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Can An Autocratic Nation Be A World Leader In Diplomacy?

Nazarbayev looms large in Kazakhstan
Nazarbayev looms large in Kazakhstan
Elena Chernenko

ASTANA - Earlier this month, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev rolled out his new project for cooperation between the East and West -- and it lacked neither ambition nor a healthy supply of alphabet-soup acronyms .

A person close to President Nazarbayev’s administration said this was the most audacious of Kazakhstan’s recent foreign policy projects, unveiled at at a meeting of foreign ministers of member countries of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), an international group led by Kazakhstan.

The new organization is envisioned as a way to bring together representatives of the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), CICA, NATO, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the European Union, and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). In other words, all organizations of the Eurasian continent, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, that deal with security questions.

The Kazakh government has been considering this project since 2010, but officially enscribed the project only this past August.

“In spite of their diversity, the organizations in the European and Eurasian regions take little advantage of opportunities to work together. Our idea is to fill that gap,” the source explained. “We are not talking about creating another major organization with a big secretariat.”

The authors of this new project say it is possible that it would grow into a new organization in the future, but for now they are just encouraging members to communicate more “in the field.” Kazakhstan envisions special summits, and has promised to release a calendar of potential meetings before the end of the year.

When asked how this new initiative would benefit Astana, the source close to the Kazakh government said, “It is important for Kazakhstan to have an influence in the processes that are taking place in diverse areas, without trying to take on a role of world dominance. In addition, the project will allow us to improve the country’s international image.”

Doomed to fail?

In Russia, the reaction to Kazakhstan’s new initiative was guarded. “We welcome any suggestion aimed at increasing cooperation among international organizations,” a Russian diplomatic source said. “But based on our past experiences in trying to create partnerships, I can tell you that it is not an easy task.”

The diplomat said that CSTO, a military alliance between several former Soviet states, has tried on several occasions to work with NATO on problems such as the drug trade in Afghanistan. But NATO has never been interested.

According to some experts, the Kazakh initiative is doomed to the same fate. “From a logical point of view, the idea is both necessary and modern, but it is unlikely that the initiative can be carried out. For a number of reasons, initiatives like this one never find support in the West,” said Vadim Kosyulin, a senior researcher at the Russian Center for Political Studies. Koslyulin said that in Europe and the United States, CSTO and SCO are seen as nothing more than ways to counteract the western presence in Central Asia.

“In addition, the West is convinced that CSTO and SCO belong to undemocratic regimes. And on the whole, it is more convenient for NATO to work with other countries on a bilateral basis than with a bloc,” Koslyulin said, adding, “The most important thing for the Kazakh idea to work is missing -- trust. And that lack of trust is on all sides.”

A source at NATO confirmed Koslyulin’s analysis. “We heard more about these major projects in the 1990s, when everyone wanted to cook up some kind of grand institutional soup,” the source at NATO said. “Now isn’t the time for grandiose ideas. We have to solve our current problems in a timely manner.”

The source at NATO added that Astana’s suggestion was “not bad,” but “not realistic.”

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