When the Soviet Union dissolved, Kazakhstan inherited a large but antiquated military technical base, including nuclear weapons that remained the property of Russia after 1991. However, development of an officer corps and a national military policy has been a slow process that has suffered from inadequate funding. Only in 2001 did military spending reach 1 percent of gross domestic product. [Source: Library of Congress, December, 2006 **]

Since the late 1990s, the number of active military personnel has grown considerably, from about 40,000 in 1995 to about 66,000 in 2005. In 2005 the army had 46,800 active personnel and the air force, 19,000 active personnel. The maritime border guard had 3,000 personnel. Paramilitary forces totaled 34,500. A naval force, announced in 2003 as protection for offshore drilling rigs, has developed very slowly. In 2005 much of Kazakhstan’s equipment still was of the late Soviet era; hence, it required significant upgrading or replacement. **

Military branches in Kazakhstan: Kazakhstan Armed Forces: Ground Forces, Navy, Air Mobile Forces, Air Defense Forces (2013). Manpower available for military service: males age 16-49: 4,163,629; females age 16-49: 4,179,051 (2010 est.). Manpower fit for military service: males age 16-49: 2,909,999; females age 16-49: 3,528,169 (2010 est.). Manpower reaching militarily significant age annually: male: 125,322; female: 119,541 (2010 est.). [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

Military Service: The term of active service is 24 months. Males become eligible for conscription at age 18. The hazing of conscripts is a common practice. Military service age and obligation: 18 is the legal minimum age for compulsory military service; conscript service obligation is 2 years, but Kazakhstan may be transitioning to a contract force; 19 is the legal minimum age for voluntary service; military cadets in intermediate (ages 15-17) and higher (ages 17-21) education institutes are classified as military service personnel (2012). [Source: Library of Congress, December, 2006 ** =]

Military expenditures: 1.21 percent of GDP (2012), 0.97 percent of GDP (2011) 1.21 percent of GDP (2010), country comparison to the world: 81 After resisting increases in the 1990s, the Nazarbayev government has raised the defense budget annually since 2000. Between 2001 and 2005, the amount increased from US$180 million to US$419 million. The military budget in 1995 was estimated at US$297 million. [Source: = Library of Congress, December, 2006, March 1996]

National Security in Kazakhstan

The National Security Committee (KNB), successor to the Soviet-era KGB, is responsible for national security, law enforcement at the national level, and counterintelligence. It includes the Internal Security Service, Military Counterintelligence, Border Guard Service, and Foreign Intelligence Service. Little is known about the secretive Foreign Intelligence Service. The KNB has several commando units. [Source: Library of Congress, December, 2006 **]

Kazakhstan's national security policy remains closely associated with that of Russia, partly because the military forces of Kazakhstan have developed more slowly than planned and partly because of long-standing habits of interdependence. The internal security organization of police, prisons, intelligence gathering, and criminal justice remains substantially as it was in the Soviet era. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

The poor state of internal security was a crisis that eluded control in the mid-1990s, despite authoritarian measures by Nazarbayev. But Kazakhstan has committed itself to encouraging foreign investment in the effort to salvage the national economy. To provide an appropriate atmosphere for such commercial activity, improved internal security, perhaps with substantial Western assistance, is a necessary step. *

Military Activity in Kazakhstan in the Soviet Era

Before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan was the most significant site of military-industrial activity in Central Asia. The republic was home to roughly 3 percent of Soviet defense facilities, including more than fifty enterprises and 75,000 workers, located mostly in the predominantly Russian northern parts of the country. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

A plant in Öskemen fabricated beryllium and nuclear reactor fuel, and another at Aqtau produced uranium ore. Plants in Oral manufactured heavy machine guns for tanks and antiship missiles. In Petropavl, one plant produced SS-21 short-range ballistic missiles, and other plants manufactured torpedoes and naval communications equipment, support equipment for intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), tactical missile launcher equipment, artillery, and armored vehicles. There was a torpedo-producing facility in Almaty as well. Chemical and biological weapons were produced in Aksu, and chemical weapons were manufactured in Pavlodar. *

