A strategy for military reform

In early 2011, the Russian Institute of Contemporary Development (INSOR) released a massive report entitled “Discovering the Future: Strategy-2012.” The idea is to develop an agenda for Russia’s development during the next presidential term. The section on security issues and the military was authored by Alexander Golts and Mikhail Krasnov. Golts appears to be the lead author of the part on the military. In this report, he first goes through the reasons for the likely failure of the reform effort. This consists of a few fairly familiar points that I will simply list in bullet point form:

  • The current conscription system is not equipped to deal with the sharp decrease in the number of 18 year olds that is coming in the next 2-3 years.
  • Conscripts do not have the training (and often also lack the abilities) to work in a modern, technologically sophisticated army.
  • Junior officers are unable to improve their qualifications because they are increasingly having to spend all their time training new conscripts. This will hinder the introduction of modern equipment into the Russian military.
  • The military’s structural reform is incomplete, with unified strategic commands not much changed from the old military districts.
  • The organization of Russian defense industry is completely ineffective. As a result, the State Armaments Program will fail.

In other words, these are the usual complaints with the system. What I find far more interesting is Golts’ proposal for how to make military reform successful. I’ll address his main points in a bit more detail.

First, Golts argues that the president should announce that the military will transition to an all volunteer force by 2018. Given previous failures in this regard, this will require a high level of transparency, as well as a guarantee of adequate funding. Golts sets the level at no less than 3.5% of GDP, with a significant percentage of that funding set aside by law for military reform goals. The military would shrink to 400-500 thousand.

Recruitment would have to increase significantly to compensate for the end of conscription. In order for this to happen, conditions for soldiers serving in the military would have to improve. Golts suggests something like a Russian GI Bill, with the government giving assistance for receiving an education after the end of the soldier’s service or providing credits to help in starting a business. Most importantly, contract soldiers would have to receive a salary that would be greater than the Russian average.

Golts believes that the military education system would also have to be significantly revamped, with the establishment of several dozen training centers that would focus on training sergeants in disciplines such as administration, psychology and pedagogy. In other words, the goal would be to train leaders who could become, in effect, junior commanders. By training several thousand such sergeants each year, by 2017 the military could have its core of 50-60 thousand professional sergeants who could be counted on to maintain discipline in the barracks and would ensure that volunteer soldiers are trained in professional ethics and how to act morally. This is vital because it is likely that for the first several years after the end of conscription, most volunteers will be far from the best examples of the younger generation.

The education of officers would also have to change. Cadets would receive a high level education in the sciences and humanities. The former would allow them to understand how to use advanced weapons and military technology, while the latter would allow them to understand their place in a rapidly changing world. Promotions would be based on merit and the system would have to be fully transparent, something like the up or out system used in the United States.

Golts then turns to the structure of the military’s top organizations. He advocates transforming the Ministry of Defense into an agency staffed primarily by civilians whose job would be to translate the policies developed by the country’s civilian leadership into the language of military orders. They would also be responsible for orders of weapons and equipment and for budgeting and other financial matters. Military operations would be based on orders that would go directly from the Minister of Defense to the four Unified Strategic Commands. The General Staff would have no direct role in operations. Instead, it would focus on strategic planning and would provide policy recommendations to the Minister of Defense and Russia’s political leaders on the nature of military threats facing the country and how to counter them.

National defense would depend not on the number of soldiers in uniform, but on a combination of threat detection by spy satellites, the ability to mobilize rapid response forces, and the use of modern long-range precision-guided weaponry. Necessary equipment could be stored at bases near areas where conflicts might be more likely, such as the Caucasus, Central Asia, or the Far East. This type of military would be designed primarily to fight in local or regional conflicts. Nuclear weapons and participation in global missile defense would ensure Russian security from larger threats.

The military-industrial complex would be reformed as well. Rather than funding the full range of military procurement, as in the current SAP, the Russian government would focus on a few priority projects in the area of high tech, such as command and control, communications, and intelligence systems.

Such a fundamental reform of the Russian military would include the establishment of a functioning system of civilian oversight through the State Duma, the press, and a system of independent analytical institutes. This would also require changes in budget and secrecy laws in order to allow the release of much more detailed budget information to the public.

This is a very good plan, obviously modeled in large part on the American military. But unfortunately, it is also very much pie in the sky, as far as the Russian military is concerned. While Serdiukov & co have taken on the generals on many issues, a reform this wide-ranging would be opposed not just by the generals but also by the country’s civilian leaders. Despite Medvedev’s occasional statements on modernization, these leaders are not really all that interested in the greater openness and transparency that are a fundamental part of Golts’ plan. They also would likely be less than happy about the reduction in opportunities for corruption that would have to come with any plan for greater financial openness.

