On August 21, 2018, the governments of Kazakhstan and India represented by Kazakh Deputy Minister of Defense Lieutenant-General Talgat Mukhtarov and Indian Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Prabhat Kumar, respectively, signed a memorandum of understanding on the joint deployment of the Kazakh peacekeeping contingent as part of the Indian battalion in the United Nations (UN) Interim Force in Lebanon. The main purpose of the document is to provide a legal basis for the participation of Kazakhstan’s armed forces in this peacekeeping mission, as well as to determine the status of the servicemen to be deployed in the Middle Eastern country [Ministry of Defense, 2018a]. It is expected that the peacekeeping unit will be sent to Lebanon in late October 2018 to join the UN multinational force consisting of more than 10,000 military personnel [Kazinform, 2018a]. It is worth noting that Lieutenant-General Mukhtarov announced Kazakhstan’s intention to send 120 peacekeepers to Lebanon this fall as early as in April 2018. He then noted that the Ministry of Defense was engaged in necessary preparatory work, including the implementation of standard procedures required by the UN [Kazinform, 2018b]. On June 15, 2018, the Ministry presented President Nazarbayev’s proposal to send the peacekeeping unit to Lebanon at the joint session of the chambers of the Parliament of Kazakhstan, and the parliamentarians voted unanimously in its favor [Kazinform, 2018c].
In accordance with the Military Doctrine of Kazakhstan approved in September 2017, the country’s participation in peacekeeping and humanitarian operations, including on the basis of UN Security Council resolutions, is recognized as one of the main directions of its military strategic activities [Ministry of Defense, 2017a]. At the same time, while being involved diplomatically in promoting confidence building measures between states and facilitating peaceful solutions to various conflicts, Kazakhstan has a limited record in the field of international peacekeeping. The deployment of the composite infantry battalion made of Ministry of Defense servicemen, border guards and interior troops in Tajikistan from 1993 to 2001 was officially Kazakhstan’s initial peacekeeping experience, but in fact the unit was responsible, along with the Russian and other Central Asian forces, for protecting the Tajik-Afghan border from militants and criminal groups engaged in arms smuggling and drug trafficking [UN]. Kazakhstan’s another early attempt to embark upon peacekeeping was its participation in the Central Asian Battalion (Centrasbat) formed in 1996 of the national peacekeeping units of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. From 1997 to 2000, the battalion participated in a series of U.S. and NATO sponsored annual military exercises designed to increase interoperability of the regional forces and improve their ability to conduct basic peacekeeping and humanitarian operations within a multinational framework [McDermott, 2004].
In January 2000, President Nazarbayev issued an edict creating a separate Kazakh Peacekeeping Battalion (Kazbat) composed of contracted military servicemen. The Kazbat’s first peacekeeping experience was the deployment in Iraq as part of the U.S.-led multinational stabilization force from 2003 to 2008. Nine peacekeeping contingents totaling 290 military engineers and medical personnel were rotated over five years, contributing to the post-war reconstruction of Iraq. They carried out various missions, including mine clearance, convoy security, perimeter and base defense, traffic control, and humanitarian assistance operations such as water purification and medical assistance. In total, the Kazbat disposed of about 5 million pieces of explosive ordnance and provided treatment to more than 500 Iraqi civilians [Daly, 2008]. In the following years, Kazakhstan continued to develop its national peacekeeping potential, mainly with Western assistance, through participation in military exercises, such as Steppe Eagle, and experience sharing in the planning, implementation and maintenance of peacekeeping operations.
In October 2007, the 38th Separate Air Assault Brigade was renamed the Kazakh Peacekeeping Brigade (Kazbrig), and the Kazbat joined it in 2008. In July 2008, under the Kazakhstan-NATO cooperation plan, the first Partnership for Peace training center in Central Asia called KAZCENT was opened at the Military Institute of Ground Forces in Almaty, with the aim to train military personnel selected to participate in peacekeeping operations. As part of Kazakhstan’s Airmobile Forces, the Kazbrig consisted of three battalions. The Kazbat-1 was designated to participate in UN peacekeeping missions, the Kazbat-2 was intended to be used in peacekeeping operations under the aegis of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, and the Kazbat-3 was considered the Kazbrig’s backup unit. The Kazbat-1, which had 550 servicemen, passed the NATO certification that confirmed the battalion’s ability to operate in a multinational peacekeeping environment under a UN Security Council mandate [Radio Azattyq, 2015; Nigmetullin]. In 2017, the Airmobile Forces were renamed as the Air Assault Forces, and in March 2018 the Kazbat-1 was separated from the Kazbrig and transformed into the Kazpolk, the servicemen of which will form the Kazakh peacekeeping contingent in Lebanon [Radio Azattyq, 2018].
