The world has become increasingly polarized and divided. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has created ripples across the world, causing heightened threats of the use of nuclear weapons, economic downturns, humanitarian challenges, and lack of trust between the main players on the international field. Diplomacy has taken a backseat in the Ukrainian war, as involved countries utilize hostile means to achieve their national security objectives.
Several countries have tried to offer a diplomatic solution to the international crisis, though with little success so far. China, for example, proposed a twelve-point document offering a framework for a political settlement. It outlined Beijing’s support for the UN Charter and the territorial integrity of states, while at the same time condemning unilateral sanctions, and criticizing the expansion of US-led military alliances. While any effort at a diplomatic solution to a war should be welcomed, China’s plan is unlikely to gain traction in the West mainly because of the worsening relations between Beijing and Washington, and also because Ukraine sees the causes of the war from a different perspective.
While the big powers, such as the US, EU, China, Russia, and India, will undoubtedly continue to play a key role in international affairs, there is also an emerging space for so-called middle powers to contribute to the resolution of global crises. Those that have good relations with all sides and are known to be balanced and impartial when it comes to global issues are particularly well-placed to facilitate diplomacy. Kazakhstan is a good case study.
Since its independence in 1991, Kazakhstan has positioned itself as a suitable mediator in international conflicts. For the past several years, the country has hosted negotiations on the Syrian conflict as part of the Astana Process. In 2013, Kazakhstan’s commercial capital Almaty hosted two rounds of negotiations on the Iranian nuclear deal. Two decades earlier, in 1992, Kazakhstan proposed to establish the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA). Today, CICA has developed into an influential multi-national forum, enhancing cooperation between countries to promote peace, security, and stability in Asia. Thanks to its continuous efforts on the international stage, Kazakhstan was elected as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council for 2017-2018. Last year, Kazakhstan held the VII Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions. Pope Francis was among the over 100 delegations from 50 countries.
Ultimately, Kazakhstan, due to its peculiar geographic position, is positioned to play a greater role on international arena. The country pursues a balanced, multi-vector foreign policy, which means it has established good relations with all sides – Russia, Ukraine, China, the EU, and the United States. Few countries in the world can be considered a reliable partner to all sides, which is why Kazakhstan could play a critical role in stirring the war in Ukraine into a different dimension, should Ukraine and Russia agree to negotiations.
In this context, Kazakhstan has also recently launched the Astana International Forum, which will take place in June this year. In addition to being a tool for rebuilding a culture of multilateralism on a global level, the conference will reinforce the idea that diplomacy around the war in Ukraine could be brought back. It is envisioned that the forum will bring together high-level government representatives from all over the world, as well as members of international organizations and business circles, to discuss ways to navigate the current global challenges.
This will be a worthy exercise, particularly if representatives of big powers can get together in one room. At the same time, the forum will demonstrate that middle powers like Kazakhstan can facilitate valuable discussions on issues that are top of the international agenda right now.
To be sure, the Astana International Forum is unlikely to resolve the war in Ukraine. Nor does it have such concrete ambitions. Yet the initiative should be welcomed and supported if it can reverse the course back towards diplomacy and building of trust. Few states across the Eurasian continent have such advantages as Kazakhstan with its muti-vector foreign policy does, with a potential to contribute to the resolution of many global crises and facilitate increased international collaboration.
Analysis by Emil Avdaliani
Emil Avdaliani is a professor of international relations at European University and a scholar of silk roads