So we are far more likely to be left with Golts’ other option — muddling through, with a few minor improvements and cosmetic changes that do not do much to make the Russian military more prepared for the conflicts of the 21st century than it is today.

2 thoughts on “A strategy for military reform

  1. This development has wowed me. I saw this plan as assurance to the continuation of the Russian nation. It includes all the criteria a state needs to be successful militarily in this day and age. Advanced threat detector’s, information sharing, rapid deployment forces, and benefits to military volunteers. But this towards the end my face soured because of the russian leadership decision to leave itself vulnerable to being overwhelmed by modern warfare. I mean it does have a rather convincing nuclear arsenal to fend off almost any threat of it wanted, but that has other consequences such as further military conflicts and economic ones. The russian have a lot to think about and not a lot of time to do it.

  2. It is a very institutnik plan and you don’t have to be old-guard General Staff, or even Russian, to feel a groan.
    >Golts sets the level at no less than 3.5% of GDP. … The military would shrink to 400-500 thousand.

    That’s not a lot for a country the size of Russia.

    >education after the end of the soldier’s service or providing credits to help in starting a business

    This will attract a large-number of one-termers who aren’t even very enthusiastic because their goal is to get the bonus, with the result that their achiveable miltiary proficiency will not be that much greater than a conscript.

    >Most importantly, contract soldiers would have to receive a salary that would be greater than the Russian average.

    That would be hard to push but is the most effective part of the plan.

    >Cadets would receive a high level education in the sciences and humanities

    This is a popular idea even in Russia, but general education in sciences to the level achievable in a 4-year course do not translate easily to actual proficiency in using or maintaining the equipment. The relationship to the humanities is even more tenuous. The primary and clearest effect of this shift is to make the officer education less useful as preparation for immediate assumption of duties.

    The good news (in a sense) is that he will have learn to delegate to his sergeant now because he will no longer be able to repair the (for example) tank himself. Hopefully he’ll have one.

    I do agree that there is a place for increased education in subjects like International Relations, but the Higher Command Schools (old name) course can’t get much longer than it already is, so I’ll argue it will be less disruptive and more concentrated on where it is most useful to place it into the 3rd year of the Frunze Academy (or equivalent) program. I understand they mostly work on Army operations in the 3rd year and there are no Armies worthy of the name left anyway, so cutting most of it would be a relatively small pain.

    >Promotions would be based on merit and the system would have to be fully transparent, something like the up or out system used in the United States.

    I think you can find at least a few cynics that would argue about the transparency and fairness of the up and out system as actually practiced in the United States. The Russian system is of course, problematic, but comparison with other systems should be as to how they are actually practiced, rather than comparing your ugly reality to their ideal, if only so you don’t blindly appoint their system and make the same mistakes.

    >civilians whose job would be to translate the policies developed by the country’s civilian leadership into the language of military orders

    I can’t read Russian. Can you summarize why he feels that letting military ignoramuses do the translation will, in the long term, be better?

    >National defense would depend not on the number of soldiers in uniform, but on a combination of threat detection by spy satellites, the ability to mobilize rapid response forces, and the use of modern long-range precision-guided weaponry

    Even the best mobility and intelligence in the world is no good if you don’t have a certain minimum of troops. They are force multipliers in Western parlance, but there has to be something to multiply.

    >This type of military would be designed primarily to fight in local or regional conflicts. Nuclear weapons and participation in global missile defense would ensure Russian security from larger threats.

    Here Golts denies the existential meaning of armies. Local and regional conflicts are nice, but ultimately the purpose of armies is to defend against a large scale attack that we all hope would never happen.

    >The military-industrial complex would be reformed as well. Rather than funding the full range of military procurement, as in the current SAP, the Russian government would focus on a few priority projects in the area of high tech, such as command and control, communications, and intelligence systems.

    Golts. Listen to me. I know the Russian arms industry is in trouble but Once you give up the full range formally, in practice you will never have it back (ask Britain) and part of your sovereignty will forever be in the hands of whoever would sell you the weapons. Do you want to sign your name to that decision?

    Buying Mistral is a nice, healthy slap to the face of the MIC but ultimately the MIC should be maintained. Unless Russia wants to turn into another NATO country. That’s national policy and has to be affirmed by the will of the people. Somehow I don’t think Russia’s will is quite that, and to really have a independent policy you will have to ultimatley retain your arms industry.

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