Armed Forces Overview: 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. Since the late 1990s, the number of active military personnel has grown considerably, from about 40,000 in 1995 to about 66,000 in 2004. In 2004 the army had 46,800 active personnel and the air force, 19,000 active personnel. The maritime border guard had 3,000 personnel. Reserve forces totaled 237,000. In 2005 much of Kazakhstan’s equipment still was of the late Soviet era; hence, it required significant upgrading or replacement.
Foreign Military Relations: 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, and Tajikistan. That group has focused on collective security in Central Asia. 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. The United States has trained officers and provided some naval equipment.
External Threat: Post-Soviet border disputes with China and Uzbekistan have been settled, and in 2005 Kazakhstan had no likelihood of involvement in armed conflict with any neighbor.
Defense Budget: After resisting increases in the 1990s, the Nazarbayev government has increased the defense budget annually since 2000. Between 2001 and 2004, the amount increased from US$180 million to US$362 million.
Major Military Units: The army has four mechanized rifle brigades, two artillery brigades, one mechanized rifle division, one mechanized rifle brigade, 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 Aktau and Atyrau.
Major Military Equipment: The army has 650 main battle tanks, 140 reconnaissance vehicles, 508 armored infantry fighting vehicles, 84 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. The air force has 40 MiG–29 fighter aircraft, 53 Sukhoi ground attack fighter aircraft, 2 attack helicopters, and 12 Sukhoi–24 reconnaissance aircraft. The navy has 10 small fighting vessels.
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.
Paramilitary Forces: In 2004 Kazakhstan had a total of 34,500 paramilitary personnel, of which 12,000 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.
Foreign Military Forces: Kazakhstan has provided overflight and overland supply shipment rights to U.S. forces in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.
Military Forces Abroad: In mid-2005, 29 Kazakhstani medical troops were attached to Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq.
Police: The police, numbering 20,000 in 2005, are supervised by the Ministry of Interior, which traditionally has been run by a military official. The first civilian minister of interior was appointed in 2003, placing all of Kazakhstan’s security forces under civilian control. The government has used police to harass and incarcerate opposition journalists, political figures, and demonstrators. Human rights organizations have reported frequent incidents of police brutality. The secret police have been effective in discouraging opposition organizations, but the regular police, who are poorly paid, are ineffective and often corrupt. In 2003 the Ministry of Interior reported 300,000 complaints of police corruption. In the early 2000s, the government has taken some measures to improve police practices.
Internal Threat: The government has successfully discouraged civil unrest except for demonstrations on specific issues such as pension arrears. Crime figures on Kazakhstan are not available, but organized narcotics smuggling and human trafficking have prospered in recent years because of Kazakhstan’s location between source countries and Russia and the ineffectiveness of border controls.
Terrorism: In 1995 Kazakhstan joined what later became the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a group also including China, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, aimed at regional prevention of Islamist and separatist activities. However, Kazakhstan’s involvement with terrorism, either as a victim or as a supporter, is not considered likely. Although Islamic fundamentalism has no attraction for Kazakhstan’s Muslims, the government poses the terrorist threat as a pretext for domestic repression. In 2005 the Majlis banned the pan-Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir as a terrorist organization because of the group’s calls for an international Islamic government.
Human Rights: Government control of the media has increased in the early 2000s. Newspaper and broadcast reporters have been beaten and imprisoned when government corruption became a major focus of reporting. As an additional control, the government has restricted access to printing and distribution facilities. In 2004 Nazarbayev approved a law restricting press coverage of elections, and media coverage of the Majlis elections of September 2004 was severely restricted. Expression of meaningful political opposition is limited by electoral malfeasance (as noted by international monitors in each of the most recent three national elections) and restrictions on party registration. Prosecutors have very broad authority that negates the constitutional guarantee of a fair trial and has resulted in reversal of some trial verdicts. Police brutality is reported in prisons and in dealing with suspects. Prison conditions are very harsh. The constitution guarantees the right of assembly, but the Law on National Security has been used widely to label demonstrations and meetings as security threats. All public organizations must register with the Ministry of Justice. The vagueness of laws on nongovernmental organizations has been used to restrict the activity of such groups, and police harassment has been frequent. Kazakhstan has been the source, destination, and transit country for trafficking in people. According to estimates, in 2004 such incidents involved several thousand victims, mainly young women. Some 25,000 crimes against women were reported in 2003. Freedom of religion generally is protected, and religious organizations are not required to register. Jehovah’s Witnesses and Hare Krishna members have met local persecution, however.