Kazakhstan's other military significance was as a test range and missile launch site. The republic was the location of only about 1 percent of all Soviet test ranges, but these included some all Soviet Union's largest and most important, especially in the aerospace and nuclear programs. Test sites included a range at Vladimirovka used to integrate aircraft with their weapons systems; a range at Saryshaghan for flight testing of ballistic missiles and air defense systems; a similar facility at Emba; and the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Weapons Proving Grounds, which was the more important of the two major nuclear testing facilities in the Soviet Union. In the four decades of its existence, there were at least 466 nuclear explosions at Semipalatinsk. *

The other major Soviet military facility on Kazakhstani soil was the Baykonur space launch facility, the home of the Soviet space exploration program and, until 1994, Russia's premier launch site for military and intelligence satellites. *

Russian Military Involvement in Central Asia

Large numbers of Soviet military forces were located in the five Central Asian republics when the Soviet Union dissolved officially at the end of 1991. All the newly independent states took measures to gain control over the Soviet units they inherited, establishing a variety of agencies and ministries to define the gradual process of localization. In the mid-1990s, as support grew in Russia for recapturing in some form the lost territories of the former Soviet Union, attention focused on the five Central Asian republics, which still had substantial economic and military ties with the Russian Federation. When the Soviet Union dissolved at the end of 1991, the main military force in Tajikistan was the 201st Motorized Rifle Division, whose position and resources the Russian Federation inherited. Although nominally neutral in the civil war that broke out in Tajikistan in the fall of 1992, the 201st Division, together with substantial forces from neighboring Uzbekistan, played a significant role in the recapture of the capital city, Dushanbe, by former communist forces. As the civil war continued in more remote regions of Tajikistan during the next three years, the 201st Division remained the dominant military force, joining with Russian border troops and a multinational group of "peace-keeping" troops (dominated by Russian and Uzbekistani forces and including troops from Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan) to patrol the porous border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]

The openly avowed purpose of the continued occupation was to protect Russia's strategic interests. Those interests were defined as preventing radical Islamic politicization and the shipment of narcotics, both designated as serious menaces to Russia itself. Meanwhile, Tajikistan formed a small army of its own, of which about three-quarters of the officer corps were Russians in mid-1996. Tajikistan, having no air force, relied exclusively on Russian air power. In mid-1996 the preponderance of the estimated 16,500 troops guarding Tajikistan's borders belonged to Russia's Federal Border Service. Border troops received artillery and armor support from the 201st Division, whose strength was estimated in 1996 as at least 12,000 troops. *

Russia has kept more limited forces in the other Central Asian republics. Turkmenistan consistently has refused to join multilateral CIS military groupings, but Russia maintains joint command of the three motorized rifle divisions in the Turkmenistani army. Under a 1993 bilateral military cooperation treaty, some 2,000 Russian officers serve in Turkmenistan on contract, and border forces (about 5,000 in 1995) are under joint Russian and Turkmenistani command. Altogether, about 11,000 Russian troops remained in Turkmenistan in mid-1996. Uzbekistan has full command of its armed forces, although the air force is dominated by ethnic Russians and Russia provides extensive assistance in training, border patrols, and air defense. Kazakstan, which has the largest standing army (about 25,000 in 1996) of the Central Asian republics, had replaced most of the Russians in its command positions with Kazaks by 1995 — mainly because a large part of the Russian officer corps transferred elsewhere in the early 1990s. No complete Russian units are stationed in Kazakstan, but an estimated 6,000 troops from the former Soviet 40th Army remained there in training positions in 1996, including about 1,500 at the Baykonur space launch center, which Russia leases from Kazakstan. *

