Smack dab between China and Russia sits Kazakhstan, a country of roughly 18 million people, and through which some of Central Asia’s most important cargo shipping routes traverse. The fastest overland shipping route for Chinese goods bound for Russia or Europe transits through Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan’s border security agencies inspected an estimated 100,000 shipping containers in 2017. Estimates show this number increasing to 500,000 by 2020, and to more than one million by 2025. Searching for illicit and smuggled goods in the midst of this many containers is akin to searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack.
In 2000, Kazakhstan partnered with the State Department’s Export Control and Border Security (EXBS) program. The EXBS program, which the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation manages, works with 67 countries to harmonize national strategic trade control practices with international standards.
As an EXBS partner, we work with several Kazakh governmental agencies on export control laws and capacity building projects to help the country fortify its borders and seaports. Border security is a key priority for Astana, which is committed to preventing illicit trafficking in goods, conventional weapons, and materials that can be used in weapons of mass destruction.
In partnership with the Kazakh government, the EXBS program helped finance and construct a large training facility in Almaty for the Kazakhstani border guards. The facility is made up of two components: the “practical exercise training facility (PETF),” which will train border security officials, and the “practical interdiction training territory (PITT),” which will give cadets hands-on interdiction instruction at commercial vehicle crossings, rail stations, and airports.
The PETF was completed in May 2016, and is now a fully functional facility equipped with vehicle and pedestrian immigration and emigration lanes. The main building holds baggage x-ray and passport screening lanes, classrooms, administrative space—even a dining hall. Additional facilities include vehicle inspection pits, K9 boarding facilities, a customs and agricultural inspection building, and a secondary inspection area. This state-of-the-art facility will make Kazakhstan and the region more secure through improved WMD and conventional weapons interdiction, dual-use commodity identification, and more efficient and improved border operations.
Construction on the PITT is nearly complete and training has already started. Kazakhstan’s border security officials will increase their skills in inspecting international aircraft, including techniques in how to interdict smuggling. The facility also includes a variety of rail cars for training: a functional first-class passenger car; an economy-class passenger car; a box freight car; a flatcar with shipping container; and a chemical tanker on two tracks with a raised platform.
These border guard facilities stand out as excellent examples of U.S.-Kazakhstan cooperation, and draw deserved attention to Kazakhstan’s commitment to international security. As the volume of goods transiting through Kazakhstan increases, these facilities will be critical components of the country’s ability to identify illicit and smuggled goods and fortify its borders. Sitting along ever-more bustling shipping routes, Kazakhstan is proving that legal commerce can transit safely while illicit goods will be stopped in their tracks—a win-win for everyone.
About the Author: Jennifer Bavisotto is a Public Affairs Officer in the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation at the U.S. Department of State.
Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.com.