Kazakhstan a model for Iran?
Kazakhstan's foreign minister, Yerzhan Kazykhanov, says his country has no regrets giving up its nuclear weapons.
February 2nd, 2012
05:38 PM ET

Kazakhstan a model for Iran?

By Jill Dougherty

No matter what the international community may think, Iran and North Korea are adamant about their right to a nuclear program. But one country that used to have the fourth-largest inventory of nuclear weapons in the world decided to give them up, and says it has no regrets.

Kazakhstan was a republic in the old Soviet Union. After the USSR fell apart in 1991 its president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, transferred all nuclear weapons to Russia and closed the country's nuclear testing sites.

Last September at the United Nations, he urged all countries to sign a declaration for a nuclear-free world.

It was a "courageous decision" to give up nuclear weapons, Kazakhstani Foreign Minister Yerzhan Kazykhanov told CNN Wednesday, but it paid off. Last year, in the midst of the world economic crisis, Kazakhstan's GDP growth was 7.5%.

In an interview in Washington, just before a meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Kazykhanov said Kazakhstan should be an example to other countries.

"Over the period of 20 years," he said, "we managed to attract foreign direct investment in the amount of $150 billion, so I think this speaks for itself. We chose the right way to develop. We chose to get rid of nuclear weapons and we managed to build a vibrant economy and we are sending these messages to all our neighbors."

He added, "We showed our example and we are benefiting from that, and I think the Kazakhstan example should be followed."

But John Parker, an expert on Russia and Iran at the Center for Strategic Research, said Iran might point to another model when pressed to give up their nuclear ambitions.

"The Iranians would probably say, 'How about Libya? Gadhafi gave up his and look where he is today,'" noted Parker.

There was some rapprochement after Gadhafi agreed, in 2003, to give up his nuclear weapons program, Parker says, but Iran looks at its nuclear program as a guarantee of its security.

Kazakhstan's economy has surged since its early days of independence, its GDP growing from $11 billion in 1991 to $145 billion in 2010. Major supplies of oil and gas account for much of that, but the State Department says the country also has undertaken significant market economy reforms and has opened up to foreign investment.

Kazakhstan also provides logistics support to the Northern Distribution Network, a crucial route for U.S. military supplies into Afghanistan. That, along with trade and energy partnerships, was one of the issues the foreign minister discussed with Clinton.

Last December, the oil town of Zhanaozen exploded in labor riots. Sixteen people died and more than 100 were injured. After an investigation, some corrupt local officials, as well as some of the rioters, were brought to justice, the minister says.

"We learned a lesson," he says, "and I would like to underline that this situation has already been calmed and stabilized. We believe that it didn't have any effect on the oil production or any industrial activity in the region. We believe that we handled this problem and we will try to avoid similar problems in the future."

U.S. troops could begin pulling out of Afghanistan as early as the middle of 2013, and Kazakhstan's leadership has had extensive discussions over the past few months on the implications of that pullout, the minister told CNN.

To help anchor Afghanistan in a stable Central Asia, Kazakhstan's president supports the Obama administration's "New Silk Road" strategy, he said.

Details still are to be worked out, but Clinton, in September of last year, described the vision: "An Afghanistan firmly embedded in the economic life of a thriving South and Central Asia would be better able to attract new sources of foreign investment, connect to markets abroad and provide people with credible alternatives to insurgency. Increasing regional trade could open up new sources of raw material, energy, and agricultural products for every nation in the region."

Kazakhstan's foreign minister said that "we see this as a possibility to start new economic projects that can link countries of the region." Stability and peace in the region, he said, would come through economic relations and trade, and Kazakhstan would benefit from that.

"We are the biggest landlocked country in region," he said. "We need access to the high seas and world markets. We rely on neighbors. We want multiple exits from our country to move goods."

Kazakhstan already is spending billions of dollars to build a 3,000-kilometer road, a "land bridge," that would help transport commodities from China to Europe, he said. It is constructing a railroad link with Turkmenistan that also would provide an alternative route to Afghanistan.

