Kazakhstan Pursues Peacekeeping

U.N. missions provide practical training for Kazakhstan to modernize its military



One of the tasks for the Kazakhstan Armed Forces is to participate in peacekeeping, humanitarian and other operations. To achieve these objectives, military doctrine prioritizes political-diplomatic, legal, economic, humanitarian, information and other nonmilitary engagements. The 21st century environment is unpredictable and perilous, with conflicts dominated by territorial, ethnic and religious differences. Traditional challenges have been changing rapidly, and to respond to new asymmetric security threats, military must employ innovative methods and techniques and work effectively in a multinational, interagency environment.

In accordance with military doctrine, it is clear that peace activities are one pillar of Kazakhstan’s national security policy. Kazakhstan’s active participation in peace operations under United Nations Security Council resolutions is important for the promotion of Kazakhstan’s military-political position and the broader interests of Kazakhstan, as well as extending the country’s prestige internationally. In addition, the country launched its own aid agency, KAZAID.

South Central Asia is an unstable region with high levels of activity by extremist terrorist organizations and drug traffickers, a low standard of living and high unemployment. In this regard, Kazakhstan may need to find a balance of power that can guarantee security and stability in the region. In any case, Kazakhstan has indicated that it will first rely on its own strength. Kazakhstan is unlikely to face a direct conventional threat; therefore, the Kazakhstan Armed Forces’ top priority task is to be prepared to carry out combat missions in low- and medium-intensity conflicts. It is precisely to deal with such conflicts that Kazakhstan needs a small, highly mobile and professional army with better command and control systems, communications and information support than currently exists. Kazakhstan’s military doctrine has continued to shape the Kazakhstan Armed Forces from a post-Soviet mass mobilization military, shifting from large-scale warfare to a smaller brigade-based army capable of handling the low-intensity conflicts and military operations that Kazakhstan would likely face.

In this regard, the NATO member countries have played a very important role in transforming the Kazakhstan Armed Forces from a traditional territorial defense role into expeditionary, professional and technologically advanced force capable of meeting threats in the diverse security environment.

Peacekeeping capabilities 

The Kazakhstan Ministry of Defense’s decision to take the first cautious steps of cooperation with Western countries started with the creation of its peacekeeping forces. In 2000, the Kazakh Peacekeeping Battalion (KAZBAT) was formed to meet the obligations of maintaining international peace and security. It was the first military unit in Kazakhstan’s history composed only of contracted military service members. To enhance the peace operations capability, in October 2007, in accordance with the Kazakhstan Ministry of Defense Directive, the 38th Separate Air Assault Brigade was renamed Kazakh Peacekeeping Brigade (KAZBRIG), and KAZBAT became part of the KAZBRIG. To enhance the peacekeeping capabilities and implement the cooperation plan between Kazakhstan and NATO and its member countries, the first Central Asian Partnership for Peace Training Center — called the Kazakhstan Center (KAZCENT) — was opened July 1, 2008, in the Kazakhstan’s Military Institute of Ground Forces. The center’s main objective is to train military personnel of Kazakhstan, NATO and partners for participation in peacekeeping operations.

KAZCENT has held more than 30 events, including courses titled English Military Terminology in Multinational Operations, NATO Administrative Procedures, and Military-Civilian Interaction. In 2012, to enhance KAZCENT peacekeeping capabilities, the Kazakhstan Ministry of Defense and the United States Department of Defense signed a Three-Year Plan of Cooperation in support of Kazakhstan’s Partnership for Peace Training Center.

In 2003, Kazakhstan, the U.S. and the United Kingdom started Steppe Eagle, an annual peacekeeping joint training exercise. Since 2012, Steppe Eagle has been held in the spirit of the NATO Partnership for Peace with a focus on training and strengthening peacekeeping capabilities. The same year, Kazakhstan signed an Individual Partnership Action Plan with NATO. Military members from eight countries have participated in the exercise. In August 2013, about 1,600 military personnel from Italy, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Lithuania, Switzerland, Tajikistan, the United Kingdom, the United States and observers from Belarus, Germany, Spain and Ukraine participated. During the exercise, KAZBRIG’s first battalion, KAZBAT-1, passed a NATO evaluation that permits it operate with NATO forces in international peace support operations. It was the first Central Asian country to achieve this.