In Kyrgyzstan, which has developed little military capability of its own, Russian units guard the border with China. But maintaining military influence in Kyrgyzstan has not been a high priority of Russian military planners; a 1994 bilateral agreement improves incentives for Russian officers to remain in the Kyrgyzstan's army on a contract basis through 1999, but, as in Kazakstan, the Russian exodus has continued. President Askar Akayev of Kyrgyzstan lobbied for a larger Russian military presence to improve his country's security situation, but no action had been taken as of mid-1996. *

Kazakhstan’s Bonding with the Russian Military

Like the other four Central Asian republics (with the possible exception of Uzbekistan), Kazakhstan lacks the resources to create an independent military establishment or an effective internal security force. By 1995 policy makers, headed by President Nazarbayev, had recognized the need to remain under the umbrella of Russian military protection, a status reinforced by a number of bilateral treaties and expected to become further institutionalized in future years. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

At independence Kazakhstan had no army because defense and security needs always had been met by the Soviet army. Initially Nazarbayev, unlike many of his fellow new presidents, argued that his country should function without an independent army, assuming that collective security needs would continue to be met by armies under CIS command. Even when the Russian military establishment changed its oath of service to refer solely to Russia rather than to the CIS, Nazarbayev continued the policy of drafting youth into the CIS forces rather than those of the republic. Even though the republic's strategic thinkers saw Kazakhstan as the intersection of three potential military theaters — Europe, the Near East, and the Far East — in the first years of independence, the republic was thought to require only a national guard of no more than 2,500 men, whose duties were envisioned as primarily ceremonial. *

When Russia transformed the troops on its soil into a Russian army in the spring of 1992, Kazakhstan followed suit by nationalizing the former Soviet Fortieth Army, which remained in Kazakhstan, creating the formal basis for a Kazakhstani national defense force. *

Major Military Units in Kazakhstan

Military branches in Kazakhstan: Kazakhstan Armed Forces: Ground Forces, Navy, Air Mobile Forces, Air Defense Forces (2013). [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

The army has four mechanized rifle brigades, two artillery brigades, one mechanized rifle division, one engineer brigade, one mechanized division, one multiple rocket launcher brigade, one air assault brigade, and one surface-to-surface missile brigade. The army is administered from four district headquarters. The air force consists of one division, including one fighter regiment, three ground-attack fighter regiments, and one reconnaissance regiment. The maritime border guard forces are stationed at the Caspian ports of Aqtau and Atyrau. [Source: Library of Congress, December, 2006 **]

In the mid 2000s, the maritime border guard had 3,000 personnel. Paramilitary forces totaled 34,500. A naval force, announced in 2003 as protection for offshore drilling rigs, has developed very slowly. In the 1990s the planned strength of the armed forces was 80,000 to 90,000. In 1996 army strength about 25,000, air force about 15,000, border troops 5,000 to 6,000 and a naval force in planning stage. [Source: Library of Congress, December 2006, March 1996 *]

In the 1990s, the army had two motorized rifle divisions, one tank division, one artillery regiment. The National Guard operated 25 percent of boats in Caspian Sea Flotilla. The Air force had one heavy bomber regiment; one division with three fighter-bomber regiments; and a single, independent reconnaissance, fighter, and helicopter regiments. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

In 1995 the air force included an estimated 15,000 troops. After the withdrawal in 1994 of forty Tu-95MS nuclear-capable bombers, the Kazakhstan Air Force was left with 133 combat aircraft, whose offensive capability relied on MiG-23, MiG-27, MiG-29, and Su-24 fighters with support from An-24 and An-26 transport and MiG-25 surveillance aircraft. Thirty air bases are scattered throughout the republic. Since 1992 Kazakh pilots have received little air training because units have been staffed at only 30 to 50 percent of operational levels. *

Border Troops and Paramilitary Forces in Kazakhstan

In 2005 Kazakhstan had a total of 34,500 paramilitary personnel, 12,000 of whom were in the state border protection forces (under the Ministry of Interior), 20,000 in the internal security troops (police, under the Ministry of Interior), 2,000 in the presidential guard, and 500 in the government guard. [Source: Library of Congress, December, 2006 **]