After the completion of the Kazbat’s mission in Iraq in 2008, Kazakhstan has not deployed its peacekeeping units abroad, only sending specially trained military officers as observers or liaison staff officers to aid UN peacekeeping operations in such countries as Nepal, Western Sahara and Ivory Coast [Kazinform, 2018d]. The mission in Lebanon will become the first deployment of Kazakhstan’s peacekeeping unit after President Nazarbayev signed the law “On the Peacekeeping Activity of the Republic of Kazakhstan” in June 2015 [Republic of Kazakhstan, 2015]. It is no coincidence that Kazakhstan has decided to deploy its peacekeepers in Lebanon as part of the Indian contingent. India has vast experience of participation in various UN missions for almost seven decades and is currently one of the largest troop contributors to the organization’s peacekeeping operations. It should be noted that military-to-military contacts between Kazakhstan and India have intensified in recent years, especially in the field of peacemaking. Indian instructors conducted relevant training both in Kazakhstan and at the Center for UN Peacekeeping in New Delhi for Kazbrig and Kazpolk personnel, who have then become instructors for their fellow servicemen. The curriculum includes an extensive theoretical block on the main types of peacekeeping missions, as well as legal aspects of civil-military relations and the protection of civilians in conflict zones. Kazakh peacekeepers also study UN rules and guidelines for the use of force, the concept of operations, combat orders and other important documents. During practical classes, the servicemen master skills and abilities necessary for patrolling, escorting humanitarian supplies, solving conflict situations, organizing and protecting an operation base, and deploying checkpoints [Ministry of Defense, 2017b; 2018b]. Moreover, the armed forces of the two countries conducted a series of joint military drills aimed at achieving interoperability, including the Prabal Dostyk (Robust Friendship)-2017 antiterrorist exercise held at Bakloh in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh in November 2017 and the KazInd-2018 tactical exercise held at the Matybulak training ground in the Zhambyl region in September 2018 [Ministry of Defense, 2017c; 2018c].
According to Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Defense, all the selected future peacekeepers have been trained in accordance with the UN standards and are fluent in English and other foreign languages, and the unit as a whole is fully prepared and equipped for the mission in Lebanon [Kazinform, 2018d; 2018e]. However, it remains unclear how the public opinion in Kazakhstan will react to the forthcoming deployment of the peacekeeping unit in Lebanon. It is worth recalling that in 2002 the Ministry of Defense considered a possibility of deploying Kazakh peacekeepers in Afghanistan, but no political decision was eventually made, mainly due to strong domestic opposition [McDermott, 2004]. After the deaths of 17 Kazakh soldiers in Tajikistan in 1995 and of Captain Kairat Kudabayev in Iraq in 2005, there were fierce discussions in the country about the rationale for sending Kazakhstan’s peacekeeping units to hot spots. In late June 2017, the reports circulated in mass media that Kazakhstan’s military might be deployed in Syria as part of the multilateral mechanism to monitor the ceasefire regime. The news caused a mixed, though mostly negative, reaction among the country’s general public. The Kazakh authorities later denied the reports as baseless stating that Kazakhstan would consider the possibility of sending its peacekeepers to any humanitarian crisis spot or conflict area only under a relevant UN Security Council mandate. Nevertheless, this media frenzy has once again put the issue of Kazakhstan’s involvement in multilateral peace missions under the spotlight. While opponents argue that it will jeopardize the internal stability and negatively affect Kazakhstan’s international reputation, few supporters claim that participation in peacekeeping operations will help the country’s military forces to gain practical experience of contemporary warfare under real-life conditions.
Nevertheless, Kazakhstan plans to intensify its support for UN peace operations as peacekeeping is recognized as an important part of the country’s defense and security policy, which also plays a significant role for promoting Kazakhstan’s prestige in the international arena. However, the country’s leadership must understand all the complications associated with the participation in peace missions, especially in such a conflict-ridden region as the Middle East. A peacekeeping unit deployed on the ground often operates in a volatile, uncertain, and complex environment full of both traditional security threats and new asymmetric challenges, addressing which requires appropriate training, extensive knowledge, adequate experience, and innovative approaches. Successful peacekeeping practice would enhance Kazakhstan’s image on the global arena and advance its national interests, but any failure would damage the country’s reputation and may lead to domestic resentment.
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Note: The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the Institute’s editorial policy.
Dauren Aben holds a Master’s in International Relations from Kainar University, Almaty, Kazakhstan, and a Master’s in International Policy Studies and certificates in nonproliferation studies, conflict resolution, and commercial diplomacy from the California-based Monterey Institute of International Studies. Dauren previously worked as a senior project manager and researcher at the Nazarbayev University Graduate School of Education. In 2011-2014, he worked as a senior research fellow at the Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies under the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan. In 2008-20