Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis


International Studies

First Advisor

Michael J. Fratantuono




Since 1991 Kazakhstan has sought national security through economic growth and energy security fostered on its immense wealth of oil, natural gas, and other natural resources. Simultaneously Kazakhstan seeks to position itself as a “green” country in order to gain legitimacy on the international stage and garner investment from foreign businesses and IGOs. Specifically, following the 2008 financial crisis, President Nazarbayev instigated a transition to so-called green economic policies as modeled by the United Nations Environmental Programme.

Kazakhstan’s desire for legitimacy and investment, not a change in norms, motivated its overtures towards greenness: adherence to international norms creates a kind of security oil wealth, a source of insecurity for humans, states, and ecosystems alike, cannot provide. Despite the backing of major IGOs and international private sector attention, the green economic policies disintegrated. Their instrumental nature allowed Nazarbayev’s government to prioritize image-related gains over an intrinsic change in how the country treats its natural resources. A semi-authoritarian regime could not engage with public support. Policies such as an emissions trading system were badly implemented and poorly monitored. Given their preexisting flaws, the green economic policies have disintegrated since mid-2014 in the face of a renewed Russian threat and economic instability.

This research bears implications not only for Kazakhstan’s domestic and foreign politics, but also for broader questions—how resource-rich states can respond to climate change, whether IGOs treat countries of the global South appropriately, and the role of Russia and the United States in Central Asia. Moreover, it sheds light on the role of norms, soft power, and rhetoric in determining the behavior of states and non-state actors.