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The Miseducation of Central Asia's Militaries

Training and education is not the sexiest aspect of the military; it's much more fun to read (and write) about operations and weapons purchases. But as scholar Sébastien Peyrouse correctly points out, training is often overlooked and often more important than we think. He has a piece on Central Asian military training in The Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies (the entire issue, in fact, is on “Security and Defense Reform in Central Asia.") The conclusions aren't too shocking and parallel the larger sociopolitical situation in the region: the situation overall is poor, Kazakhstan is in the best shape, but Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are hampered by their insularity and Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan by their poverty:

Numerous difficulties are compounded in Central Asia: a loss of the Soviet-trained and most competent personnel; administrative sluggishness and the inertia of the administrative military machine; bad will on behalf of some of the high-ranked officers to participate in reform; rampant corruption that hampers modernization; deterioration of military morality and the military’s image in society; demotivating salaries for soldiers and officers who are not involved in the shadow economy networks, and so on. The conjunction between managing the Soviet heritage, dealing with financial difficulties, and solving 21st-century security challenges is therefore complex, and it risks impeding the overall military capacities of some of the Central Asian states.

Kazakhstan's prospects are the best...:

Kazakhstan is likely to become the most modernized military power, although Uzbekistan will probably remain dominant in numerical terms. Astana will likely have an army that is able to integrate both with the CSTO and with NATO, and is able also to preserve its links with Russia at the same time as having international visibility, chiefly towards the West.

... though many of the reforms are "superficial":

If Kazakhstan is the most advanced in terms of training reform, since it has both the financial means and sufficient political openness, it has been criticized for the superficial nature of the changes. The authorities like to insist on their transition to Western standards, which is part of their corporate branding to the international community and especially to NATO members. The reforms thus serve to promote the most visible elements abroad, such as the peacekeeping brigade KazBat, where the structures limited to the domestic arena are slow to get the attention they deserve. Even the Military Institute of Foreign Languages, set up to provide training in Chinese, English, German, French, Korean and Turkish, today seem to be desperately short of language experts. Courses are essentially given by graduates who have neither experience nor competence in teaching, whereas many specialists have been discharged from their functions or have changed career.

Of particular interest is the training of Kazakhstan's nascent navy. According to Peyrouse, the new naval academy is both training too many sailors and not training them well enough:

[I]ts creation of a naval force in the Caspian Sea... led to the opening of a Marine Military Institute at Aktau in 2001. This Institute trains forty officers each year in questions linked to maritime counter-terrorism, anti-drug struggle, research, and sea rescue. Graduates are sent not only to serve the Kazakh Caspian fleet but also the civil and maritime fleet.

Some decisions also seem to be founded on a logic of prestige more than on one of effectiveness. The Maritime Military Institute trains many more officers than the country requires, given the weakness of the Caspian fleet, and some of them are unable to find any openings in their specialization. The officers trained in Aktau are, in addition, rivaled by those who left for the Russian military academies and who have received genuine practical training in the Black Sea, the Baltic Sea, or in the Pacific. The Institute would like to re-orient itself partly toward the civil domain in order to train people for the trade fleet (Kazmortransflot), which is lacking in qualified personnel, but military and civil personnel cannot legally be trained together given the secret nature of the information disseminated during military instruction. It is therefore possible that the Aktau Institute will be given a new profile in the years to come and that Kazakh marines will undertake training abroad only.

The Miseducation of Central Asia's Militaries

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