Kazakhstan's extensive land borders are highly vulnerable to penetration by international smugglers, illegal immigrants, and terrorists. In 1992 the Eastern Border Troops District of the former Soviet Union was dissolved; this action resulted in the formation of the Kazakhstan Border Troops Command under a Kazakh general. After this transition, overall control of border security remained with the National Security Committee, formerly the Kazakhstan Committee for State Security (KGB). The border troops commander is a member of the National Security Committee and a member of the Council of CIS Border Troops Commanders, which was established in 1993 to foster regional cooperation. Cooperation with Russia, with which Kazakhstan shares roughly half its borders, is the primary goal of border policy, and several agreements provide for Russian aid. Cooperative agreements also are in effect with the other four Central Asian republics. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Kazakhstan's border troops force was estimated at 5,000 to 6,000 personnel in the 1990s. Troops are trained at the Almaty Border Troops School (formerly run by the KGB) or under a cooperative agreement at four Russian facilities. Headquarters are at Almaty, with several subordinate commands, including a coastal patrol squadron headquartered at Atyrau on the north Caspian Sea coast. *

Structure of the Kazakhstan Military

The armed forces established in 1992 are subordinate to the Ministry of Defense and to the president in his capacities as commander in chief and chairman of the National Security Council. The second-ranking military office is chief of the General Staff. The General Staff consists of deputy defense ministers for personnel, ground forces, air defense, and airborne forces. The president's main advisory body for national defense is the National Security Council, which includes the prime minister, the first deputy prime minister, the minister of foreign affairs, the chairman of the Committee for Defense of the Constitution, the chairman of the State Committee for Emergency Situations, the minister of defense, the commander of the Border Troops, the commander of the ground forces, and the minister of internal affairs. When it is active, parliament has a four-member Committee for National Security and Defense for coordination of defense policy with the executive branch. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

In the mid-1990s, plans called for developing a military force of 80,000 to 90,000 personnel, including ground forces, air forces, and a navy (for deployment in the Caspian Sea). In 1996 the army included about 25,000 troops, organized into two motorized rifle divisions, one tank division, and one artillery brigade. Attached to that force were one multiple rocket launcher brigade, one motorized rifle regiment, and one air assault brigade. Overall army headquarters are at Semey, with division headquarters at Ayagöz, Sary Ozyk, Almaty, and Semey. *

According to national defense doctrine, Kazakhstan has a minimal requirement for naval forces. In late 1993, Kazakhstan received about 25 percent of the patrol boats and cutters in Russia's Caspian Sea Flotilla, which subsequently constituted the entire naval force. In 1993 naval bases were planned for Fort Shevchenko on the Caspian Sea and at Aral, north of the Aral Sea, but a scarcity of funds delayed completion. Likewise, naval air bases were planned for Aqtau and the Buzachiy Peninsula on the Caspian Sea and at Saryshaghan on Lake Balkhash.*

Officers and Training in the Kazakhstan Military

Creating the projected national armed forces has proved more difficult than expected. Since independence, the officer corps, which was overwhelmingly Slavic in the early 1990s, has suffered a severe loss of manpower. In 1992 nearly two-thirds of the company and battalion commanders in Kazakhstan had to be replaced as Russian-speaking officers took advantage of CIS agreements permitting transfer to other republics. When these transfers occurred, almost no Kazakh officers were available as replacements. In the entire Soviet period, only three Kazakhs had graduated from the Military Academy of the General Staff, and only two had earned advanced degrees in military science. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Kazakhs have dominated the top administrative positions in the post-Soviet military establishment. In addition to Minister of Defense Sagadat Nurmagambetov, President Nazarbayev appointed two Kazakh colonels as deputy ministers of defense and a Kazakh general to head the Republic National Guard (the guard unit responsible for protecting the president and other dignitaries as well as antiterrorist operations). Kazakhstan's first National Security Council consisted of seven Kazakhs, one Russian, and one Ukrainian. In October 1994, both Slavs left office and were replaced by ethnic Kazakhs. Despite a secret call-up of officers in reserve, by the fall of 1993 Kazakhstan was short at least 650 officers, while the Border Troops Command, 80 percent of whose officers were non-Kazakh, was understaffed by 45 percent. *