Kazakh Peacekeeping Battalion Soldiers shake hands with role players after an exercise.
Kazakh Peacekeeping Battalion Soldiers shake hands with role players after an exercise.

Peacekeeping training is mostly carried out in the framework of bilateral military cooperation with the U.S., the U.K., Turkey, Germany, France and other countries. The U.S. has made the most significant contributions of training and equipment to KAZBRIG. It has received 101 high-mobility, multipurpose wheeled vehicles, as well as engineering, personal protection, and communications equipment. Based in Almaty, KAZBRIG completed classrooms for peacekeeping and language training, with the installation of multimedia equipment, as well as construction of the KAZBRIG Peacekeeping Training Center.

Participation in peacekeeping

NATO certification confirmed KAZBRIG’s ability to operate in a multinational peacekeeping environment under a U.N. mandate. In line with its military doctrine, in 2013, the Kazakhstan government announced its plan to participate in U.N. peacekeeping missions. After extensive peacekeeping activities, the Kazakhstan Ministry of Defense collaborated with the Kazakhstan Foreign Ministry to initiate certain developments in this direction. They suggested, in consideration of political practicability and compliance with Kazakhstan’s foreign policy interests, not to include missions that may cause mixed reactions of Kazakhstan`s major partners or its civil society.

The first KAZBAT experience in peace operations began in Iraq in 2003 and ran for more than five years. The Kazakhstan peacekeeping included explosive ordnance disposal experts, engineers, and medical personnel. More than 300 Kazakhstan Soldiers gained experience in ordnance disposal and organization of combat activities. The military engineers destroyed about 5 million pieces of explosives and ordnance.

Two officers were also deployed on U.N. missions in Nepal and one officer on a mission to Georgia as a military observer. As part of a new military strategy, five military observers were sent to the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), and two military observers were sent to the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI). Furthermore, the Kazakhstan Ministry of Defense is working on sending the first Kazakhstan military contingent to U.N. missions in Africa. Understanding the complexity of the mechanism for the dispatch of and participation by self-contained units without adequate experience, as well as the inability to deploy replacement rotations of appropriately trained battalions, the Ministry of Defense is planning to send a military unit at the company level.

Usefulness of peacekeeping

Military units often conduct peace operations in volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous environments. The modern operational environment for a peace operation may include hybrid threats, failing states, absence of the rule of law, terrorism, violations of human rights, collapsed economies and humanitarian crises.

Such a complex operational environment requires that commanders and Soldiers operate effectively at all levels, under clear mission orders and strong leadership skills.

A Kazakh Peacekeeping Battalion Soldier stands guard while waiting for a medevac helicopter during a training event at Steppe Eagle 2014.
A Kazakh Peacekeeping Battalion Soldier stands guard while waiting for a medevac helicopter during a training event at Steppe Eagle 2014.

The leaders must not only share risk across echelons to create opportunities; they must also assign responsibilities effectively to maintain a balance between the art of command and the science of control. The ability to collaborate and operate with teamwork in a joint and multinational environment is critical.

To gain practical experience of warfare in contemporary settings under real conditions, military forces of many countries are actively participating in peace operations. Participation in peace operations is a necessary and essential part of the constant training of troops in modern forms of armed confrontation, especially for countries that have militaries not engaging in any conflicts.

Moreover, participation in peace operations should be considered not only as providing dividends in the military aspect, but also in the political, diplomatic and economic aspects. In terms of internal budgeting for participation in peace operations, it is an added incentive that the U.N. reimburses member states for providing contingent military personnel, equipment and support services to any U.N. operations.


