Upon gaining its independence in 1991, Kazakhstan became the world's fourth largest nuclear power, only to voluntarily renounce its entire atomic arsenal shortly thereafter. We closed the world's second largest nuclear test site, blended down three tons of highly enriched uranium for peaceful use and helped establish a "nuclear weapon free zone" across Central Asia – one that now serves as a model for regions around the world, including the Middle East.
Poised to build on those contributions to global peace, Kazakhstan has announced its candidacy for a non-permanent member seat on the U.N. Security Council for 2017-2018. That election is to be held in November 2016 at the General Assembly in New York, where Kazakh Foreign Minister, Erlan Idrissov, recently met with dignitaries to discuss issues around global security and to campaign for Kazakhstan's nomination.
Idrissov has an easy case to make. Under the leadership of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan has undergone dramatic change, transforming in just two decades from a poor post-Soviet state into a global player with the region's fastest growing economy, a strong and expanding middle class and an increasingly prominent role on the world stage.
In 1992, we launched the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia, now one of the most respected platforms for security on the continent. A member of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and the Partnership for Peace, we've cooperated with NATO on democratic, institutional and defense reforms. We host annual joint peacekeeping exercises and assist ongoing efforts to normalize life in Afghanistan. And in the spirit of tolerance that characterizes Kazakh society, we initiated 10 years ago and continue to hold the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions to promote interfaith dialogue and mutual respect with a growing number of participating delegations from all over the world.
Kazakhstan has shown itself a capable leader. In 2010, we became the first Central Asian, post-Soviet and predominantly Muslim country to chair the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the world's largest security oriented intergovernmental organization. The following year, we chaired the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, "the collective voice of the Muslim world," and worked to promote international peace and harmony. Kazakhstan also plays an active role in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Our country chaired the SCO in 2004-2005 and 2010-2011.
Earlier this year, Kazakhstan hosted the two rounds of P5+1 talks on Iran's nuclear program, one of the most important issues on the global security agenda, earning praise from all parties for a flawless performance.
As one of the world's top exporters of grain and flour, Kazakhstan is well positioned to address the problem of food security. To that end, efforts are underway to establish the Kazakhstan Agency for International Development, or KazAID, which is part of a larger initiative aimed at making Almaty, Kazakhstan's former capital and largest city, a sub-regional hub for multilateral diplomacy on par with the likes of Geneva, Rome and Bangkok.
Water security, too, is a growing concern around the world. For Kazakhstan, the largest landlocked country on the planet, water security has long been a priority. Kazakhstan's Aral Sea, once the world's third largest inland body of water, has lost a staggering 90 percent of its volume over the past half-century. But Kazakhstan has resolved to restore the sea, and thanks in large part to those efforts and the millions of dollars we've invested, the Aral has begun to creep back.
But what may be Kazakhstan's greatest strength as a candidate for the Security Council is its depth of experience in energy security. The oil and natural gas sector has attracted more than $40 billion in foreign investment to Kazakhstan since 1993, powering the economy's booming growth. But we know that traditional fossil fuels alone can't safeguard those gains, which is why Kazakh scientists, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy, are investigating ways to reduce the country's energy consumption, mitigate carbon emissions and develop new smart energy solutions utilizing wind, solar and other alternative sources of energy.