WHY KAZAKHSTAN MATTERS?
Feb 8. Kazakh Embassy in U.S.
Most people know vaguely about the “stans” of Central Asia. But few realize that one of those countries – Kazakhstan – plays such a vital and growing role in the region and in the world.
This year, Kazakhstan celebrates its 22nd anniversary as a nation independent from the Soviet Union. In the beginning, experts doubted that the young republic could survive. But it stands today as a success story – both economically and geopolitically – and is a bedrock-steady partner for the U.S. in a place that too often is unstable.
Kazakhstan is geographically huge – the ninth largest country by territory, the approximate size of Western Europe. It is also a key crossroads of the world, sitting as it does between Russia, China and India and within striking distance of the troubled sisters, Iran and Afghanistan.
Without the transit routes through and the cooperation of Kazakhstan, U.S. efforts to rebuild Afghanistan would have no chance. Indeed, Kazakhstan has long been an essential transcontinental conduit, connecting people from the Pacific to the Mediterranean along the fabled Great Silk Road. It still plays a similar – only more so role – along what can today be called the New Silk Road.
Kazakhstan has arguably come the furthest among the former Soviet states toward becoming a fully-developed nation and an equal participant in the community of nations.
First, Kazakhstan’s allegiance with the West is fundamental to the smooth operation of the Northern Distribution Network that U.S. and NATO forces use to supply the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. With the deterioration of relations between the U.S. and Pakistan recently, the Kazakh corridor has become even more important to the future of that complex region.
Second, Kazakhstan is an international leader-by-example in the movement to ban nuclear weapons. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan found itself in possession of the fourth largest nuclear arsenal and also one of the world’s largest proven reserves of uranium ore. But because the Soviets’ testing of nuclear weapons sickened hundreds of thousands of Kazakhs, the government renounced the arsenal and became a champion for nuclear nonproliferation – a role it proudly plays to this day.
Third, Kazakhstan is major supplier of energy. It is among the top ten oil producers and is also the world’s largest producer and exporter of uranium for peaceful, nuclear-energy purposes.
Fourth, its vast natural resources have made Kazakhstan’s economy the largest by far in Central Asia. Both its gross domestic product and its trade with the U.S. and Western Europe are bigger than the rest of Central Asia and the Caucasus combined.
Fifth, Kazakhstan has not relied exclusively on energy production to fuel its growth, but instead has diversified into many other industries, especially agriculture. It is now the fifth largest exporter of grain and is a critical part of the system that ensures international food security.
Sixth, Kazakhstan’s mines and refineries produce many of the metals that build our modern society. It extracts substantial quantities of chromium and titanium as well as the components of steel. Its impressive reserves of rare earth metals will be the key to the manufacture of high-tech devices that power modern communications.
Seventh, Kazakhstan has remained an island of stability in a sea of ethnic and religious upheaval. Its centuries-old tradition of acceptance of traders from many nations along the Great Silk Road are central to the tolerant laws and culture of Kazakhstan today – a way of thinking that’s known as “Kazakhstan’s Way.”
Eighth, the emphasis Kazakhstan has placed on social harmony has led the government to pour much of its energy riches into education and other societal improvements. Unemployment is low and literacy is nearly 100 percent. Oil money, which for many nations has become a curse, has benefited all 16 million Kazakh citizens.
Ninth, as an economically and political stable nation, Kazakhstan has been able to work extensively with international organizations. Kazakhstan chaired the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 2010 year and hosted the group’s first summit in 11 years in its capital, Astana. In 2011-2012, Kazakhstan successfully chaired the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and helped create better understanding between predominantly Muslim nations and the rest of the world.
Kazakhstan is a good and strategically important friend for the U.S. and the West.