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Kazakhstan: A Mediator of Eurasian Cooperation

Kazakhstan’s location at the heart of the Eurasian super-continent has enabled it to develop the deft touch necessary to turn the challenges of geopolitical competition into opportunities for cooperation. The complex geopolitical situation around Kazakhstan has led to its leaders in Astana developing a balanced foreign policy and playing the role of mediator in disputes in the region and beyond. Kazakhstan advocates Eurasia-wide dialogue and partnership to deal with common threats and to benefit from common opportunities.

The Astana Club geopolitical forum is quickly developing into the main platform to promote such dialogue in Eurasia.


“East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,” Rudyard Kipling famously suggested. But that’s no longer true. For centuries, Europe and Asia — which together account for 60% of global population, 65% of global GDP and 55% of global trade — were treated as separate worlds. The idea was that they were too different politically, economically, socially and culturally to be thought of as one.

But times have changed. Today’s world is interconnected. Globalization has shortened distances, blurring boundaries between Europe and Asia. The two regions have made giant steps towards interconnection with each other. Kazakhstan is the point where Europe and Asia meet to form Greater Eurasia.

The Republic of Kazakhstan is a relatively young, rapidly developing country in Eurasia. Its size alone makes it important. It is the world’s ninth-largest country, with its territory stretching 3,000 kilometers from east to west and 2,000 kilometers from north to south. And it sits at the geographical center of the Eurasian continent. It is five times as big as France and almost twice as large as all Western European countries combined. This enormous land mass makes it difficult to classify which region Kazakhstan really belongs to. The question of whether it is European, Asian or something else still confounds experts and politicians alike.

The answer is that Kazakhstan belongs neither to East nor West, to North nor South. It encompasses all four regions of the compass. It is a Eurasian country.


Kazakhstan’s central location in Greater Eurasia offers it a world of economic opportunity.

To start with, it is a transport hub between existing and emerging centers of the world economy — Europe, China, Russia, India and Southeast Asia. Because of this, Kazakhstan is a key part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, whose goal is to boost trade across Eurasia by inves ing $1 trillion in infrastructure. It was no accident that Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the initiative in Astana in 2013. Today, two main rail and road pathways of the initiative traverse Kazakhstan, delivering Chinese goods to Europe and European goods to China.
Kazakhstan will also play a key role in the European Union’s Connectivity Strategy, under which the political and economic alliance will spend billions of dollars to make Eurasia a more coherent and interlinked continent. The Belt and Road, the Connectivity Strategy and other initiatives are helping the two parts of Eurasia — Europe and Asia — move towards each other. The initiatives will make Eurasia a single organism, with networks of transport infrastructure functioning as blood vessels while Kazakhstan serves as the organism’s heart — the place where all the transport routes intersect.

Although Kazakhstan welcomes sweeping Eurasiawide integration initiatives like the Belt and Road and the Connectivity Strategy, it has also been building continent-connecting roads, railways and ports on its own, partly through foreign investment. In fact, the country’s ability to attract foreign investment for all kinds of projects has made headlines.

Since its independence in 1991, Kazakhstan has attracted more than $300 billion in foreign direct investment — 75% of all the investment in Central Asia as a whole. Another telling figure is that Kazakhstan’s GDP equals that of the other Central Asia states and the Caucasus countries combined.

Given its size, its location in the heart of Eurasia, its transport-link initiatives, its success at attracting foreign investment, and its dynamic over-all economy, Kazakhstan possesses all the prerequisites necessary for it to continue being the most important bridge between East and West on the continent.


Although Kazakhstan’s location at the center of Eurasia is a blessing, it carries with it a lot of responsibility.

As in the past, Eurasia remains a theater of geopolitical rivalry and unresolved tensions. Unfortunately, confrontation, not cooperation, has become the dominant trend in Eurasia and beyond. One need only read the headlines. Great powers are starting trade wars and imposing sanctions. A new arms race is looming among three nuclear-club countries. The stand-off between Iran and other countries, the North Korea nuclear issue and the India-Pakistan relationship have the potential to spin out of control. Conflicts in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Ukraine are already straining the global security apparatus. Even relatively stable Europe has been experiencing transatlantic discord, migration and other challenges.

