Professional army, or neutrality, for Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan's President Kurmanbek Bakiyev has apparently publicly endorsed the idea of a smaller, fully professional military. Reports Central Asia Online:
On March 18 in Osh, where the country’s first professional military unit began deployment, he said, “Well-trained professionals, not 18- and 19-year-old boys, should be serving in the military”.
That is likely true, though conspicuously missing in Bakiyev's comments is how the government would pay for such a thing. In addition, the results from Kyrgyzstan's moves toward professionalization -- like the unit in Osh -- have not been encouraging, according to Jane's Sentinel:
Around 90 per cent of personnel in the southern group are now serving on contracts, but there is no evidence that the presence of these 'Kontrakniki' have enhanced combat readiness or enhanced overall standards in the region; surprisingly so, given the awareness of its strategic significance.
There's also a lengthy discussion in the article about the possibility of Kyrgyzstan declaring neutrality and abolishing the military (though there is no evidence the government is considering any such thing). Argues the professor who put forward the idea:
Given its size, the Kyrgyz army would be “helpless in the face of a serious attack”, Suyunbayev said. Instead, he said, Bishkek should disband the standing army while retaining border guards, interior ministry forces and intelligence agencies. Those remaining forces, in his view, could take care of extremist threats, while a neutral diplomatic stance would make the country a “demilitarised state in a militarised territory”, he argued.
Others point out, however, that a neutral country ought to have an external security guarantor and uncontested sovereignty, and Kyrgyzstan has neither. The latter seems right to me, but the former seems both unnecessary -- neither Switzerland and Turkmenistan, both neutral, has an external security guarantor -- and would seem to obviate any hope of neutrality. How neutral is Armenia, which depends on Russia, or Japan, which depends on the U.S.? Anyway, food for thought, and it seems a positive step that these sorts of things are being thought about in Kyrgyzstan.
Joshua Kucera is the Turkey/Caucasus editor at Eurasianet, and author of The Bug Pit.
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