia and Turkey that resulted from the Turkish downing of a Russian jet over the Turkish-Syrian border in 2015. The next year, building on this initiative, Turkey and Russia agreed to President Nazarbayev’s offer to host talks on the Syrian conflict. Several rounds of “Astana Talks” have taken place since, involving the Syrian government, opposition groups, and the key external powers in the conflict – Russia, Turkey, and Iran.

What, then, has been the function and rationale of Kazakhstani mediation efforts?

Kazakhstan’s mediation has not been focused on faraway lands: it has been focused very much on those areas that affect the geopolitical stability of Eurasia, which in turn is the determinant for Kazakhstan’s own stability. Thus, it has concentrated on crises right on Kazakhstan’s doorstep, like in Nagorno-Karabakh and Kyrgyzstan, as well as on disputes that involve the regional and great powers of Eurasia. Both types of crises involved confrontations that threatened to destabilize the geopolitics of Eurasia, and thus posed a threat to Kazakhstan’s own security. Kazakhstan’s economic development and strategic stability is directly correlated to the relative harmony of the broader Eurasian geopolitical environment, and it has been in its interest to work to mitigate such threats to stability.

Kazakhstan’s efforts strengthen its sovereignty in at least two ways. First, it adds another layer of goodwill and recognition to Kazakhstan’s international profile. Secondly and more importantly, it provides regional powers with a strong rationale to accept Kazakhstan’s neutrality in their mutual disputes. Kazakhstan has been able to demonstrate that it is more useful for everyone as a neutral power that does not take sides – in other words, more useful as a mediator than as a supporter. For example, while Russia would have liked Kazakhstan’s endorsement of its policy in Ukraine, Kazakhstan showed that it could, uniquely, serve as a go-between that allowed Russia a way to manage its relations with Western powers, something that would be impossible in the absence of Kazakhstan’s sovereignty and international credibility.

This strategy has pitfalls. Its success requires that the level of conflict between Eurasian regional powers remains manageable; and that these powers are, at all, interested in maintaining a dialogue. If regional powers are in mortal competition against each other, Kazakhstan’s efforts would be undermined.

Against this background, the impact of Kazakhstan’s efforts become clearer. Kazakh leaders were realistic about the limited prospects of success in resolving the thorny issues they addressed. Instead, they were focused primarily on managing the fallout of these conflicts on a geopolitical level, seeking to prevent their escalation in a way that would jeopardize the broader stability of the Eurasian continent.

Kazakhstan’s efforts in international mediation have been closely tied to the personality of its First President, Nursultan Nazarbayev. Will Kazakhstan continue to play a role in mediating the great power politics of Eurasia in the longer term? There is reason to believe it can, for two key reasons. First, Kazakhstan’s meritocratic approach to personnel policy in foreign affairs has enabled the country to develop a considerable pool of officials with experience of high-level international politics, beginning with its current president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who has among other served as Head of UN offices in Geneva. Second, demand for this type of efforts is not likely to abate, as strategic competition in Eurasia continues to intensify and efforts to mitigate the fallout of great power competition in Eurasia appear to be more necessary for every passing year.

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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.

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    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
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    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.

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    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.