On March 3 Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimukhamedov announced his decision to endorse the country’s second military doctrine. The revised doctrine will take into account Turkmenistan’s declared neutrality in order to enhance the country’s ability to resist potential threats to its domestic stability. The Turkmen president linked his decision to develop a new military doctrine to his broader economic and political reforms.
One major change announced by Berdimukhamedov will be the reduction of mandatory military service from 18 months to 12. The doctrine will also likely pay more attention to the country’s border with Afghanistan, where the Turkmen border guard service has recently concentrated its efforts. Turkmenistan’s current prioritization of regional, bilateral, and multilateral cooperation is likely to remain the same – largely blurred under the cover of “positive neutrality.” Nevertheless the doctrine is expected to contain more details on important issues of military control and planning than the existing documents on that topic.
Turkmenistan’s first military doctrine, adopted in 1994, largely ignored most of the threats that other Central Asian states have identified as the most pressing, such as militant and radical religious groups. The country’s post-Soviet armed forces also developed under a different trajectory than those of its neighbors. The country inherited some 108,000 troops and 300 military units of the Soviet Army in the early 1990s, eliminating the need to start a national military from scratch. Turkmenistan has had a civilian minister of defense, Redzhepbay Arazov, an atypical status in Central Asia. Although Ashgabat has resisted multilateral projects from the time the Commonwealth of Independent States was created in December 1991, Turkmenistan has still maintained active military ties with Russia.
Turkmenistan’s current legislation on the national military is built upon a deep conviction about the importance of protecting the internal security order from challenges originating within the state as opposed to possible threats imported from abroad. The late president Saparmurat Niyazov adopted a series of decrees in the 1990s and early 2000s stressing domestic order over external defense. The decree “On Turkmenistan’s Fight against Terrorism” provided a detailed explanation of the legal basis for fighting terrorist formations on the territory of Turkmenistan, the order of functional coordination among various state agencies, and the rights and duties of the civilian population in fighting terrorism.
The decree “On Civil Defense” meticulously listed the possible origins of domestic instability. At the top of the potential challenges to national security are natural disasters (earthquakes, floods, etc.) and technological disasters. Unlike in the other four states of Central Asia, Turkmenistan’s identification of a terrorist threat is primarily defined with regard to the security of state institutions and state representatives, most notably the president: “A ‘terrorist act’ is a direct crime of a terrorist nature in the form of blowing up, arson… infringement of the Turkmen President’s life [or that of] other state or public employees…with the status of interim protection and immunity.”
The Turkmen military has virtually turned into the ruling regime’s mechanism for sustaining orderly compliance within all public institutions. According to a 2004 report by the International Crisis Group, during the Niyazov era army conscripts were posted across almost all public institutions in Turkmenistan, including the healthcare and education sectors.
All across Central Asia, there are formal military doctrines that spell out the precise structure of military command, procurement and conscription procedures, threat identification, and use of arms, but in practice these formal guidelines are often overshadowed by informal power-sharing arrangements among political and military officials. However, these doctrines still provide insight into a regime’s threat perceptions and cooperation priorities. They allow outsiders to understand how the role the national military doctrine plays in military planning has transformed since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and how states identify their sources of insecurity and potential partners.
Turkmenistan’s neighbors have also refined their military planning since independence. Following its civil war and experience with integrating opposition troops into formal structures, Tajikistan did not adopt a military doctrine until 2005. To date, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan each have already promulgated two incarnations of military doctrines.
The new military doctrine will make Turkmenistan more similar to other former Soviet states by providing officially defined and, hopefully, publicly accessible information on military planning strategies and threat perception.
(Ca-news.org, Turkmenistan.ru, March 3-4)