Exacerbating the severe shortage of trained military personnel is the virtual absence of higher-level military training facilities. The only two such schools in existence, the general All Arms Command School and the Border Troops Academy, both in Almaty, are capable of graduating only about 200 junior officers a year, and in 1993 three-quarters of those left the republic. There were also three military secondary boarding schools — in Almaty, Shymkent, and Qaraghandy — and a civil aviation school in Aqtöbe, which is to be converted to a military flight school sometime after 2000. *

There are indications of severe problems in filling the ranks of the armed services. Some accounts indicate that as many as 20,000 soldiers were absent without leave from the army in 1993, and desertion and low morale among conscripts continued to be a major problem in the mid-1990s. Another concern is the deteriorating physical condition of inductees, one-third of whom are said to be unfit for conscription. Discipline appears to be problematic as well. In 1993 more than 500 crimes by soldiers were reported in Almaty Province alone; members of the Kazakhstani peacekeeping force in Tajikistan reportedly have robbed and raped villagers they were sent to protect. At the command level, in 1993 one general was dismissed for selling weapons and other military goods. *

Weapons and Military Equipment in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan inherited a huge arsenal from the Soviet Union, including 900 combat aircraft and 3,500 tanks and other armored vehicles. In 2005 much of Kazakhstan’s equipment still was of the late Soviet era; hence, it required significant upgrading or replacement Kazakhstan did have 22 MIG-29s. The top-of-the-line Russian plane, the MIG-29 resembles an American-made F-16 and has two powerful engines that allow it to take off almost vertically like a rocket. Pilots have sight-and-shoot helmets which allow them to fire laser-guided missiles under the wings by simply staring at the enemy target for two seconds.

The army has 930 main battle tanks, 140 reconnaissance vehicles, 573 armored infantry fighting vehicles, 770 armored personnel carriers, 505 pieces of towed artillery, 163 pieces of self-propelled artillery, 171 mortars, 147 multiple rocket launchers, 12 surface-to-surface missiles, and 68 antitank guns. Most of that equipment is of the Soviet era and not reliable. The air force has 40 MiG–29, 43 MiG–31, and 16 MiG–25 fighter aircraft; 53 Sukhoi ground attack fighter aircraft; several regiments with 14 attack helicopters each; and 12 Sukhoi–24 reconnaissance aircraft. South Korea and other partners have delivered Kazakhstan about 13 small patrol craft for use in the Caspian Sea. [Source: Library of Congress, December, 2006 **]

In 1995 the air force included an estimated 15,000 troops. After the withdrawal in 1994 of forty Tu-95MS nuclear-capable bombers, the Kazakhstan Air Force was left with 133 combat aircraft, whose offensive capability relied on MiG-23, MiG-27, MiG-29, and Su-24 fighters with support from An-24 and An-26 transport and MiG-25 surveillance aircraft. Thirty air bases are scattered throughout the republic. Since 1992 Kazakh pilots have received little air training because units have been staffed at only 30 to 50 percent of operational levels. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Missiles in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan inherited 104 R-36M (GRAU: 15A14; NATO SS-18 Satan) intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) from the Soviet missile complex. All ICBMs were transferred to Russia for dismantlement by September 1996 and missile silos and silo structures were destroyed under the U.S. Department of Defense Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program by September 1999. [15] Gidromash, an Almaty-based Soviet-era producer of submarine-launched missiles, was converted to a civilian commercial enterprise under CTR's Industrial Partnerships Program. However, Kazakhstan still possesses a small arsenal of Soviet era short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) consisting of the OTR-21 Tochka-U (NATO: SS-21-B Scarab-B) and the R-300 Elbrus (NATO: SS-1C Scud-B). [Source: Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) ~]

