Wednesday, 12 March 2003

KAZAKH MILITARY ON REFORM TRACK

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By Marat Yermukanov (3/12/2003 issue of the CACI Analyst)

The cornerstone of the military doctrine of Kazakhstan is based on defensive strategy. But today many domestic analysts ask themselves, how reliable a force is the army which has virtually had no combat experience. The declining morale among the officers and servicemen, frequent violations of service regulations, bullying and beatings among the ranks can no longer be concealed from public.
The cornerstone of the military doctrine of Kazakhstan is based on defensive strategy. But today many domestic analysts ask themselves, how reliable a force is the army which has virtually had no combat experience. The declining morale among the officers and servicemen, frequent violations of service regulations, bullying and beatings among the ranks can no longer be concealed from public. Violence within the army has always been rampant in socialist era. Economic burdens of the post-independence period have only added to the problem. In 1992 there were only five trained Kazakh officers in the Military Prosecutor’s Office. But now, according to Defense Ministry sources, things are on the way of improving. Last year, compared to 2001, the rate of delinquency in the armed forces has dropped by 32%. This statistics, of course, is not taken at face value by everyone. Dodging the draft, deserting army units, corruption among the top brass have seriously damaged the image of the army. The most scandalous story is related to the attempted sale of 40 MIG fighter jets to North Korea in 2000. The trial of the high-placed officer of the general staff did not stop thefts of weaponry from military depots. Maintenance of discipline among servicemen is still on the top of the agenda. According to some military officials the 74000-strong Kazakh army has more tanks and jets than required by NATO standards, most of which are, however, obsolete. Experts say, that the export of the redundant equipment brings in annually much-needed 10-15 million dollars. But after the above-mentioned shady deal with the North Koreans, any attempt to expand arms sales is looked upon with great suspicion both by the public at home and foreign observers. The defense industry of Kazakhstan manufactures no more than half of the armament intended for export. The pivotal idea of reforms, outlined by presidential decree in November of 1997, is to downsize the army to a reasonable proportion to make effective use of the defense budget. This can be achieved by creating small and mobile forces equipped with modern weapons. Most of the experts believe that financially it would be more reasonable for the state to recruit more professionally trained servicemen on a contract basis, reducing compulsory military service. It is indeed alarming that many of the conscripts from undernourished poor families are not physically fit for service. Quiet often, young and healthy men from affluent families can be excluded from the draft for bribe money. In the years 1996-1999 the number of servicemen and officers in the armed forces was roughly 120000. But the annual defense spending did not exceed 8 billion tenge. This year’s military budget, as it was disclosed by the Defense Minister Colonel General Mukhtar Altynbayev, will equal 41,9 billion tenge, which makes up 1% of the GDP. Never since independence have the armed forces of Kazakhstan seen such tremendous financial bolstering. Last year, for the sake of comparison, defense spending was as high as 33,7 billion tenge. A part of the reform concept is to introduce digital communication technology to ensure a centralized command of the army. The vast territory of Kazakhstan is divided into four military districts. Up to recent years, it has concentrated its main forces in the South, in the vicinity of the Chinese border. But after the signing of border troop reduction treaty of 1997 with China, Kazakhstan cut its troops along the border by 15%. The main concern of Kazakhstan now is the oil-rich Caspian region, which has gained strategic importance luring great powers to the area. The defense minister of Kazakhstan recently announced the intention of the country to create a naval force in the Caspian Sea, which promptly drew unfavorable comments from the Russian envoy in talks on the Caspian issue Viktor Kalyuzhniy, who said Kazakhstan had no need to militarize the region. The deputy defense minister of Kazakhstan Kairat Abuseyitov hurried to soothe Russians saying that the planned navy would in no way be used against any states in the region and it had the sole task of preventing terrorists, drug traffickers and arms smugglers from infiltrating into Kazakhstan. From what military officials say, Kazakh naval forces will become a reality no earlier than 2015. The plan of Kazakhstan to have its naval force in the region is not likely to seriously poison its relations with Russia. While the two countries have not yet defined their maritime border, Kazakhstan is at the same time safely profiting from military cooperation both with Russia and the U.S. But Kazakhstan is not the only nation which covets military dominance in Central Asia.
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