Chairman Cardin, Chairman Hastings, Distinguished Members of the Helsinki Commission:
I thank you for the opportunity to testify before the Helsinki Commission regarding Kazakhstan’s leadership of the 56-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
This is undoubtedly an historical event for both the OSCE and Kazakhstan, given that Kazakhstan is the first Soviet republic to serve in the top leadership role of an organization best known for promoting democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
As early as twenty years ago, the idea of any post-Soviet state’s active participation in the OSCE was inconceivable and for one of those states to assume the chairmanship of the organization was unimaginable. Yet Kazakhstan’s bid to chair the OSCE was unanimously supported by all 56-member nations in recognition of the bold steps that President Nazarbayev has taken to bring Kazakhstan out from under the yoke of communism.
As Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and the Global Environment, which has broad jurisdiction for U.S. policy affecting Central Asia, I supported Kazakhstan’s bid to chair the OSCE and I have every confidence that OSCE Chairman-in-Office Kanat Saudabayev will fairly represent the interests of all member states. Having worked with His Excellency Kanat Saudabayev for some seven years during his tenure as Kazakhstan’s former Ambassador to the United States, I can unequivocally state that he spared no effort in strengthening US-Kazakh relations and, because his work in Washington remains unsurpassed, I have every reason to believe this skilled and seasoned diplomat will spare no effort in making the OSCE more valid, useful and effective.
This is why I also support President Nazarbayev’s call for the convening of a summit of OSCE leaders in Kazakhstan in 2010. It has been 10-years since the OSCE held a security summit and since then the world has changed drastically as a direct result of 9/11. Now, more than ever, it is critical that we bring together all member states to discuss and come to solutions regarding the security of all nations.
While I have serious reservations about U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, Kazakhstan aims to use the OSCE chair to press for a resolution to the conflict in Afghanistan and, for this reason, I believe the United States would do well to support Kazakhstan in its effort to hold a summit. For this reason, my colleagues and I have spearheaded an initiative in which we have called upon the Obama Administration to support an OSCE summit for purposes of bringing together all member states to discuss and come to solutions regarding the security of all nations.
Without Central Asia’s support, we have no hope in Afghanistan. Central Asia is key to stabilizing Afghanistan, and Kazakhstan is the only Central Asian country to have an Action Plan to assist in the reconstruction process. As we noted in our letter to President Obama, “In 2007-08, Kazakhstan provided $3 million for social and infrastructure projects, humanitarian aid, and training for Afghan law enforcement and border patrol officers. In 2009, it committed an additional $5 million to improve the water supply and for shipments of grain and other commodities. And most recently, Kazakhstan has announced a major education initiative for Afghanistan students, providing them opportunities to study abroad.”
Because Kazakhstan is situated at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, it is in a position to build bridges between the East and the West and, at a time when U.S. support is waning, I firmly believe that as a nation we must support Kazakhstan and its chairmanship of the OSCE. No doubt there will always be critics intent on setting Kazakhstan back in its attempt to move the OSCE forward. But, again, all 56 member states unanimously voted in favor of Kazakhstan’s chairmanship and it is time for us to come together as a Commission and an organization to support Kazakhstan and its ambitious agenda.
About efforts to improve implementation of commitments regarding fundamental human rights and freedoms, as David Wilshire, Head of the delegation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, noted, “Building a democracy is a long and hard task,” and given the time it has taken America to elect its first African American President, I tend to agree with Mr. Wilshire’s assessment.
As a Pacific Islander whose people know first-hand the horrors of nuclear testing, I also want to make a final comment about human rights. While Kazakhstan, like many other nations, including our own, still has challenges ahead as it seeks to provide food, shelter, and political rights for its people, we must not forget that when it mattered most President Nazarbayev changed the course of history and dismantled the world’s fourth largest nuclear arsenal which was larger than the combined nuclear arsenals of Great Britain, France and China. President Nazarbayev also made the tough choice to close and seal the world’s second largest nuclear test site.
While the U.S., Great Britain, France, China and Russia continue to possess thousands and thousands of nuclear weapons and while human rights groups continue to point fingers at Kazakhstan, only Kazakhstan had the moral courage to renounce nuclear weapons for the sake of all humankind.
I also wish to point out that according to U.S. polling data, more than 63 percent of the people of Kazakhstan have a favorable opinion of the United States, and I believe this is a direct result of President Nazarbayev’s leadership. Since 9/11 and in regard to the U.S. coalition operations in Afghanistan, Kazakhstan allowed overflight and transshipment to assist U.S. efforts. U.S.-Kazakh accords were signed in 2002 on the emergency use of Kazakhstan’s Almaty airport and on other military-to-military relations. The Kazakh legislature also approved sending military engineers to Iraq in May 2003.
On many other important issues, Kazakhstan has also stood with the United States and I hope the U.S. will now stand with Kazakhstan in support of an OSCE Summit. Again, I commend Kazakhstan for its Chairmanship of the OSCE, and I look forward to working closely with Kazakhstan to address the serious challenges that lie ahead.