On January 1, for the first time in its 26 years, Kazakhstan assumed its month-long responsibility as presidency of the United Nations Security Council.
"We’d like to draw the attention of the Security Council and the international community to the challenges facing the Central Asian countries on security and development issues," Kazakhstan’s permanent representative to the UN Kayrat Umarov said, according to EurAsia Daily.
All eyes were focused on the Caspian region, of which Kazakhstan is part, shortly after Kazakhstan took on its new role. After protests that broke out across Iran on December 28 reached a fever pitch, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley called for an emergency session of the Security Council, which she opened on Friday.
Kazakhstani officials have their own ambitious agenda to fulfill in just 31 days, listing seven priorities, including promoting the interests of Central Asia while strengthening regional security and cooperation, countering terrorism, and achieving a world free of nuclear weapons.
One of the most critical regional issues Kazakhstan is hoping to address this month is Afghanistan, as the situation there impacts regional security. The threats of terrorism and rogue groups operating in Afghanistan and throughout the region have been a top concern for Astana, ever since deadly shootings took place in June 2016 in the city of Aktobe.
“When it comes to threats, there is a desire to isolate them. We suggest not isolating Afghanistan, but making it a good partner. By creating jobs on both sides of the border, we will work on a positive agenda and help Afghanistan develop," the Kazakhstani envoy to the UN said, emphasizing that economic security is tied to physical and national security.
Kabul does not need so much assistance as mobilizing resources and, most importantly, developing infrastructure, according to Ambassador Umarov. Central Asia has become the number one trade partner for Afghanistan, and its countries see it as a necessary transit country for the region’s strategic gas and oil projects, which would deliver resources to power-hungry India. The 1,814 km (1,127 mi) TAPI gas pipeline that stretches from Turkmenistan to India via Afghanistan and Pakistan, is still facing security problems.
Regional issues like realizing energy projects and Afghanistan’s security are not all that is on Umarov’s agenda.
"We do not see the reduction in nuclear weapons in the world, but vice versa,” he said, concerned about the growing threat of nuclearized states.
“Countries are working to improve their nuclear arsenal. In addition to the five permanent members of the Security Council, there are other nations that want to join the nuclear club, obtain nuclear weapons. Today, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, with which the international community has fought all this time is in question," Umarov said.
While the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – the U.S., the U.K., France, Russia and China – all have nuclear arsenals, so do Pakistan and India. Israel is suspected of having them, although it does not officially claim to.
North Korea openly declares its nuclear program, and the lack of trust had with it by the international community keeps the region and the world in tension. Kazakhstan fears that any misunderstanding, such as incorrect reading of signals from Pyongyang or Washington, including twitter posts by U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, could lead to very big consequences that could gravely impact East and Central Asia.
Kazakhstan, which voluntarily abandoned nuclear weapons in early 1990s, wants to mediate between countries seeking nuclear weapons and share the unfortunate experiences of its citizens, which bore the brunt of the Soviet Union’s nuclear testing.
“Our experience is vital, and it can be the most acceptable. Unfortunately, they do not hear us yet. And it is understandable why. It needs political will, but usually it comes when there is trust," Umarov said.
On January 18, Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev will visit New York to chair the UN Security Council discussions titled "Non-Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction: Confidence-Building Measures.”
Kazakhstan also plans to address the situation in Syria and its chemical weapons disarmament during its presidency of the UN Security Council, as well as the political and humanitarian situation plaguing the nation. Kazakhstan has actively played a role in resolving the conflict in Syria through what has been dubbed the Astana process, where various warring Syrian opposition groups come together in Kazakhstan’s capital with the aid of Russia, Turkey and Iran.