“Bloc” Thinking No Longer Blocks Progress, Kazakh Foreign Minister Says

Interview of Kassymzhomart Tokaev, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan by Murat Laumulin, “Continent”, an analytical magazine, February 18 - March 2, 2004, # 03 (Excerpted)

Continent: Kazakhstan’s foreign policy
position cannot be left untouched by the
U.S. global strategy. The U.S. has been
present in Central Asia militarily for two
years now. Early passions and
speculations this caused have subdued,
but the problem remains. How does
Kazakhstan’s foreign ministry see it?
What characterizes Kazakhstan-U.S.
relations at this stage?

Tokaev: I wouldn’t view American
presence in our region as a problem.
The situation on the borders of Central
Asia is way too tense. We see the
growing threats of international terrorism
and religious extremism, and the threat
from drugs is taking on global proportions.
The United States, as the super power
with special responsibility for ensuring
global security cannot solve problems
without the support of its partners. That
list includes the countries of Central Asia
which have stood as a united front in the fight against threats which emanated and, unfortunately, still continue to emanate from Afghanistan.

The U.S. military presence is a natural addition to its economic and political involvement in the affairs of our region which has special geopolitical interest. Everybody, advocates and opponents alike of various theories about the balance of power, will have to learn to live with this fact.

Kazakhstan-U.S. relations are highly substantive. Political dialog and security cooperation are each supported by growing trade and economic interests. We will continue to pay increased attention to relations with the United States, because our cooperation with this country is an important guarantee of our own security.

Continent: These days, people increasingly talk about direct interference by the United States into the affairs of other states. They even devised a new term, the New American Interventionism. What do you think about it?

Tokaev: It has recently become fashionable among political analysts to assert that the only thing the U.S. allegedly thinks about is how to dislodge this or that regime. Such assertions came to life after the well-known recent events in Georgia.

I don’t think such theories have a practical foundation. The fall of regimes and their replacement with other, mostly democratic, systems are determined by serious social, economic and political factors. Let’s look at Yugoslavia for example. Is it possible to repudiate the fact the policies of Slobodan Milosevic were not just wrong but criminal because he launched a mechanism of genocide in his own country? The same can be asked about Saddam Hussein who simply fell out of context of modern international relations. In Afghanistan, the Taliban, who seemed as though they came from the Middle Ages, were not just insulting the international community but also became a destructive force knocking down the foundations of civilization. As far as Georgia is concerned, this country became an example of how not to pursue internal and international policies. The regime of Shevardnadze was doomed. The reason is not the Americans, but the Georgians, and more specifically the state’s former leadership who by their actions created a perception of Georgia as a failed state.

In my book, Overcoming, I had all but predicted the departure of Eduard Shevardnadze. In the book I wrote that he seemed to be an incredibly tired, broken and uncertain man. It is a pity that, being the extraordinary man he is, his career ended the way it did.

Continent: You began your diplomatic career as a professional Sinologist.  How do you view the policies of China in Central Asia, and particularly in relation to Kazakhstan in the near future?

Tokaev: China plans to increase its GDP four times by 2020. I have no doubt they will achieve this goal. Mind you, it took the U.S. 47 years to only double their economy, and it took Japan 20.

The economic growth in China will undoubtedly lead to a serious realignment in the world. Even now China serves as a driving force for the entire Asian economy. Experts predict the Chinese international engagement will intensify significantly. The importance of this country in world politics and trade grows daily. We have to take this into account.

Relations with China are crucial for Kazakhstan. We are neighbors who find themselves in similar geopolitical circumstances. Our long-term interests will be served by stable and friendly relations.

We have managed to achieve the most important objectives in our China policies: we have walked a complicated path from mutual suspicions in the late 1980’s to trust and mutual understanding today. We have removed reasons for major quarrels to appear. This relates primarily to border issues. A solid legal basis for relations has been established. It includes the Treaty on Good Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation, signed by Nursultan Nazarbayev and Jiang Zemin in December 2002, as well as agreements promoting trade and economic cooperation.

We have established close interaction with China, both bilaterally and as part of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, in areas such as ensuring regional security, fighting new challenges and threats, including terrorism, separatism, religious extremism, drug trafficking, and illegal migration.

Trade and economic ties are strengthening. In 2000, trade turnover reached US$ 1.5 billion. At the end of last year it doubled, even though major potential for cooperation is still untapped. We have plans to build a major pipeline and to expand investments across the board. Kazakh businesses are increasingly interested in investing in China, primarily in north-eastern regions.