Kazakhstan has an active space industry and inherited the Baikonur Cosmodrome from the Soviet Union. Baikonur is used for international space launches, including all Russian launches to the International Space Station (ISS). Additionally, Russia leases a segment of the Baikonur Cosmodrome for ballistic missile testing. Kazakhstan also inherited the Sary-Shagan anti-ballistic missile testing ground from the Soviet Union, and now leases the complex to Russia for continued ballistic missile defense testing. Kazakhstan's space industry provides it with dual-use technology and expertise; however, the country is committed to nonproliferation efforts and has shown no interest in pursuing a ballistic missile program. ~

Kazakhstan closely cooperates with Russia in air and missile defense. On 30 December 2013, Russia ratified an agreement for the “Creation of a Joint Regional Air Defense System of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Kazakhstan,” which will be an integral part of the Commonwealth of Independent States’ (CIS) joint air defense infrastructure. Russia has exported S-300PS (NATO: SA-10D Grumble) and S-300PMU-1 (NATO: SA-20 Gargoyle) surface-to-air missile systems to Kazakhstan. ~

Poor State of Kazakhstan’s Military Infrastructure

The quality of military support installations declined in the first years of the post-Soviet period. For instance, the chief planner of Kazakhstan's Institute for Strategic Studies has estimated that only in the next century will the republic have the capability to use air-to-surface missiles for defensive purposes. In addition, sensitive facilities inherited by military authorities from the Soviet army all are said to be on the point of collapse. Facilities in bad repair include nuclear test and storage facilities at Kökshetau, the BN-350 breeder-reactor at Aqtau, and a tracking and monitoring station at Priozersk. Even the first Kazakh cosmonaut, who was sent into space with great pomp in June 1994, was in fact a Russian citizen and career officer in the Russian air force, as were his two "Ukrainian" shipmates. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

By 1994 most of Kazakhstan's defense plants had ceased military production. All of them required component parts from inaccessible sources outside Kazakhstan, principally in Russia. Even more important, the Russian military-industrial complex was itself in collapse, so that Kazakhstan's military enterprises no longer could rely on Russian customers. In addition, the great majority of key workers at all these facilities were ethnic Slavs, the most employable of whom moved to Russia or other former Soviet republics. *

Substantial elements of Kazakhstan's military-production infrastructure nevertheless remain in the republic. In addition, in early 1992 the army nationalized all of the standard-issue Soviet military equipment remaining on the republic's soil. An unknown percentage of this equipment is still in use in Kazakhstan, and another portion of it likely has been sold to other countries. Since independence, at least one new ship, a cruiser named in honor of Nazarbayev, has been commissioned. *

The weapons of greatest concern to the world, however, have been the 1,350 nuclear warheads that remained in Kazakhstan when the Soviet Union disbanded. Although two other new states — Ukraine and Belarus — also possessed "stranded" nuclear weapons, the Kazakhstani weapons attracted particular international suspicion, and unsubstantiated rumors reported the sale of warheads to Iran. Subsequent negotiations demonstrated convincingly, however, that operational control of these weapons always had remained with Russian strategic rocket forces. All of the warheads were out of Kazakhstan by May 1995. *

Revitalizing a Soviet-Era Missile Factory in Kazakhstan

In 2004, Associated Press reported: “Of the dozens of defense plants built in Kazakhstan to supply the Soviet military machine, most are struggling to keep their doors open and production lines running. Not so for the Byelkamit plant, a rare success story in the now-defunct U.S.-financed defense conversion program for the former Soviet Union, which brought together Western companies and former Soviet defense factories to set up civilian production. [Source: Associated Press, December 15, 2004 ~~]

