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Belarus - Military Spending

Belarus has cooperated with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, through the Partnership for Peace Trust Fund, to destroy a total of 700,000 conventional landmines. Belarus also had a stockpile of over 3 million non-conventional anti-personnel mines, which it had pledged to destroy by March 2008 through an EU-funded project. In addition, there are numerous World War II-era minefields still in place that kill or injure several Belarusians every year.

The Ministry of Defense is experiencing success in the area of military reform. Planned changes include combining the Air and Air Defense Forces, downsizing the force structure about 30% from 83,000 to 60,000, transitioning from a conscript to a contract force, and modernizing the command and control structure by creating a Ground Forces Command between the Ministry of Defense and the units in the field. Implementation of these reforms will take an unspecified amount of time.

In accordance with the legislation, the former troops were reformed by the armed forces of Belarus into two stages. On the first (from 1992) they were reduced by 30,000 people, their operational goals were determined, and the basic leading documents were developed. In the second stage (1993-1994), the reduction of the army in essence was completed, structural conversions were realized, and the troop command and control system was reformed.

In accordance with its stated goal of becoming a neutral state and its new defense doctrine, the government decreased the number of its troops by some 60 percent, from 243,000 to 96,000 (including up to 22,000 officers) by the beginning of 1995; the armed forces also employed 64,000 civilians in early 1995. Further reductions were expected to reduce the total armed forces to a strength of 75,000 or even 60,000. Such a move, however, presents a difficult political problem because of a lack of housing and employment for demobilized service members, who, regardless of their present citizenship, are eligible to become Belarusian citizens and voters. By the year 2005, the total number of armed forces must compose 65 thousand people (50 thousand soldiers and 15 thousand civilian personnel).

Women serve in the armed forces as well, although in much smaller numbers than men. They face the same physical and other testing requirements as men. In mid-1995 there were approximately 3,000 servicewomen, many of whom worked at headquarters as secretaries.

In Belarus, military service is compulsory for all males between the ages of 18 and 27. They are obliged to serve for 18 months, or 12 months for university graduates. In 1994 reserve forces numbered approximately 289,500 members with military service in the previous five years. In the early 1990s, an issue in the training of troops was the teaching and use of the Belarusian language. There was resistance in the Ministry of Defense and in the armed forces themselves to the idea of using the Belarusian language; officials claimed that the Belarusian armed forces were being "politicized." But little progress had been made in 1994 toward the use of Belarusian in the military, as called for by the draft law entitled About the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus, which stipulated the use of both the Belarusian and Russian languages, with a gradual transition to Belarusian.

The Constitution of Belarus allows for the possibility of exemption from military service, and for the substitution of military service by an alternative service to be determined by law. Due to the fact that a law has not been passed, young men who wish to substitute their military service with alternative service continue to be at risk of being charged and prosecuted for draft evasion.

The National Centre for Legislation and Legal Research requested assistance from the OSCE Office in Minsk to conduct a seminar on best practices from the OSCE region on alternative service legislation. The seminar was held in Minsk on 14 October 2010 for representatives from the Constitutional Court, the Ministries of Defence, Emergency Services, and Labour and Social Welfare, as well as from the Office of the High Commissioner on Religion and National Minorities and the Parliamentary Administration. Experts from France, Germany, Moldova and Russia shared the best practices from their countries at the seminar. Officials from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) presented examples of alternative service.

"Dedovshchina" -- the practice of hazing new recruits through beatings and other forms of physical and psychological abuse -- reportedly continues. According to statistics released by the regime, in the first 5 months of 2001, there were 30 reported cases. The authorities blocked efforts by family members and human rights monitors to investigate these and other reports of Dedovshchina.

By 2006 the Ministry of Defense claimed that hazing of conscripts had been greatly reduced and all reports of abuses, even verbal abuse, were investigated. Safety precautions during training were said to have reduced casualties to just one or two per year, meaning recruits were more likely to die in accidents while on leave than on duty. These reforms meant Belarusian parents no longer feared sending their sons into the army. Thus, the military only had to enlist one out of three conscripts who passed their physical exam.

The defense budget for 1994 was estimated at 686.6 billion rubles, accounting for 4.5 percent of GDP and reflecting a slight increase in real terms over the previous few years. One reason for this was that Belarus had obligated itself in a treaty to cover a larger share of the costs in maintaining the army units of other former Soviet republics stationed on its soil. Another was that the government made large outlays in acquiring strategic stockpiles, mostly of fuel reserves. In 2001 the defense budget was approximately 1% of GDP. The active armed forces of Belarus numbered 79,800 in 2002, including 4,000 women. Belarus 2009 defense budget was $611 million, which financed an active force of 72,940 and a paramilitary force of 110,000, although a reduction to 60,000 is planned.

On 11 October 2011 Belarusian Defense Minister Yuri Zhadobin mentioned the financing of the Belarusian army. We pursue an austerity policy. Only the projects that can provide strategic results are implemented, he said. The Belarusian army budget has been traditionally under 1.2% of the GDP. Yet Yuri Zhadobin said that the money is sufficient to fully train and equip the Armed Forces of Belarus. The Minister pointed out that 2011 was the first year of the implementation of the national security concept that was authorized by the relevant presidential decree last year and the implementation of the 2011-2015 army development action plan. The latter envisages optimization of the army strength for the sake of development and perfection. There are plans to trim personnel numbers, too. Yet the funding allocated for the army development will be increased up to 20-25% of the military budget and up to 30-40% in the future. According to Yuri Zhadobin, salaries of the military and civilian employees will be raised.





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