Russia's Armed Forces on the Brink of Reform
Authored by Dr. Stephen J. Blank.
March 16, 1998
Despite over a dozen years of talk, the Soviet and now Russian military has not undergone a true military reform. What did happen was a form of degeneration and disintegration, but not a methodically planned and directed transformation and/or adaptation to new conditions. Consequently, defense policy, in all of its ramifications, has remained essentially unreformed and remains an impediment to Russia's accommodation to today's strategic realities.
This study presents an assessment of Russian defense policy as Russia has begun, in late 1997 and 1998, to grapple with the enormous challenges that inhere in the process of military reform. The outcome of what can only be a protracted process will have profound implications, not only for Russia, but for its neighbors and partners, chief among them being the United States. Given the coincidence of this reform process with what many believe to be a revolution in military affairs and the continuing urgency of reducing nuclear threats, the ongoing observation of Russian military policies remains very important for the United States.
The Russian armed forces, by all accounts, are fast approaching a point of no return. The crisis in the armed forces is directly traceable to the policies of the Yeltsin government which have alternated among politicization, fragmentation of those forces into multiple, contending militaries, and the creation of a quasi-authoritarian political process where military policy is decided by irregular institutions that account to and answer to nobody other than President Yeltsin. Similar problems plague the defense economy which is probably still too large and at the same time misdirected, while being unable to support the forces presently under arms. In any case, nobody knows how many men are under arms or the cost of maintaining them, or where defense allocations go.
Not surprisingly, military policy and the so-called current military reform more resemble bureaucratic exercises in turf-grabbing or the court politics of the Tsars then they do real reform. While efforts are underway to downsize the armed forces, spend less on them, and revamp the force structure, these moves seem driven by concerns other than strategic rationality. Moreover, they threaten to bring about a further devolution of central power to the regions and heightened possibilities for state fragmentation.
At the same time, Russian writing on both nuclear and information war (IW) continues to manifest the same kinds of inability to think rationally and coherently about strategy and could lead the government to adopt military policies that will lead to disaster and which are misapplied to the real threats that Russia faces. Russian nuclear policy and much, but not all, thinking about information warfare could either lead to a military catastrophe or, in the case of IW, to an internal civil war. In either case, the only answer to the crisis of the armed forces and of the state is more, not less, democracy, and a truly stable defense establishment tailored to the real economic needs and capacities of the country. Unhappily, neither of these possibilities seems likely to be realized anytime soon.
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