Kazakhstan’s Permanent Representative to the UN talks Kazakhstan’s role in UN system as new challenges and threats emerge
NEW YORK. KAZINFORM - Since Kazakhstan's independence in 1991, the country has enjoyed a long-standing partnership with the United Nations (UN), which has spanned over three decades. This partnership has been built on the shared values of peace, development, and human rights.
Akan Rakhmetullin has served as Permanent Representative since October 2022.
Kazakhstan has consistently demonstrated its commitment to the UN mission, earning the country a reputation as a valuable partner in the international community. In an exclusive interview with Kazinform, Akan Rakhmetullin, Permanent Representative of Kazakhstan to the UN, spoke about the key milestones over 31 years of cooperation, Kazakhstan’s role in the UN system, the country’s priorities, and new challenges emerging.
Q: What are the main priorities for Kazakhstan in its partnership with the UN, and how does Kazakhstan view its role in the UN system?
A: March 2 marked 31 years since Kazakhstan became a full-fledged member of the UN, and we also just recently celebrated 30 years of UN presence in Kazakhstan.
The main priority, of course, is to ensure regional and international security and stability. The world is unstable and has been for a long time.
Tokayev and Guterres shake hands during their meeting in New York in September 2022.
Photo credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider
Nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation is a top priority for us. We are actively involved in these activities, including the disarmament of weapons of mass destruction and the implementation of our President's initiative to create an International Agency for Biological Safety.
Next, it is achieving Sustainable Development Goals. This is a large array of ambitious tasks facing not only Kazakhstan but also all members, including eliminating poverty and countering climate change.
We also pay attention to promoting gender equality and empowering women and girls. Just a few days ago, a Commission on the Status of Women [referring to the 67th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women] began its work, where the Kazakh delegation also participated.
In addition, our priorities also include the protection of the environment and countering climate change. As you know, the President has announced an ambitious goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2060. This is a very ambitious and difficult task, as we already see the consequences of climate change.
Rakhmetullin presents credentials to Secretary-General in October 2022. Photo credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider
As for the role of Kazakhstan, we can't say that Kazakhstan has a special role among countries, but nevertheless, our role is characterized by a multi-vector foreign policy. As the President has said, the nature of our foreign policy should have a strategic balance. This is dictated by our geopolitical position, including the proximity to such powers as Russia and China, who are members of the UN Security Council and nuclear-weapon states. It is also Central Asia and proximity to Afghanistan.
This geopolitical location also determines our behavior within multilateral structures, especially the UN. Over 31 years of our membership in the UN, Kazakhstan has earned a reputation as a credible, responsible actor in international relations, predictable and open to dialogue, with equal and very good friendly relations with all regions, with all countries, and with all UN members.
The Head of State has repeatedly pointed to the importance of promoting the idea of multilateralism that is in action here because the UN is an organization where each country has a vote. That voice has an impact. It is also respect for each other, respect for the sovereignty, and the independence of a country that is as a full member of the UN as any other.
Q: What steps is Kazakhstan taking to promote peace and stability on the global stage?
A: Peace and security issues are not just about stopping war. Though there are wars and conflicts in the first place, it is also a large set of issues that have to do with security and social and economic development.
Since our independence, we have taken a very active position in promoting nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. We got rid of nuclear weapons and set an example. We closed the Semipalatinsk test site. It is underscored by all UN member states of the United Nations, including five nuclear-weapon states.
Kazakhstan’s First Permanent Representative to UN Akmaral Arystanbekova. Photo credit: Permanent Mission of Kazakhstan to UN
We are a signatory to all nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation instruments. A recent document is the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). Kazakhstan is a full member, and moreover, we will be chairing it next year. This organization just came into being, and we will already be the third in a row to chair it.
Kazakhstan is also taking measures to сombat terrorism. We have all witnessed the change of power in Afghanistan and the increased threat of terrorist activities. Overall, there are very strong terrorist manifestations all over the world, including in the Middle East and Africa, besides Afghanistan. Given globalization, this threat is universal, and our country is not isolated from these threats.
There are 19 major UN documents on counter-terrorism, and we are all signatories to them. In addition, we actively participate in the Joint Plan of Action for the implementation of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy in Central Asia (JPoA). It envisions the steps that countries in the region must take to fight terrorism.
Regarding gender equality, the safety of our women and girls, and human rights in general, affect the overall state of security.
Overall, we have a broad scope of issues. For example, besides hard security, we deal with health issues. We have made history as the birthplace of the Alma-Ata Declaration (1978) and the Astana Declaration (2018) on Primary Health Care. In 1978, back in Soviet times, Almaty hosted the first WHO conference on primary health care and the Alma-Ata Declaration was adopted there.
