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Kazakhstan's Military and National Security

Kazakhstan's nuclear arsenal and foreign interests in its stability helped to maintain its national security. It has negotiated a stable position with its neighbors and has created relationships with the United States and other Western nations. Foreign countries help guarantee Kazakhstan's stability to protect their own economic interests. The major concern for Kazakhstan now is how it will maintain its national security after it disposes of all of its nuclear weapons.

Nuclear weapons were a main contributor to Kazakhstan's national security. The breakup of the Soviet Union left Kazakhstan with many nuclear missiles and even some nuclear capable aircraft. (Nuclear Politics and the Future Security of Kazakhstan, p.7) The United States and Russia took a direct interest in eliminating these assets to consolidate the nuclear power of the former Soviet Union in the Russian Federation.

Kazakhstan also had an interest in ridding itself of nuclear arms and materials. Kazakhstan was the test zone for the Soviet Union during its development of nuclear technology and weapons. "Between 1949 and 1989 some 490 nuclear tests were conducted in the Republic, including 26 above-ground tests, 87 atmospheric tests and 354 underground tests…." (Kazakhstan Human Development Report - Chapter 2, p.22) These tests created more than 70 thousand square miles of unusable land and caused 75% of the surrounding population to suffer from exposure to radiation (Kazakhstan Human Development Report - Chapter 2, p.22-23). This mistreatment of the land and the people developed a very strong anti-nuclear sentiment in the country. Kazakhstan is more than willing to get rid of its nuclear weapons, but it is resentful of also getting rid of the security that they provide.

Kazakhstan has since removed all nuclear weapons from its soil.

The United States has worked with Kazakhstan to reduce the amount of nuclear material in the country. The United States Air Force flew "600 kilograms of highly enriched uranium from Kazakhstan for safekeeping in the United States." (OSIA Chronology, p.10) The world community is also working to reduce the number of nuclear warheads in Kazakhstan by subsidizing the dismantling process, and solving other problems related to nuclear materials. (Nuclear Politics and the Future Security of Kazakhstan p.3, U.S.- Kazakhstan Agreement To Seal Up World's Largest Nuclear Test Tunnel Complex) There is an overwhelming interest in eliminating nuclear weapons from Kazakhstan.

The United States seems willing to supplement the gap left in Kazakhstan's national security after dismantling Kazakhstan's nuclear arsenal. In September 1997, paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division flew from Fort Bragg to Kazakhstan to participate in training exercises with Kazakhstani and Uzbekistani forces. (WRAL Online - U.S. Military Working for Peace in Former Enemy Land) One interesting fact, considering that Kazakhstan is landlocked, is that in addition to the training exercises, "the expeditionary force is replacing a U.S. Navy carrier in the region, allowing the ship and crew to return to the United States." (Moron Air Base 'buzzes' with Mobility Task Force Action, p.1) None the less, the United States has all but formally committed itself to protecting Kazakhstan.

There are many reasons for the United States to become so involved in Kazakhstan. Huge deposits of natural resources are located in Kazakhstan, oil in particular. (Welcome to Kazakhstan - Natural Conditions and Resources) Another factor is that U.S. companies have invested in Kazakhstan's economy. Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, and AES have built production facilities in Kazakhstan or purchased portions of an industry through Kazakhstan's privatization programs. (Kazakhstan Privatizes Power Generation, Kazakhstan Is Drowning In Contraband) Another possible factor for the United State's interest in Kazakhstan is its close proximity to Russia and China, which makes it a valuable strategically located ally. (Kazakhstan Land Map)

The Kazakhstan military is not the professional unit that people in the United States are familiar with. Kazakhstan continued compulsory service similar to the Soviet Union's system. Most often, the military is seen in a negative light. Many of the young men in the service patrol city streets in small groups. They are intended to assist people, but most people try to avoid them.

The military does have some positive public rapport. Every five years, there is a Kazak national holiday in remembrance of Kazak citizens that died in protests against the Soviet Union when an ethnic Russian replaced an ethnic Kazak as the governor of Kazakhstan. In honor of this national holiday, there was a military parade that displayed Kazakhstan's Soviet era equipment.


Kazakhstan's Economy

The economy in Kazakhstan is steadily improving. Foreign companies are buying much of its public utility industry and privatizing it. This helps generate revenue for the government of Kazakhstan. It also helps modernize the country through foreign investment and upgraded services. One of the requirements for a foreign company to purchase a utility is for the company to have an investment and development plan for the utility. Unfortunately, the foreign ownership often has to raise prices in order to make a profit from the business. It is difficult for the companies to collect payments for services, so they have to charge the paying customers more to cover their losses.

Some foreign companies have actually built factories in Kazakhstan. Often this is not a good investment for companies, because the people of Kazakhstan prefer to buy western goods for the their higher quality. Phillip Morris and R.J. Reynolds are two examples of countries that built factories in Kazakhstan and are not doing well. Western illegally imported cigarettes are much more popular than the same brands made domestically. There are stiff import taxes, but the smugglers avoid the taxes and sell the western cigarettes for a large profit. This illegal sale of foreign cigarettes is not only hurting these two companies, but also discouraging continued foreign investment in Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan also has large amounts of natural resources. Many oil companies are investing heavily in Kazakhstan to get their share of the oil fields. Kazakhstan imposes a huge tax on these western companies, because they are most likely to pay the taxes. Often, Kazakhstan officials cannot collect the taxes companies or individuals owe much like they do not collect the import tariffs on foreign goods.

Corruption is rampant in Kazakhstan and officials are easily paid off for everything from stealing parts from a junkyard to dodging military service. Some people may pay up to US$5000 to avoid the draft, forcing their families to rent out their apartments and dodging more tax laws to ensure a larger profit. Government officials are paid so little, perhaps only US$50 per month if they are paid at all. They are almost expected to make up for the lack of income by accepting bribes.

One of the problems that causes this high level of corruption in the government is the high tax rate. Some companies, such as oil companies, are taxed as much as 80% of profits. A small printing business start up was expected to pay 30% of the value of its equipment every month. (I have only heard these figures, but I believe that they came from reliable sources.) These high tax rates combined with the low pay of the people enforcing them lead to excessive corruption in the government.

In Kazakhstan cities, a family can live on two incomes of US$200 per month. It is very difficult, but many people survive on even less than that. The lack of income often has to be supplemented by people making their own bread, clothes, and other basic items. In villages, many families live from the produce that they grow in their gardens every year. Some families will risk double cropping to grow enough food to sell in markets. The food they sell may be their only source of cash for other necessities. However, most people are able to find enough work, or odd jobs to support their family's needs.

The only figure I could find for unemployment was 30%. In my opinion, this figure is very conservative. My own estimates are between 40% and 50% unemployment. There is a good work ethic in Kazakhstan, but there are not enough jobs outside of Alma-Ata, the area I was in.


Kazakhstan Page List

Written by: Jonathan F. Laatsch

Last Modified: 24 January 1998