New NATO strategy to give Kazakhstan, other Partners in Peace greater voice

October 25. Central Asia Newswire

New NATO strategy to give Kazakhstan, other Partners in Peace greater voiceThe North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) will unveil a new strategic concept next month that will give Kazakhstan and other Partners for Peace countries more voice in the organization’s affairs, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said at a press conference in Brussels with President Nursultan Nazarbayev today.

Meanwhile, Kazakhstan’s government press service Kazinform reported that Nazarbayev had agreed during his talks with Rasmussen to send a few Kazakh military officers to NATO’s headquarters in Afghanistan.

NATO has been pushing Kazakhstan to send peacekeepers to Afghanistan, as it did to Iraq.

The small Kazakh contingent that will go to the NATO headquarters will be a far cry from a peacekeeping unit, but it will have symbolic value. NATO officials will be able to say that another country has committed military people to its Afghan effort – and it’s a Muslim country.

Rasmussen said he expects NATO’s Partners for Peace, including Kazakhstan, to welcome the additional authority he’ll propose for them at NATO’s summit in Lisbon on November 19 and 20.

He offered no details of the partners’ new role at the brief press conference. The headlining event consisted of Rasmussen and Nazarbayev’s statements and one question from Kazakhstan’s Habar television channel.

New phase in NATO operations

Rasmussen touched on why he’ll propose more voice for the partners in a speech he gave two weeks ago, however.

Rasmussen noted that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization moved quickly to form partnerships with several former Soviet countries after the U.S.S.R. broke up in the early 1990s.

Late in the decade of the 1990s, NATO was still able to “achieve its goals with its own membership alone,” Rasmussen said. “Partners were welcome but not essential. No more. Today, our partners provide troops, transit, financial support and political backing.”

In fact, Rasmussen said in the October 8 speech, NATO’s mission to Afghanistan now consists of 28 member countries and 19 partners. The 47 countries “shape and take decisions on the operation together,” he said. “That’s unprecedented for us. But it reflects the reality that they (the partners) are contributing in the same way we are, and deserve a real voice.”

Kazakhstan is a case in point. It allows NATO forces to fly supplies to its troops in Afghanistan over Kazakhstan air space. And early this year it agreed to allow NATO to use the Kazakhstan rail system to transport armored personnel carriers to Uzbekistan and on to Afghanistan.

“The shipments undertaken this year went very smoothly,” Rasmussen noted.

But Kazakhstan isn’t just helping NATO in the military arena, Nazarbayev said. “We are engaged in a whole range of activities” on non-military fronts, he said.

An example is bringing 1,000 Afghan students to Kazakhstan for university educations in skills that will help the country rebuild when the conflict there is finally over.

For several years Kazakhstan has declined NATO’s entreaties to deploy peacekeepers to Afghanistan. It did so in Iraq for five years, losing an army captain in the explosion of a bomb that was being defused.

The Kazakh troops’ presence in Iraq was a great public-relations tool for the Western forces there, who were always quick to point out that they were from a Muslim country. A Kazakh peacekeeping presence in Afghanistan would generate the same PR value.

And NATO officials know that even a small number of Kazakh officers at the organization’s Afghan headquarters will play well in the Muslim world.

Rasmussen thanked Nazarbayev at the press conference for Kazakhstan’s support for NATO’s Afghanistan mission.

He hinted that he had raised the issue of peacekeepers in Afghanistan with Nazarbayev again by saying “I think our partnership could be further developed.”

Even without peacekeepers in Afghanistan, Kazakhstan has paid a price for helping NATO – incurring the wrath of Islamic fundamentalists opposed to the overflight and rail-transportation agreements.

Heightened international presence

A statesman as astute as Nazarbayev would have recognized immediately the shift to the more muscular – and more dangerous – role that partners such as Kazakhstan are playing in NATO today.  And he would have had grounds in his talks with Rasmussen to demand something in return.

Whether he did ask for something didn’t come out at the press conference. But those who know Nazarbayev’s foreign-policy bargaining skills are betting he did.

One comment that Rasmussen made about the nature of his talks with Nazarbayev was intriguing.

He said the discussions had dealt with political as well as military issues. Then he added: “I hope it will provide a new political dimension” to the partnership between NATO and Kazakhstan.

Neither he nor Nazarbayev expanded on the comment.

Rasmussen said Nazarbayev had asked him during their talks to attend the summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) in Europe on December 1 and 2 and Astana. Given the OSCE’s focus on security, and the fact that Afghanistan will be a key topic, the NATO chief is likely to attend.

Rasmussen also indicated that he hoped Nazarbayev will be at the NATO summit in Lisbon, which is for heads of state as well as military leaders.

With many of the world’s most important leaders expected, it would be a major surprise if Nazarbayev failed to show.

In addition to talking with Rasmussen, Nazarbayev met today with Herman van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, and with Luxemburg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker.

He is scheduled to meet with French President Nicholas Sarkozy, King Albert of Belgium and other political leaders before his trip ends.NATO’s partners to get more authority, Nazarbayev is told.