We also participate in UN peacekeeping missions - actively present in Lebanon, Mali, Western Sahara, the Central African Republic.
We are also the world's largest landlocked country, which makes us more vulnerable to external factors. As we have no access to external markets, it is important to diversify our export flows. A large group of countries in the world [referring to the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries] faces this.
Kazakh peacekeeping officers. Photo credit: Permanent Mission of Kazakhstan to UN
Kazakhstan, among those states, is not only the largest country but also an active party that understands the importance of solving the problems of such geographically vulnerable states. We chaired this group in 2020 and 2021. It includes 32 nations and 520 million people. It may not seem so many on the scale of planet Earth, but it is still half a billion people.
One of the components of soft power is the peaceful coexistence of religions and nationalities. This is the idea of the Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions held in Astana in September 2022 and attended by the Pope, the Supreme Imam of the Islamic University Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb and other spiritual and religious leaders.
The UN Secretary-General made a video address and thanked the spiritual leaders for their contribution to the promotion of common values. The final declaration of the congress was distributed as an official document of the current 77th session of the UN General Assembly.
From L to R: Pope Francis, President Tokayev and Senate Chairperson Maulen Ashimbayev at the closing ceremony of the congress on September 15,2022.
Besides important UN bodies, such as the General Assembly and the Security Council, there are also the Human Rights Council and the Economic and Social Council [ECOSOC], where we are full members. This is our third time in ECOSOC and our second time in the Human Rights Council. Being elected to these bodies shows the credibility of our country and the recognition of our merits, particularly in economic and social development, and human rights issues.
As Afghanistan is our neighbor, we are very concerned and interested in establishing peace and security there as soon as possible. This is a long-suffering country where the third generation has seen nothing but war. Kazakhstan had a scholarship program for Afghan students to study in universities and supplied humanitarian aid. When in August 2021, Afghanistan faced a power shift, a question emerged about the relocation of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). They approached us, and the Head of State expressed his willingness to station UNAMA in Almaty. Now that the security situation in Afghanistan has more or less stabilized, the main mission moved back.
Q: What are Kazakhstan's main challenges in achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?
A: The SDGs are universal goals agreed to by all UN member states, including the eradication of poverty, the fight against inequality and injustice, the fight against climate change, the empowerment of women, partnership, and the protection of the planet. These are not just big words. Here at the UN, one can feel how acute these global problems are, so the SDGs were adopted.
For example, member states, especially countries of the Global South, are concerned about inequality, that is, unequal access to resources and technology. Though Kazakhstan is less vulnerable, we still lack energy-saving technologies and renewable energy.
Regarding the climate change agenda, achieving carbon neutrality by 2060 is an ambitious, complex, and in some sense, sensitive task. Because Kazakhstan has traditionally relied on the extraction of minerals, oil, and coal, our industry is tailored to using such fossil fuels, resulting in carbon emissions and temperature increases. One can imagine, the transition to new technology, replacing all those gas turbines and coal-fired boilers with green fuel, is a labor-intensive process that requires not only financial but also technological and intellectual investments.
Kazakhstan’s transit container transportation rose by 6 percent in 2022.
As for the development of transport infrastructure given that we are an isolated country, we are also working with our partners. An important principle is transforming landlocked into land-linked, through Western Europe - Western China, and as a transit hub for Central Asia and China.
The big problem is also access to water. To a greater extent, Kazakhstan is a downstream country, which means we depend on our neighbors - China, Russia, and Central Asian countries.
This problem has a transboundary nature, and it is important to reach an understanding with our neighbors in matters of legal regulation of our relations.
Access to water is a very sensitive issue. Many experts and political scientists say that this problem has a higher potential to cause conflicts in the region. We have proposed establishing UN Regional Center for SDGs for Central Asia and Afghanistan in Almaty to overcome these problems and systematize the work. Our neighbors in the region supported us. Addressing the Voice of Global South virtual summit, our President noted that such a center would ensure the most effective coordination of the UN's project activities in the region.
Q: What is Kazakhstan's position on the current state of global governance and the role of the UN in addressing key challenges facing the international community?
A: You rightly noted that the President of Kazakhstan had repeatedly stressed in his address to the UN General Assembly that the multiple and often interrelated crises of recent years had exposed significant gaps in global governance. Let me quote him, «they demonstrate the need to modernize and reform the UN; the UN must be prepared for the challenges ahead and the opportunities that arise.«Indeed, there are many challenges. This is inequality and opposing views. Take, for example, attitudes towards different conflicts, including in Ukraine.
