President Nursultan Nazarbayev signed a decree, on September 29, adopting Kazakhstan’s new Military Doctrine. The document outlines key priorities in military security for the Central Asian republic (Zakon.kz, September 29; Nomad.su, October 9).
Interestingly, the doctrine itself received almost no public attention inside Kazakhstan. Several mass media outlets published short briefs, citing passages from the introduction to the presidential decree. To date, neither the president nor the minister of defense have commented or made public statements in reference to the document.
Whereas the previous military doctrine (2011) focused more on countering violent extremism and terrorism, the newly adopted version puts greater emphasis on armed conflict along the border and measures to mitigate it. In this regard, Kazakhstan is very much emulating Belarus, a Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) partner, which modified its own military doctrine in 2016 (Belta.by, July 20, 2017; see EDM, February 29, 2016). Even though the Kazakhstani document does not precisely identify any major conflicts that could pose a threat, it significantly shifts the rhetoric and logic of country’s security agenda.
The overall tone of Astana’s new military doctrine has a geopolitical background. The text is full of Cold War–style jargon—namely “confrontation between global and regional powers for spheres of influence,” “the arms race,” “increased tensions,” “a certain country’s desire to change the existing world order,” and “militarization of the region”—that could easily be attributed more to Moscow. However, the main difference is that Russia’s current military doctrine makes clear whom the Kremlin considers an ally and who is an enemy, while the Kazakhstani document is rather blurry on those counts (Informburo.kz, June 25).
Kazakhstan’s 2017 Military Doctrine introduces the concept of “hybrid” warfare, which can be employed against the country. According to the document, “hybrid” warfare is defined as the “ways of achieving military-political and military-strategic objectives of an integrated military force (including special operations forces, private military security companies on the territory of the opposing side), via non-military means, as well as by using the potential of other states, terrorist and extremist organizations, and separatist movements to destabilize the situation in the territory of the opposing state” (Zakon.kz, September 29).
The use of military force or intention to use force, including “hybrid” warfare, is thus seen as a main military threat to Kazakhstan’s national security. While Astana has declared zero enemies in its new doctrine, the fact that it is explicitly referring to the types of operations and tactics used in eastern Ukraine is telling because of what it signals about the focus of Kazakhstani policymakers and the military establishment. Indeed, earlier in 2016, President Nazarbayev emphasized, “The people of Kazakhstan do not want a Ukrainian scenario in the country,” and he warned that anyone trying to bring about such events would be severely punished (Ukraine-analytica.org, August 9).
Another major threat noted in the new military doctrine is the possibility of an outside force gaining control over Kazakhstan’s strategic resources and transport infrastructure. Oil and natural gas are the most valuable sector in terms of investment and development. But recent transport and transit projects are also of great concern from a security standpoint. Moreover, these two might become ever more important elements of Astana’s multi-vector foreign policy.
The Kazakhstani government is paying special attention to its Caspian border. According to Zhandarbek Zhanzakov, the commander-in-chief of the country’s Naval Forces, “Kazakhstan seriously underestimates the importance and vulnerability of its border along the Caspian coastline” (Lada.kz, October 3). The country’s total number of navy assets is significantly lower than neighboring Azerbaijan, Iran, Russia and Turkmenistan (Globalfirepower.com, October 17). In addition, all Caspian countries, including those that previously had no naval forces, have been building up their military power (see EDM, April 2, 2013; July 25, 2016). Recently, Dariga Nazarbayeva, the chairperson of the Defense Committee in the Kazakhstani parliament, during her visit to Mangystau, proposed establishing a three-year program to strengthen Kazakhstan’s coastline, military forces and border guard service along the shore of the Caspian Sea (Zakon.kz, October 3).
Among other security challenges listed in the newly adopted military doctrine are armed border conflicts and destabilization of the country by undermining Kazakhstan’s constitutional order and territorial integrity through violent means. Interestingly, however, Central Asia is not mentioned in the document at all. Rather, the document notes that Kazakhstan will continue to enhance its cooperation with the United Nations, the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the CSTO, including in peacekeeping operations and training. Even though the doctrine remains defensive in nature, it notes that Kazakhstan reserves the right to use military force when all non-military means to ensure the country’s security prove ineffective.
According to the Doctrine, to develop the country’s military-industrial complex, Kazakhstan will establish joint enterprises to produce advanced weapons systems. Notably, During KADEX-2016, an international exhibition of weapons system and military equipment, Kazakhstani firms signed about a dozen agreements with companies from Belarus, China, Germany, Russia and Ukraine (Cvsi.kz, June 4, Kapital.kz, June 2).
Another major novelty in the new 2017 Doctrine is an actual approach to cyber security—one that for the first time goes beyond strictly the informational component. The document establishes special cyber security groups within the Armed Forces and notes the need for enhanced training.
In terms of a division of labor with respect to military threats, the document explains that the National Security Committee Border Service will supervise the resolution process in case of armed conflict along the border, while the National Guard (previously, the Domestic Troops of the Ministry of Interior), will suppress domestic armed conflicts. In addition, Kazakhstan will create a national center for defense management, which will become a centralized command-and-control system of the Kazakhstani Armed Forces—along the model of the Russian National Defense Management Center (NTsUO) (see EDM, November 4, 2014).
Kazakhstan’s military looks poised to begin undergoing a comprehensive transformation process, starting from refining general mobilization and enhancing border security to strengthening military education and improving military capabilities. Based on its new military doctrine, Astana clearly sees this effort as essential to be able to successfully withstand the geopolitical challenges the country currently faces.