From the onset of independence, President Nazarbayev sought
international support to secure a place for Kazakstan in the world
community, playing the role of bridge between East and West, between
Europe and Asia.
Almost immediately upon its declaration of independence, the
republic gained a seat in the United Nations, membership in the
CSCE, and a seat on the coordinating council of the North Atlantic
Treaty Organization (NATO--see Glossary). The United States and
other nations also gave Kazakstan quick recognition, opening embassies
in Almaty and receiving Kazakstani ambassadors in return. Its
status as an apparent nuclear power got Kazakstan off to a fast
start in international diplomacy. President Nazarbayev became
a signatory to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and
its so-called Lisbon Protocol by which Belarus, Kazakstan, and
Ukraine pledged to eliminate nuclear weapons in the 1990s. In
addition, Nazarbayev was able to negotiate US$1.2 billion in prepayment
by the United States against sale of the enriched uranium contained
in Kazakstan's warheads, as well as another US$311 million for
maintenance and conversion of existing missile silos. Equally
important was that the nuclear warheads prompted the United States
to become a party to negotiations concerning the warheads between
Kazakstan and Russia. The United States eventually became a guarantor
of the agreement reached by the two countries. In May 1995, the
last nuclear warhead in Kazakstan was destroyed at Semey, completing
the program of removal and destruction of the entire former Soviet
arsenal and achieving the republic's goal of being "nuclear free."
Under the leadership of Nazarbayev, who maintained personal
control of foreign policy, Kazakstan eagerly courted Western investment.
Although foreign aid, most of it from Western nations, began as
a trickle, significant amounts were received by 1994. In practice,
however, Nazarbayev was ambivalent about moving too fully into
a Western orbit.
In the period shortly after independence, policy makers often
discussed following the "Turkish model," emulating Turkey in incorporating
a Muslim cultural heritage into a secular, Europeanized state.
Turkey's president Turgut Özal made a state visit to Kazakstan
in March 1991 and hosted a return visit by Nazarbayev later the
same year. Soon afterward Nazarbayev began to echo Turkish talk
of turning Kazakstan into a bridge between Muslim East and Christian
West. In practice, however, the Turks proved to be more culturally
dissimilar than the Kazakstanis had imagined; more important,
Turkey's own economic problems meant that most promises of aid
and investment remained mostly just statements of intentions.
As Turkey proved itself a disappointment, President Nazarbayev
began to speak with increasing enthusiasm about the Asian economic
"tigers" such as Singapore, the Republic of Korea (South Korea),
and Taiwan. Among the republic's first foreign economic advisers
were Chan Young Bang, a Korean American with close ties to South
Korea's major industrial families, and Singapore's former prime
minister, Li Kwan Yew.
The most compelling model, however, was provided by China, which
quickly had become Kazakstan's largest non-CIS trading partner.
The Kazakstani leadership found the Chinese combination of rigid
social control and private-sector prosperity an attractive one.
China also represented a vast market and appeared quite able to
supply the food, medicine, and consumer goods most desired by
the Kazakstani market.
However, the relationship with China has been a prickly one.
Kazakstan's fears of Chinese domination remain from the Soviet
era and from the Kazaks' earlier nomadic history. A large number
of Kazaks and other Muslims live in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous
Region of China, just over the border. Direct rail and road links
have been opened to Ürümqi in Xinjiang, and Chinese traders in
Kazakstan are prominent in the thriving barter between the two
nations. However, China is plainly nervous about any contact that
would encourage separatist or nationalist sentiments among its
own "captive peoples." For its part, Kazakstan has expressed unease
about the large numbers of Chinese who began buying property and
settling in the republic after the end of Soviet rule. Kazakstan
also has reacted angrily but without effect to Chinese nuclear
tests at Lob Nor, China's main testing site, located within 300
kilometers of the common border.
The Middle East
Nazarbayev was hesitant to court investment from the Middle
East, despite high levels of Turkish and Iranian commercial activity
in Central Asia. Unlike the other Central Asian republics, Kazakstan
initially accepted only observer status in the Muslim-dominated
ECO, largely out of concern not to appear too "Muslim" itself.
Over time, however, the president moved from being a professed
atheist to proudly proclaiming his Muslim heritage. He has encouraged
assistance from Iran in developing transportation links, from
Oman in building oil pipelines, from Egypt in building mosques,
and from Saudi Arabia in developing a national banking system.
Russia and the CIS
Most of Kazakstan's foreign policy has, not unnaturally, focused
on the other former Soviet republics and, particularly, on the
potential territorial ambitions of Russia. Since Gorbachev's proposal
for a modified continuation of the Soviet Union in late 1991,
Kazakstan has supported arrangements with Russia that guarantee
the republic's sovereignty and independence, including a stronger
and institutionally complex CIS.
As the CIS failed to develop a strong institutional framework,
Nazarbayev attempted to achieve the same end in another way, proposing
the creation of a Euro-Asian Union that would subordinate the
economic, defense, and foreign policies of individual member states
to decisions made by a council of presidents, an elective joint
parliament, and joint councils of defense and other ministries.
Citizens of member nations would hold union citizenship, essentially
reducing the independence of the individual member republics to
something like their Soviet-era status. The proposal, however,
met with little enthusiasm, especially from Russia, whose support
was crucial to the plan's success.
Nazarbayev pursued bilateral trade and security agreements with
each of the former republics and in September 1992 unsuccessfully
attempted to have Kazakstan broker a cease-fire between Armenia
and Azerbaijan that also would set a precedent for settling interrepublic
and interregional strife in the former republics. Nazarbayev also
participated in the fitful efforts of the five Central Asian leaders
to create some sort of regional entity; the most promising of
these was a free-trade zone established in 1994 among Uzbekistan,
Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakstan (see Foreign Trade, ch. 2).
Kazakstan also has contributed to efforts by Russia and Uzbekistan
to end the civil war in Tajikistan. Kazakstani troops were part
of a joint CIS force dispatched to protect military objectives
in and around the Tajikistan's capital, Dushanbe. Although Nazarbayev
and Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov warned in 1995 that their
countries soon would consider withdrawal if peace talks made no
progress, the multinational CIS force remained in place in early
Data as of March 1996