President Tokayev addresses the General Debate of the General Assembly’s 77th session on September 20,2022. Photo credit: Akorda.kz
Everybody complains about the UN, the General Assembly, and other bodies, including the Security Council, which can neither prevent nor stop the conflict.
We certainly support reform to bring the entire UN system and its individual bodies into line with current realities so that it reflects the problems more adequately and this organization is more flexible and capable.
The UN Secretary-General is trying to make it as flexible as possible to meet the demands and expectations of all UN member states, as they say, to leave no one behind. This is not just a problem of the UN as an organization or the Security Council. It is a problem of the member states. It is simply a projection - what is going on in the UN is a projection of relations, contradictions, some clashes of interests, clashes of some civilizational and cultural approaches to issues of life, and issues of development.
I think it is important here to strive to restore trust. Trust between countries is at a critical point. If trust is restored, it will be easier for the organization itself.
Kazakhstan has repeatedly offered its services in the mediation of some conflicts. We are actively hosting the Astana process on the Syrian conflict. The President is in regular conversations with the presidents of Ukraine and Russia, offering mediation services.
It is important to understand these contradictions and try to smooth them. At the beginning of our conversation, we talked about the role of Kazakhstan as a large state and with such a geopolitical position. Based on a multi-vector policy and strategic neutrality, it could play such a role in bringing positions closer together.
Q: How does Kazakhstan balance its commitment to regional integration with its broader international goals and obligations?
A: In fact, there is not much need for balance here, it happens naturally. Our commitment to regional integration seeks to develop mutually beneficial equal cooperation, and it does not contradict our commitments in any way. The General Assembly regularly adopts resolutions that stress the importance of cooperation with organizations such as the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the Commonwealth of Independent States.
This clearly shows how intertwined and interconnected everything is in the current world. The UN understands that it consists of such regional formations, so the answer is obvious here - it contributes to the development of the UN system itself.
Kazakhstan’s Nevada Semipalatinsk anti-nuclear movement of 1989. Photo credit: Permanent Mission of Kazakhstan to UN
For example, the Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty is also one such component, as it concerns regional security but one that very actively and practically serves the issues of nuclear-free development and disarmament.
Q: Kazakhstan has played an active role in promoting nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. How does the country view the current state of global efforts to address nuclear weapons, and what steps is it taking to advance disarmament and non-proliferation goals?
A: This is a very important issue, especially now that the rhetoric about threats of the possible use of nuclear weapons has intensified. We would like to note that, in general, the situation around global efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons leaves much to be desired. In fact, the confrontation between the major nuclear powers is preventing concerted action towards the total elimination of nuclear arsenals. We can see how deep the contradictions between, for example, the United States and Russia are. Two nuclear powers that now have an irreconcilable position on many issues. There is no rapprochement.
Kazakhstan’s Nevada Semipalatinsk anti-nuclear movement of 1989. Photo credit: Permanent Mission of Kazakhstan to UN
In addition, the developments around the Treaty between the United States and Russia on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms, also known as New START, are a cause for concern, as Russia has recently announced it was suspending participation in this treaty.
This, of course, is such a pivotal global issue. These are the two largest nuclear powers, whose combined nuclear weapons are many times larger than those of the other three nuclear-weapon states.
There are five de jure countries - they are recognized in all international treaties as countries possessing nuclear weapons. There are de facto countries, that is, countries that we know have weapons and nuclear technology. But none of them take steps to reduce the production and the use of this ‘nuclear shield’ in their foreign policy rhetoric. On the contrary, as the contradictions grow and the level of trust decreases, greater emphasis is put on nuclear weapons.
In this context, we need to recognize that we need to find ways to resolve these differences. We call on these nuclear-weapon states to come to an agreement.
It is a complicated issue, but it takes time, and we certainly do not want this to turn into another crisis and a nuclear race. We hope for common sense to prevail, and of course, we hope for the collective will of states that do not possess nuclear weapons but actively promote the idea of global irritation.
Kazakhstan took an active part in developing the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and was one of the first states to sign and ratify it. We are now full members, and it is in force. As I said, next year, we will be chairing the conference on this treaty for a two-year period. Of course, it is hard to influence these states, but nevertheless, given that we have such strategic relations with Russia, China, and the US, we will certainly try to convince them on a bilateral level and as part of different multilateral treaties to, at least, lower the intensity of this rhetoric. That would be the first step to start disarming a little bit and rely less on nuclear weapons.