The United States was the first country to recognize Kazakhstan’s independence in 1991 and has remained a stalwart partner in security and economic development ever since. The United States opened its Embassy in Almaty in January 1992 and then relocated in 2006 to the new capital of Astana (renamed Nur-Sultan in 2019 and reverted to Astana in 2022). The United States opened a Consulate General in Almaty in 2009. In the years since Kazakhstan’s independence, the two countries have developed a strong and wide-ranging bilateral relationship, jointly referred to as an enhanced strategic partnership since 2018.
U.S.-Kazakh cooperation in security and nuclear non-proliferation is a cornerstone of the relationship, as evidenced by Kazakhstan’s participation in the Nuclear Security Summits in Washington, D.C. (2010, 2016), Seoul (2012), and The Hague (2014). Kazakhstan first showed its global leadership in nuclear non-proliferation when it renounced its Soviet-legacy nuclear weapons in 1993 and closed the Semipalatinsk Test Site (STS). The United States then assisted Kazakhstan in the removal of nuclear warheads, weapons-grade materials, and their supporting infrastructure. In 1994 Kazakhstan transferred more than a half-ton of weapons-grade uranium to the United States. In 1995 Kazakhstan removed its last nuclear warheads and, with U.S. assistance, completed the sealing of 181 nuclear test tunnels at the STS in May 2000. In the following decade, the United States and Kazakhstan worked together to seal 40 more nuclear test tunnels at the STS. In 2021 the United States completed multiple projects focused on securing vulnerable fissile material and countering nuclear material proliferation at the “Experimental Field” at STS. The U.S. and Kazakhstan together also have converted two of Kazakhstan’s three research reactors to use low enriched uranium fuel and have removed all unirradiated high enriched uranium fuel from Kazakhstan.
In 2017, the U.S. and Kazakhstan opened the Nuclear Security Training Center near Almaty which is used to train and inform local, regional, and international nuclear security professionals. Kazakhstan signed the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty (1992), the START Treaty (1992), the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (1993), the Chemical Weapons Convention, and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (2001). In 2015, Kazakhstan’s government concluded an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency to host a low-enriched uranium bank, which received its first shipments in 2019. Under the Cooperative Threat Reduction program, the United States has spent over $500 million to assist Kazakhstan in eliminating weapons of mass destruction and weapons of mass destruction-related infrastructure. The Cooperative Threat Reduction program currently implements two programs in Kazakhstan – Global Nuclear Security (GNS) and Biological Threat Reduction Program (BTRP). The GNS program engages in building partner capacity to secure nuclear material, safeguard/secure vulnerable fissile material, and counter nuclear smuggling. BTRP assisting the Government of Kazakhstan to enhance biosafety and biosecurity procedures; enhance diagnostic capabilities; and ensure compliance with international health regulations. Kazakhstan’s security forces receive funds from the U.S. International Military Education and Training program, the Foreign Military Financing program, the Overseas Humanitarian Disaster and Civic Aid program, the Wales Initiative Fund, the Global Peace Operations Initiative, and the Building Partner Capacity program. Kazakhstan’s military participates in U.S.-funded military exercises like Steppe Eagle, Viking, Eager Lion, and Shanti Prayas.
Bilateral Economic Relations
Kazakhstan is the 81st largest trading partner of the United States, with a total of $2.5 billion in two-way trade in 2021. U.S. firms have invested tens of billions of dollars in Kazakhstan, concentrated in the oil and gas sector. Kazakhstan has made some progress in creating a favorable investment climate, although serious problems remain, including corruption and arbitrary enforcement of laws and contracts. A U.S.-Kazakhstan Bilateral Investment Treaty and a Treaty on the Avoidance of Dual Taxation have been in place since 1994 and 1996, respectively. Kazakhstan became a member of the World Trade Organization on November 30, 2015.
Sections 402 and 409 of the United States 1974 Trade Act require that the President submit a report to Congress semi-annually on continued compliance with the Act’s freedom of emigration provisions by those countries, including Kazakhstan, that fall under the Trade Act’s Jackson-Vanik Amendment. The U.S. Commercial Service provides support to U.S. businesses trying to enter the Kazakhstani market through counseling, market research, and a matchmaker program with Kazakh businesses.
U.S. Assistance to Kazakhstan
U.S. government assistance to Kazakhstan focuses on combating transnational threats (trafficking in persons, narcotics, terrorism, and proliferation of WMD materiel), supporting the development of the judicial system and law enforcement, promoting an increased public role for civil society and mass media, improving Kazakhstan’s investment and trade environment, helping the government provide effective social services, combatting corruption and cybercrime, and supporting Kazakhstan’s efforts to increase its production of low-cost clean energy.
Kazakhstan’s Membership in International Organizations
Kazakhstan and the United States also interact through many international organizations. Kazakhstan is a member of the United Nations, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. Kazakhstan held a nonpermanent seat on the UN Security Council in 2017-2018 and the chairmanship of the OSCE in 2010. It is an active participant in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) Partnership for Peace program. Kazakhstan founded the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA). Kazakhstan is also a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Kazakhstan is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).