Surrounded by this complex geopolitical tapestry, Kazakhstan could easily be enveloped in any instability that occurs in Eurasia. To minimize such fallout, its leaders decided long ago on a balanced foreign policy.

At the core of this approach is building close relationships with all countries on the continent while helping to forge Eurasia-wide cooperation mechanisms. The notion of a united Eurasia, which Kazakhstan's Leader, the First President Nursultan Nazarbayev proposed 25 years ago, has been one of the central pillars of Kazakhstan’s foreign policy since independence.

Kazakhstan has taken trailblazing steps to turn pan-Eurasian cooperation into a reality and continues to pour considerable energy into this effort. Its initiatives have included:

Kazakhstan voluntarily gave up the fourthlargest nuclear arsenal in the world during its early years of independence to help make Eurasia more secure. In conjunction with this, it closed the world’s largest nuclear-testing site on its soil.

Over the past decade, Kazakhstan provided a platform for negotiations between Iran and powers wanting to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. The result was the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal.

The Astana Process on Syria led to the creation of de-escalation zones in many parts of the war-torn country, helping bring peace to tens of thousands of ordinary Syrians.

Kazakhstan's First President Nazarbayev played a critical role in normalizing relations between Russia and Turkey after Turkey shot down a Russian plane in 2015.

Kazakhstan opened the first Low Enriched Uranium Bank that the International Atomic Energy Agency laid the ground for. It was a milestone in nuclear non-proliferation because it reduced the chance of more countries developing nuclear capabilities.

The notion of a united Eurasia, which Kazakhstan's Leader, the First President Nursultan Nazarbayev proposed 25 years ago, has been one of the central pillars of Kazakhstan’s foreign policy since independence.

These achievements not only illustrate Kazakhstan’s commitment to helping lead Eurasia in a peaceful direction by example, but also its commitment to playing the role of mediator on the continent. As a logical extension of these efforts, the country came up with another initiative — establishing the Astana Club as a continuing platform for continent-wide dialogue.


The Astana Club was set up in 2015. Its founding was a response to the destruction of the security architecture that had prevailed in Europe since the break-up of the Soviet Union — but that crumbled when the West and Russia squared off over the situation in Ukraine.

At the time, trust between the two sides was dramatically declining, and the risk of geopolitical instability increasing. Not only has the tension worsened since then, but it has also spread across the entire continent.

The Astana Club’s founders, the Institute of World Economics and Politics and the Foundation of the First President of Kazakhstan, decided to position the fledgling organization as a platform for constructive dialogue on the tensions and risks the Eurasian continent is struggling with. It provides government, political, economic, academic and other leaders a unique opportunity to share opinions and synchronize their watches on urgent issues, and to propose ideas for resolving them.

At the four annual meetings since 2015, dozens of high-profile guests, including heads of state and government, foreign ministers, Nobel Prize winners and renowned scholars and experts, have sought to make progress toward the goal of establishing a continental dialogue.

In 2018, the Astana Club issued a report called Global Risks for Eurasia that it plans to produce annually. It stemmed from participants’ assessments of the top 10 geopolitical risks for 2019. The primary objective was to identify the problems that most threaten Greater Eurasia’s security and economy. In addition, the experts offered recommendations for managing the risks.

The hope is that decision-makers at the national, regional and global levels will use the recommendations to come up with more balanced and productive policies. Those attending the Astana Club meeting on November 11-12 of this year will create the top 10 risks list for 2020.

The theme of this year’s meeting will be “Security of Greater Eurasia: On the Way to a New Architecture.” It is particularly timely, given that the former security architecture has collapsed, and it is unclear who will assume responsibility for constructing a new one. Unfortunately, no one has yet come up with a vision of a new system. Against this backdrop, Kazakhstan is calling for the world to work more diligently on a new anti-nuclear architecture in particular. The Astana Club could well be the geopolitical forum that generates the ideas that lead to a new global security system.

The year 2020 will mark the 45th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act — the agreement that established the post-Cold War security structure in Europe. The world needs a new, expanded version of the agreement. This time it should cover not just Europe, but all of Eurasia. In this regard, Astana is becoming an equidistant and neutral place, where a consensus on future security architecture of Eurasia can be achieved.

Source: Foreign Policy (Issue 232)
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