“Reaching a COVID-19 vaccine trade and investment agreement” should be a top priority for global leaders, and could help take “politics out of the vaccine,” Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev told the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday (23 September).
COVID-19 was the elephant in an empty room during this 75th session of the UN General Assembly, as leaders spoke online from their capitals instead of gathering in New York as usual.
“We have witnessed a critical collapse of global cooperation in response to this crisis, trade protectionism and political nationalism, coming close to what some have already called a state of global dysfunction,” Tokayev told the UN assembly.
“Let us be frank, in the post Cold War world, we largely missed the chance to build a truly just, people-centered international system,” he added, saying now is a “make or break moment for humankind.”
The UN has always been a priority for Kazakhstan. Tokayev himself is an “old hand” of the organisation, having served as Director General of the UN office in Geneva.
The Kazakh President proposed increasing the World Health Organisation’s capacity and to bolster national prevention and response capabilities, suggesting to develop a network of regional centres for disease control and biosafety.
“Last but not least, in light of the global pandemic, launching our biological weapons control system is becoming more acute than ever,” he added.
The global struggle to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the vulnerability of global societies to natural and manmade biological threats, prompting experts to warn of a potential increase in the use of biological weapons, like viruses or bacteria.
Kazakhstan itself became a target of disinformation earlier this year when allegations started circulating in the media that it was working on biological weapons similar to COVID-19. This prompted the authorities in Astana to say that “no biological weapons development is underway in Kazakhstan, and no research is conducted against any other states.”
To prove his good intentions, Tokayev proposed establishing an International Agency for Biological Safety, accountable to the UN Security Council.
He also pointed to the crisis of nuclear non-proliferation which he said is “looming right behind the pandemic.” Nuclear disarmament has traditionally been a foreign policy for Kazakhstan, formerly a Soviet republic with nuclear weapons stationed, and hosting the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site.
The clock is currently ticking with the world’s only remaining nuclear arms control pact, New START, set to expire in February 2021 unless Russia and the US agree to extend it.
Addressing the UN on Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin called the extension of the treaty an “issue of primary importance that should and must be promptly dealt with.”
However, after several round of negotiations this summer no deal has been reached so far.
Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said earlier this week that Moscow sees the chances of extending New START as minimal, calling Washington’s conditions “too far-fetched and devoid of appealing elements,” RFE/RL reported.
“Another existential crisis for our civilisation is climate change,” Tokayev said.
“It’s not only a dangerous problem in itself, but it’s also a threat multiplier. The climate emergency is a race we are losing.”
“But the post-COVID recovery gives us a unique opportunity to put environmental protection at the forefront of international agenda,” he added, pledging to reduce the post-Soviet country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 15% in 10 years.
While more than 70% of Kazakhstan’s electricity is currently produced by coal-burning, the country’s vast windy steppes and 3,000 hours of annual sunlight offer a lot of green potential to tap into.
Tokayev also called “to restore an atmosphere of trust between member states and strengthen multilateral institutions.”
For its part, Tokayev said Kazakhstan will push to transform the forum for confidence building in Asia “into a full fledged Organisation for Security and Development in Asia.”
(Edited by Georgi Gotev and Frédéric Simon)