The U.S., U.K., and Kazakhstan are conducting their annual military exercise, Steppe Eagle, at the Ilisky Training Center in Kazakhstan. The focus of the exercise, as it has been in previous years, is to help prepare Kazakhstan's nascent peacekeeping brigade, KAZBRIG, for deployments abroad. Helping Kazakhstan become capable of deploying its military in international missions has been one of the top goals of U.S. and Western military cooperation with the country, though Kazakhstan is now several years -- and counting -- behind in meeting that goal. Kazakhstan has yet to deploy any sort of military unit abroad as part of a United Nations peacekeeping mission, and has had only one brief role in a NATO/U.S.-led mission, with a small group of military engineers in the early days of the Iraq war. Kazakhstan's proposal to send a small group of military officers to Afghanistan was quickly abandoned, adding to the skepticism of how serious Kazakhstan was about deploying its military abroad.
Analyst Roger McDermott, who has closely followed KAZBRIG and Kazakhstan's military modernization generally, has a good analysis of Steppe Eagle 2012 in Jamestown's Eurasia Daily Monitor, in which he reports on the current state of KAZBRIG:
KAZBRIG, however, is only a paper brigade at present, since the second battalion is partially formed, and the third battalion has no personnel; the mainstay of the force remains the 1st battalion KAZBAT... Within the structure itself there are continued problems linked to recruiting sufficient numbers of contract personnel and retaining these over a lengthy period, as well as concerning the procurement of standard weapons and equipment. Achieving full NATO interoperability for KAZBRIG remains a goal in Kazakhstan’s Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP).
And he has some specific information about the country's peacekeeping plans:
There are signs that Astana is seriously considering sending part of KAZBRIG to participate in a peace support operation under a UN flag, possibly in Africa. The 2011 Military Doctrine commits the country to further develop its peacekeeping capabilities, and this is highlighted as the only area of cooperation with NATO—despite the existence of ongoing PfP programs in which Kazakhstan participates included in the country’s IPAP agreement. Senior Kazakhstani officers told Jamestown that the defense ministry has also drawn up a list of possible UN deployments and arrived at seven feasible operations in which it may become involved. This will be submitted to the foreign ministry for further consideration. When the selection process is complete, it will fall on the parliament to authorize the deployment of KAZBRIG personnel abroad. It is less likely, therefore, that KAZBRIG will be deployed in NATO-led operations.
Astana and Washington are currently negotiating a new five-year bilateral cooperation plan to enter into force from 2013. Undoubtedly, the issue of a quid pro quo, meaning an actual foreign deployment of KAZBRIG elements, will be built into the plan and the subsequent training and defense cooperation. Steppe Eagle 2012 appears to be a small step in the direction of Kazakhstan becoming a fuller player in international peace support operations.
Among the countries covered by The Bug Pit, only two on the margins of the region have any soldiers in UN peacekeeping missions: Turkey and, perhaps surprisingly, Mongolia. The latter has 426 soldiers serving in UN missions (as of July), almost all in South Sudan. It has previously sent over 2,000 soldiers to Sierra Leone, and last year proposed sending 1,500 to Cote D'Ivoire, though nothing seems to have come of that. Anyway, taking part in a UN mission still would make Kazakhstan somewhat of a pioneer in the region.