The Future of Russia’s Military: Editor’s Introduction

In October 2008 the Russian government suddenly announced a wide-ranging military reform. Most analysts assumed that the proposals were just talk and would remain on paper, either through bureaucratic stonewalling or through lack of financing for the reform effort. Now, eighteen months into the process, there are no doubts that the reform is for real and is virtually unstoppable. The articles in this issue address a range of issues dealing with the causes and consequences of the reform, including the decline of Russia’s military capabilities, the increasing disconnect between society and the military, the nature of the threats facing Russia, and the failure of previous reform efforts.

In “The Secret Reform,” Aleksandr Gol’ts explores the rationale underlying the military reform that began in the fall of 2008. While he complains about the secrecy that surrounded the initial implementation of the reform plans, he notes that the reform is necessary and appropriate given the condition of the Russian military. He notes that the main goal of the reform is the elimination of the Soviet mass mobilization army and its replacement by a professional army staff that is largely staffed by soldiers working on contract, rather than conscripts. Since Gol’ts’s article was published, this plan has run into problems due to the inadequate supply of soldiers willing to sign contracts. In order for recruitment to be successful, the military must become more attractive topotential soldiers.

Leonid Fishman takes up this issue in “Is It Possible to Reincorporate the Army into Society?” He traces the historical evolution of the relationship between the army and society. He shows that whereas in the past armies were used to train the population to become citizens, a modern army no longer plays such a role. Although Fishman does not make this point, the reason for this change has to do in large part with the advent of mass public education, with schools now being given the task of creating citizens. Fishman goes on to argue that the underlying cause of the poor performance of the Russian army is its failure to adapt to changes in the society around it. To reverse this process, he calls for the establishment of an army that is professional and based on providing the kind of training that soldiers leaving the army would find helpful in leading a successful civilian life. He believes that this is the only way to make the military attractive to ambitious young people who want to improve their position in society. The presence of such people in the military would, in turn, make it more capable in defending the country.

In “Notes on the Creation of an ‘Innovative Russian Army,’ ” written at the start of the Serdiukov reform program implementation, Andrei Kokoshin surveys the technical requirements of a modern army, focusing especially on the informational and analytical resources necessary for fighting a twenty first-century war. In this context, he discusses the priority needs of the Russian military, including an increased emphasis on special operations forces, the reform of military education, and the introduction of the advanced information technology into at least two or three experimental brigades in the ground forces. He argues that the fulfillment of these tasks will allow Russia to revitalize its military technology in the near future.

Stanislav Kuvaldin (“Armed Forces for a Modest Power”) revisits the Serdiukov reform a year after its introduction. He notes that despite the opposition of almost the entire set of military experts and most top generals, the government has succeeded in moving the reform forward. In fact, reform has reached the point of no return. If it is ultimately successful, it will create throughout Russia armed forces capable of winning local wars, which is a realistic task given the current security environment. At the same time, the military will have to give up its pretensions of challenging major powers such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) or even China.

Finally, we include in this issue a roundtable discussion (“Urgent Problems and the Logic of Military Reform”) that discusses the political background behind the reforms, including the nature of the threats facing Russia, how the Russian military should be organized to best defend the country against these threats, and how the government is handling the reform effort. This roundtable, organized by Nezavisimoe voennoe obozrenie and held in early 2009, showed that a wide range of views still exists on the nature of the threats facing Russia and that these views are closely correlated with opinions on the wisdom of the military reform. Some experts still see NATO and the West as a primary threat and believe that the Serdiukov reform will destroy Russia’s capacity to defend itself against such a major adversary. Other experts argue that the cold war ended a long time ago and the main threats facing Russia come from local conflicts on its southern border. In this situation, a reform along the lines outlined by Serdiukov is necessary and will help create a future Russian military that can actually carry out its missions.

Russia’s future security over the next twenty to thirty years depends in large part on the ability of its government to successfully implement a program to modernize its military organization and equipment, while changing its personnel recruitment policies to match future demographic realities. The Serdiukov reform shows that, for the first time since the breakup of the Soviet Union, the government realizes the seriousness of the challenge and is prepared to act accordingly.

2 thoughts on “The Future of Russia’s Military: Editor’s Introduction

  1. Pingback: Russian Politics and Law, May 2010 Table of Contents « Russian Military Reform

  2. The transition to an all-volunteer force from a system of conscription is never easy, either for the citizen-soldiers who must make a decision to stay with the military based on what will probably be their most taxing years of service (prior to any promotions or leadership responsibilities) or for the government that has grown accustomed to getting their services for a pittance. There’s no doubt Russia has the money to stand up a professional volunteer army that is competitively paid, but the expense will have to be factored into succession planning, or it would likely collapse in a decade.

    There’s nothing essentially wrong with conscription in the short term, from the standpoint of being directed to serve the country and acquire some basic military skills. However, it takes youth away from private employment at a critical juncture, just when potential career decisions are being made, and conscription in Russia is unnecessarily brutal and poorly paid. Those drawbacks are fixable. Beyond that, Russia should enter into discussion with other nations which maintain conscript citizen armies, such as Israel. The IDF, for example, provides educational opportunities to study at national expense during soldiers’ tour of duty. The opportunity for development of job skills during compulsory service, followed by assistance with job placement or a decision to extend service could help build a capable reserve force, from which a transition to all-volunteer forces would be simplified.

    The government’s credibility is on the line, but I’m encouraged to see them pressing on with it instead of just discussing it forever. Good story.

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