Kazakhstan is boosting its Caspian security through the successful implementation of foreign military and security-assistance programs. These have helped Kazakhstan to develop its maritime border capabilities by providing military hardware, technical advice, and spare parts. Astana has included naval and border security packages into most programs negotiated with foreign countries. The United States has led the way in helping to identify and prioritize this vital element in Kazakhstan’s military reform agenda, with additional help from the United Kingdom and Turkey. Kazakhstan has also devised opportunities for extending this trend into arrangements with other countries offering security cooperation, not least South Korea, marking out its economic interests in the Caspian, which can be developed without too much reliance upon Russia.
The Kazakh leadership prefers short-term successes in seeking to demonstrate that it can adequately protect its Caspian interests. This is most notable in the acquisition of patrol boats and other vessels for use by the border service.
On May 18 a ceremony took place in Aktau to deliver three new 42-foot-long rapid reaction patrol boats from the United States to the Caspian naval division of the Border Service of the Kazakh National Security Committee (KNB). The total cost of the new hardware ran to around $2 million, and the delivery was carried out through the U.S. State Department’s Export Control and Related Border Security program. Reports in the Kazakh media also emphasized the provision of trailers along with spare parts. Differences exist between the embryonic Kazakh Navy and the Border Service about precisely what is needed to boost Caspian capabilities. Much of this stems from rivalry between the Ministry of Defense and the KNB (Interfax-Kazakhstan, May 18). The State Department money is well spent and will raise Kazakhstan’s profile in the Caspian security stakes. However, how far it goes towards the country forming its own independent naval or maritime border options that strengthen Kazakhstan’s security remains to be seen. All too often, the initiatives and foreign aid programs are not supported by the authorities in Astana that are responsible for taking the necessary decisions to boost Caspian security.
While a great deal of inertia persists within the Kazakh Navy and border service, Astana is evidently keen to promote the view that foreign assistance is helping the country. The Kazakh Defense Ministry and the South Korean National Defense Ministry signed a memorandum on military cooperation on May 16. This agreement focuses on military education, with officer training exchanges and help for the ground forces as well as the navy. A South Korean delegation visited Kazakhstan on May 15-17, meeting key officials and observing military infrastructure. South Korea will help Kazakhstan’s Navy by delivering three ships to complement other international assistance programs (Interfax-Kazakhstan, May 16). According to sources within Kazakhstan’s Defense Ministry, bilateral relations with South Korea have developed progressively since they first began in 2004, and now look set to provide additional help for the whole task of enhancing Caspian security.
South Korea is also looking to assist Kazakhstan in another project vital to the future of the armed forces — language facilities. They will form a key element in strengthening Kazakhstan’s future interoperability capabilities, and their existence opens more opportunities for placements in foreign military training courses. The Korean delegation visited the Military Institute of Foreign Languages, which is being supported by the United States, Britain, Turkey, and other NATO members.
On May 10-13 Colonel Daniel Scott, from the U.S. Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (Monterey), visited the Kazakh Military Institute of Foreign Languages. His presence there was important not least because it facilitated the signing of accords on further cooperation between the Military Institute and one of the leading U.S. language training institutes. Col. Scott was also able to engage counterparts in a constructive dialogue aimed at developing the two institutes’ potential by sharing experience, curricula, holding joint educational campaigns, and training teachers both in Kazakhstan and the United States. What Col. Scott was unaware of, however, was the infighting and problems within the Kazakh Ministry regarding the Military Institute, including who should run the institute, and to what extent the English language should be prioritized (Interfax-Kazakhstan, May 15).
Kazakhstan is actively boosting its Caspian security options. In some ways, many of its power structures are pursuing this course, but beyond that there is little agreement on exactly what is entailed or how this can be achieved. To what extent does this involve its partnership with Russia? How far is the country willing to cooperate with the West? Can rivalries between competing domestic security bodies be managed? These questions and others are often pushed from the agenda by those seeking to maximize security assistance and present the evidence that something is being done to strengthen this aspect of the country’s security needs. There is less political risk involved in security cooperation with South Korea, but Astana certainly benefits from the vast input of U.S. security assistance. The Kazakh government needs to do more to support these security projects; ironing out current structural problems within the language institute could further this goal. For the time being the government is content with the hard evidence of patrol boats as its way of showing enhanced Caspian security.