“That program was launched in 1994 and killed two years later by the U.S. Congress, which branded it a failure after most projects didn't take off. But supporters of the program say the U.S. government was in too much of a hurry and plants like Byelkamit prove defense conversion can work. The plants chosen for conversion were expected to become “efficient and successful in a very short period of time demanded by U.S. political impatience,'' said Laura Holgate, vice president of the Washington-based Nuclear Threat Initiative, a non-governmental anti-proliferation organization. ~~

“In Soviet times, the Byelkamit plant was secret and was known by the euphemistic acronym Gidromash (short for Hydraulic Machinery) which hid its function as a supplier of Oriol airborne anti-submarine missiles, Shkval rapid underwater missiles and cluster bombs. When orders stopped in 1994, three years after the Soviet collapse, plant manager Pavel Beklemishev, a Russia-trained engineer, and his 1,000 workers were left on their own. Beklemishev says he held about 300 meetings with potential partners interested in converting his factory, including the Chinese government. ~~

“But he went with an American partner, clinching a deal under the U.S. Cooperative Threat Reduction program. The American government put US$4.2 million (euro3.16 million at current rates) into the project, which involved New-York-based Byelocorp Scientific Inc. and its Italian subsidiary, Supco, in a joint venture to produce equipment for Kazakhstan's fast-growing energy sector.” ~~

Conversion of Soviet-Era Missile Factory in Kazakhstan

Associated Press reported: “Beklemishev's first step was to radically cut his staff to 220 people, and put those who remained through retraining. “It was painful. I was sacking my teachers, friends and my wife,'' he says. His strategy paid off. Byelkamit is the only enterprise in Central Asia to get a certificate from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers to make pressure vessels, used to store oil and gas. In 1996-97, all its output was exported to Western Europe. [Source: Associated Press, December 15, 2004 ~~]

“In 1997, it got its first contract to make equipment for foreign companies developing the giant Kazakh Tengiz oil field, such as Chevron, and later made storage vessels for companies working on the huge Karachaganak gas field. “That was a brilliant takeoff,'' says Beklemishev. Work is in full swing at the factory — orders now come not only from oil producers, but the construction and food industries. ~~

“The plant's infrastructure has been little upgraded since its Soviet days. However, now all the engineers speak English and business correspondence is in English, although it operates without a single foreigner. Byelocorp and Supco own 37 percent each in Byelkamit. Another 23 percent belongs to the Kazakh government and the rest to workers. The factory is hiring again as production grows; it now has about 500 employees.” ~~

Failure of U.S.-Funded Weapons Factory Conversion Projects in Kazakhstan

Associated Press reported: “Byelkamit was one of four U.S.-sponsored conversion projects launched at the same time in Kazakhstan. The other three, involving a satellite communications center, a biological weapons factory and a nuclear weapons testing and research facility, were not as successful. Holgate says this was because U.S. government officials in the program didn't have business expertise and former Soviet managers were not prepared to switch to Western business practices. [Source: Associated Press, December 15, 2004 ~~]

“Frederick Kellett, Byelocorp's vice president, believes that without the private sector — with its commercial and pragmatic approach — it will be hard to turn the other former defense facilities into viable businesses. He notes that current U.S. programs “fall well short of the financial incentives that are necessary to draw serious interest and commitment from business.'' The U.S. Embassy in Kazakhstan said the U.S. government had over the years restructured resources for nonproliferation efforts to meet “the latest most pressing priorities.'' “Some programs that we thought were less effective were discontinued,'' an embassy spokesperson said, speaking on condition of anonymity. ~~

“Over the past year, the U.S. government spent US$30 million (euro22.55 million) on various threat reduction projects in Kazakhstan, including providing employment for former weapons scientists and conversion of a former chemical weapons plant, the embassy said. Looking for its own solution to defense conversion, the Kazakh government last year set up a special company, Kazakhstan Engineering, to try to turn 20 former defense enterprises into competitive businesses. About a quarter of their output is for military purposes, and almost all are struggling to survive. “They don't have defense orders, but the government is continuing to keep them (factories) on a short leash, not letting them into the market,'' said Beklemishev. ~~