More projects are in the works, he said, all benefits that have come from focusing on trade and investment, not nuclear weapons.

Filed under: Nuclear • Russia
soundoff (24 Responses)
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    February 18, 2021 at 8:16 am | Reply
  2. Luther Cichon

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  3. Dru

    I forgot to mention that Kazahstan has benefited a lot from high quality education during the Soviet Union times.

    August 29, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Reply
  4. Dru

    Hahaha! Iran is a great nation and Kazakhstan is a bunch of steppe hearders that got lucky with oil. Iran should take example from India perhaps?

    August 29, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Reply
  5. Peter London

    Why Kazakhstan should be a model for Iran and not US or Israel? Maybe they should do what Kazakhstan did if it is such a great idea.

    February 3, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Reply
    • Soumaya

      It remains the case that many of Russia’s insetetrs in Central Asia largely parallel ours. That is, neither we nor they want to see China replace the USSR as the arbiter of Central Asia. Closer ties between Russia and Kazakhstan may actually benefit US insetetrs. No argument there. Nor even with your point that Russia is an expansionist power that consciously seeks to weaken the US wherever it can gain an advantage. It has a vision for its region and indeed the world that is counter to core US insetetrs and values. We cannot look for it to become a responsible stakeholder' in an American-led world order anytime soon. On the other hand, isn't that also a not unfair description of our Red Chinese partners and bosom (or is it pocketbook) allies? Now mind you, I do sense there's a tradition in US foreign policy that regards the (supposed) yawning chasm between China and Russia as a difference of high culture vs barbarism (putting it in my usual crude fashion). And culture's always better than barbarism, no? But is it always less treacherous and more trustworthy? Now might be a good time to remind ourselves of how highly-cultured (and EXTREMELY high-achieving) were the Germans of the first third of the 20th century. Yet as I recall somewhere, that didn't mean they were above committing a few, often highly inventive and innovative, barbarities of their own. Or was it perhaps a matter of them being SO far above the rest of us or we so far beneath them that what might otherwise have been barbarity, or even atrocity, was merely the collateral damage involved in the advance of a superior civilization? (South-West Africa, anyone?)No doubt I'm being hyper-alarmist (wouldn't be the first time). But it seems to me we've been up this road before.

      May 21, 2012 at 9:05 am | Reply
  6. James

    Terribly irrelevant comparison. The geography is different and the ambitions are different. Of course any nation can decide to become a vasal of the international oligarchs with the price tag that comes with it. The world is made of fiefdoms and mafia bands and administrations in various countries represent those mafia gangs and oligarchs, although in some countries people somehow have been made to believe they are in charge ! Sometimes the local mafia doesn't want to pay ransom to the big boss, the biggest bully, and then there are wars of turf. The case with Iran is that the local mafia doesn't want to share the riches of Iran with the big bully. Of course people of Iran are irrelevant to both the big foreign bullies that have a historically incredible bloody track record of killing millions worldwide and the local mafia that is willing to sacrifice the same people in a confrontation.

    February 3, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Reply
  7. AlexShch

    Why to compare Iran with Kazakstan at the first place? The comparison is grossly unfair.

    Kazakstan is a very young nation in the middle of quiet neigbourhood (somewhat even boring) without any inherited conflicts or potential for conflict and without religious madness inside. It believes in the policy of neutrality and somewhat self-isolation. Kazakstan is definitely beyond the reach of United States, which makes in non-democratizable even in the most wild republican imagination, but it is also well armed to fend off any attempt to promote democracy. It has self-sufficient economy, not just oil and gaz, but other things as well - isn't it that Kazakstan is #1 producer . About 40% of its population are straight Russians and they get alone with Kazakhs. Rissian is one of the to official languages and nobody wants to put Kazaks int the book of endangered species (like in many other places, notably in Ukraine).