Continent: Russia’s President Vladimir Putin recently paid an official visit to Kazakhstan. Are there reasons to suggest the Kazakh-Russian relations have entered a new stage?

Tokaev: We are firmly committed to developing and strengthening mutually beneficial cooperation with Russia. Given the historic, demographic, cultural, economic and other factors, there’s no alternative to that.

Being close neighbors in a strategically important region, we need to cooperate actively and fruitfully in countering common problems, such as international terrorism, illegal migration, drug trafficking and other forms of organized crime.
Kazakhstan stands firmly for further strengthening of integration and partnership on an equal basis. At the same time, I would like to once again note that the conversations about two countries’ willingness to create a single union state are groundless. Neither Astana, nor Moscow have such plans.

Continent: What are your general assessments of our country’s record in international arena?

Tokaev: The short years of our independence are equal to a historical epoch because of their significance. In all areas of our life the nation has managed to achieve what many politicians and experts believed to be impossible. The same is true for our foreign policy.

Efforts of the diplomatic service bore fruit in those years. Kazakhstan managed to ensure its security by signing treaties and agreements with critical countries, including the United States, Russia and China. The guarantees of security Kazakhstan received from five permanent members of the UN Security Council were of paramount importance. I would also mention agreements with China and neighboring Central Asian countries on border delimitation in accordance with the norms of international law. Agreements promoting direct investment in our economy have also proven useful.

I would be remiss if I didn’t say a few words about the initiative by our head of state to convene the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA). Bringing it to life took a decade of tough and often difficult work. Indeed, skeptics were many, both inside the country and abroad. I may as well confess that some of our diplomats said this initiative can aspire to no more than indifferent attitude from the international community at best, and failure at worst. But we managed to convince our partners that it is viable and effective. The participation of leaders of major Asian countries in the CICA summit is by all means a pinnacle of Kazakhstan’s diplomatic efforts since our independence.

Our decision to renounce nuclear weapons and join the NPT surely assisted strengthening Kazakhstan’s position in the international arena as a responsible state. Unfortunately, that historic choice is becoming somewhat obscured by events of recent years.

The [NPT] treaty I mentioned has not fulfilled its goal. Weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, are literally spreading across the world. It is highly probable that terrorists could lay their hands on such weapons. At the same time, countries violating the nonproliferation regime are not suffering that much for their actions. Representatives of some feel themselves comfortable in key international organizations, including in the UN Secretariat.

The reason for all this is that there are no clear criteria of sanctions against the violating states. Some are harshly punished just for the suspicion of developing WMD, others are offered negotiations and even appeased, still others are all but accepted as WMD countries, while others are all but encouraged to develop the weapons of “containment”. The lack of single and fair approach to resolving this most pressing problem disorients the international community and brings to naught its efforts to strengthen the nonproliferation regime.

Continent: Is there such a thing as Kazakhstan’s foreign policy doctrine? Are we witnessing a retreat from the concept of so-called multi-dimensional foreign policy which you personally promoted so extensively?

Tokaev: The balanced and multi-dimensional policy is not a whim, but an objective necessity. This is our historic mission. Kazakhstan cannot and does not have the right to pursue a different policy. Limiting ourselves to certain countries or regions could mean serious harm to our national interests.

The time of thinking in “blocs” in international relations, in terms of dividing the world into ideological or other blocks, has sunk into oblivion.

Kazakhstan’s foreign policy was originally built on the basis of our national interests which dictate the necessity of establishing and developing friendly, equal and stable relations with neighboring countries, with the U.S., as well as with other interested countries of Asia, the Middle East and Europe. I see no reason to renounce the already achieved balance which brings a lot of benefits not just to our diplomacy, but to our nation.

Continent: President Nazarbayev has recently called on the people of Kazakhstan to study English. Many took this as a call for actions. What do you think about it?

Tokaev: English is the modern lingua franca. It has been noted that those countries where English has long ceased to be a foreign language have often become successful. Such countries are numerous in South and South East Asia. It is the English language that ensures access to almost all achievements in economic and financial thought, as well as politics and culture.

Kassymzhomart Tokaev, a career diplomat, has been Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan since January 2002.  He occupied the same post from 1994 to 1999, and is the “Dean” of foreign ministers of the Commonwealth of Independent States. He served as the country's Prime Minister in 1999-2002, the years when the robust economic growth began. Mr. Tokaev has a PhD in political science and is the author of several books on international affairs and foreign policy, including, most recently, of "Overcoming" (2003), a lively documented evidence of the establishment and development of an independent Kazakhstan.

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March 2, 2004                                  No. 8