“He credits Byelkamit's success to both timely U.S. support and the Kazakh government's willingness to convert its Soviet-built defense plants. But he says the U.S. government's attitude appears to have changed now. “We started with (Bill) Clinton's government .... I have a feeling that (President George) Bush administration looks differently at these issues.'' ~~

Kazakhstan’s Defense Policy

In 1992 Kazakhstan adopted a three-stage defense doctrine, calling for creation of administrative, command, and support organizations in 1992, restructuring of field forces between 1993 and 1996, and a modernization process leading to establishment of a fully professional military force by 2000. In 1992 Minister of Defense Sagadat Nurmagambetov abandoned the last goal as impractical, calling rather for a combination of conscripts and contract service personnel. In the summer of 1994, Kazakhstan's Institute for Strategic Studies called for the complete abandonment of the official defense doctrine. The existing doctrine was criticized for being based on outmoded Soviet precepts that combined fear of hostile military encirclement with a commitment to peace that approached pacificism. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

The institute argued that Kazakhstan should instead base its defense policies on the assumption that the republic likely would find itself amid border confrontations involving CIS nations, an expansionist China, and Islamic neighbors with enhanced power and ambition. To prepare for such events, the institute recommended de-emphasizing military development and instead pursuing multinational defense agreements along the lines of Nazarbayev's proposed Euro-Asian Union or, absent that, a military alliance with Russia and active pursuit of NATO membership. Kazakhstan became a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace in 1994. *

Following the appearance of the institute's evaluation, the Ministry of Defense has acknowledged that the second of its original goals — restructuring of field forces by 1996 — likely could not be achieved. This admission meant that Kazakhstan's dependence upon Russia likely would become even greater. In January 1995, the two countries signed agreements committing them to creation of "unified armed forces." To deflect criticism that such an agreement was inimical to national sovereignty, Nazarbayev likened the new arrangement to the Warsaw Pact and NATO, as distinct from the formation of a single armed force. At the same time, Russia formally took up shared responsibility for patrol of Kazakhstan's international borders (under a nominally joint command), which in practice meant the border with China. *

Foreign Military Relations, Weapons Sales and External Threats in Kazakhstan

In 2006 Kazakhstan faced no threat of involvement in armed conflict with any neighbor. The critical foreign military link remains Russia, which is the main source of military equipment and personnel training. Kazakhstan is a signatory of the Collective Security Treaty of the Commonwealth of Independent States with Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Membership in that group, which conducted some joint military exercises in 2005, precludes joining another military alliance. Nevertheless, Kazakhstan also has cultivated military links with the United States. Under the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Partnership for Peace program, U.S. and Kazakhstani troops have engaged in regular joint training exercises since 1997. In 2003 Kazakhstan signed a five-year cooperation program supplying small amounts of U.S. military equipment and expertise. Some U.S. assistance also has gone to the naval forces at Aqtau on the Caspian Sea. [Source: Library of Congress, December, 2006 **]

Foreign Military Forces: Since 2001 Kazakhstan has provided overflight and overland supply shipment rights to U.S. forces based in Kyrgyzstan. Military Forces Abroad: In mid-2006, 29 Kazakhstani medical troops were attached to Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq.

In the 1990s, some officials have suggested selling some of Kazakhstan huge arsenal on the world market to earn cash. Former Eastern bloc countries such as the Ukraine, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Kazakhstan have done a lot of business selling weapons to whoever wanted them, including terrorist groups and rebel insurgencies. These countries have lots of weapons and poorly paid officials and are desperately in need of hard currency. Law enforcement is negligible and laws can easily be skirted. The Kazakhstan government was condemned by the United States for selling 40 60s-era MiG fighter jets to North Korea.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated April 2016

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