In 2014, Steppe Eagle was conducted at the U.S. Army Joint Military Readiness Center, and it was the most realistic exercise ever for Kazakhstan Soldiers. From the beginning, when Kazakhstan’s peacekeeping troops were deployed with their equipment to Germany on two brand-new C-295 Airbus transport planes, until the end, they showed their ability to work in a multinational-force environment. Despite all positive feedback, it was noted that the decision-making process was centralized during this exercise. This is probably the most important issue for KAZBRIG and for the whole Kazakhstan Armed Forces.

Multiple combinations of regular, irregular and complex operational environments require a new philosophy of command, which should answer how to approach the art of command and science of control on the 21st-century battlefield. To successfully confront modern threats, the Kazakhstan Armed Forces in 2013 launched its transition to a fully professional army. The creation of a professional army in a modern context requires an integrated, complex approach. It is important to clearly define a new philosophy of the command and control system, and mission command would be a just right guidance to change the Kazakhstan Armed Forces organization culture.

Kazakh Peacekeeping Battalion Soldiers navigate through challenging terrain during a patrol to set up observation points as part of Steppe Eagle 2014.
Peacekeeping Battalion Soldiers navigate through challenging terrain during a patrol to set up observation points as part of Steppe Eagle 2014.

In turn, for successful operation in an international, multinational environment the Kazakhstan Armed Forces should adjust their current peace operations concept. First, based on KAZCENT, Kazakhstan Armed Forces should create a peace operations training center for selected military units. The complexity of modern peace operations requires high standards of training, management and leadership skills. In this connection, military and civilian personnel or units assigned for the mission must train with experts.

Information technology must be one of the instruments of training and distance education, because ability to quickly respond and share information effectively are very important.

Second, KAZBRIZ should become an Air Assault Brigade without direct obligations for maintaining international peace and security, which would allow it to systemize different brigade structures, strengths, and combat training systems. Third, the Kazakhstan Armed Forces should change its gender policy and increase female participation in peace operations training. Females can carry out different tasks and can also enhance units’ capabilities, and gender awareness training has to be conducted in every military unit.

It would also be important to enhance foreign language training for all military personal because the complexity of operations, the multiplicity of nationalities, cultures and professional disciplines requires clear communication and understanding during the peace operations.

Kazakh peacekeeping forces work on riot control techniques. The U.N. requires peacekeeping troops to be trained in such skills.
Kazakh peacekeeping forces work on riot control techniques. The U.N. requires peacekeeping troops to be trained in such skills.

Finally, to adequately and successfully respond to today’s threats in a manner that demonstrates that the Kazakhstan Armed Forces can understand situations, make decisions, direct action, and accomplish missions, the Kazakhstan Ministry of Defense should adapt a new philosophy of mission command.

The Kazakhstan Armed Forces must learn how to effectively use the instrument of peace operations. The ability of small units to conduct successful operations on the ground can have huge impacts at the operational and strategic level. Maintaining unity of effort between the civilian, military branches, administration and logistics components in peace operations requires the sustained development and good leadership skills.

It is to be hoped that from the small step of participating in U.N. peacekeeping operations, the Kazakhstan Armed Forces can change its military culture for the better and adopt a new mission command philosophy.

With the approval of the author, this article is a condensed version of a paper titled “The Kazakhstan Armed Forces Peace Operations Prospects,” written for the Strategy Research Project at the U.S. Army War College. Resources from the following organizations were used in researching this article: U.S. Army War College; Foreign Military Studies Office at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; Eurasian Council of Foreign Affairs; Tengrynews website, Deutsche Welle website, U.S. Central Command website; www.cacianalyst.org; The Challenges Project; The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation website; http://www.odkb-csto.org; http://www.inform.kz/rus; The Jamestown Foundation; Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Kazakhstan; Center of Military History, United States Army; U.S. Department of the Army; and the United Nations.

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