    ...Or wait a minute, there is one thing Iran may learn form Kazakstan: Kazakstan is WORLD NUMBER ONE Uranium producer with 27% of the World total. Check your Wikipedia and search for "list of countries by uranium production". ...so I guess, Iran has a long way to go with its enrichment program before in can be compared with Kazakstan.

    Iran... Well. different in all the respects.

    February 3, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Reply
  8. coriolana

    They want to be Borat?

    February 3, 2012 at 11:43 am | Reply
  9. John Ramos

    If I were an Iranian leader I would do everything in my power to make sure Iran has nuclear weapons with effective delivery methods. Every nation has the right to protect itself. What would the US do if Iranian navy ships were sailing along the coasts of America equipped with nuclear missiles and threatening the US that "All options are on the table"? The truth is that the US and Israel "Know" that Iran has nukes or will make them because that is exactly what they would if the roles would be reversed. It's like a chess game, what would I do If I were my enemy. In the end Iran's nukes will keep another war from taking place and will shift power away from the US and Israel in the Middle East.

    February 3, 2012 at 11:09 am | Reply
  10. brutus9448

    one difference. Iran has oil and resources so even if they give up their nukes that would not be enough for west. If Iran gives up the nukes they'll go they way of libya.

    February 3, 2012 at 10:43 am | Reply
    • IVAN


      What gives Israel the right to have Weapons of mass destruction?
      I’ll tell you what corrupt politicians on all sides.

      They should only be allowed to have rocks.

      February 3, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Reply
    • rightospeak


      February 3, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Reply
  11. Reality

    What is International community Ms. Jill ? Aren't those big thugs just want to keep whole world under their thumbs ?

    February 3, 2012 at 8:19 am | Reply
    • BlackJack77

      So what do you want Reality? World War? nukes each other?

      February 3, 2012 at 10:46 am | Reply
  12. American

    I really liked this article. I realize that the chances of getting Iran to drop its nuclear ambitions is pretty much idealistic at best though. However, maybe it there is still hope. After reading this article I think we should let Kazakhstan join whatever talks we have with Iran. I would assume it be beneficial to bring Kazakhstan in since they are a central asian country, much closer to Iran geographically than us. They gave up their nukes and could reassure Iran of the benefits. Plus I think (not entirely sure) Kazakhstan has a decent size Muslim population too.

    February 3, 2012 at 5:16 am | Reply
  13. Bruce

    I wish all posts were as informed and intelligent as those by jedwardconway and impolitic.

    February 3, 2012 at 3:44 am | Reply
  14. jedwardconway

    Comparative exercises have their place but I think in this situation there are too many differences. The article fails to mention that Kazakhstan was ground zero for nuclear testing during the Soviet era, with around 470 above ground nuclear explosions occurring in the country from 1949-89, the side effects of which are still felt throughout the regions. The people of Kazakhstan, with Nazarbayev at the head, had a very different perspective on nuclear weapons with independence in 1991 - for many it was an issue that touched them personally (such as Nazarbayev, who had a close friend with siblings born physically deformed because of their proximity to the test sites). While it is true that Nazarbayev was very smart about trading in the nukes for significant international political capital, in Iran the case is much different - a national issue too, but in the opposite direction. Instead of seeing nukes as a sign of social and environmental destruction, nukes in Iran are a sign of scientific progress and defense from threatening neighbors. The nationalist impulse behind the Iranian nuclear program cannot be understated...attacking the nukes is an attack on the country's ability to progress (as they see it). Any peaceful solution to Iranian disarmament will need to somehow satisfy the nation's pride and ambition. All that aside, any article that heightens the profile of Kazakhstan is a welcomed one - this is a fascinating country that doesn't receive nearly the attention it should.

    February 3, 2012 at 2:17 am | Reply
  15. mipolitic

    this nation has been blessed for such wise decisions. free of destruction , a leader to the worlds future in the path of peace. but may i add that many nations have peace because they have assured destruction of their foe and therefor they live in peace because the alternative is unthinkable.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:23 pm | Reply

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