Thursday, May 25, 2006

Russia: A New Go at Defence Reform

Russia is apparently having a new go at trying to reform its defunct military. So at least, BBC reports on Wednesday. Accordingly, "Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov has announced sweeping plans to modernise the country's armed forces."

Ivanov now declares that the number of conscripts will be reduced, whereas conscription per se will remain, although the model now seems to be leaning towards 3-year contracts. Attempts at creating a professional army have previously failed. Also, some 30,000 auxiliary jobs will be cut, which is in line with international trends of military reform. What perhaps is most important is Ivanov's announcement that he will cut the number of generals and admirals by some 300 in the coming years.

Cutting down the high brass may be the key to truly initiating reform of the Russian armed forces. Ivanov has for long fought an uneven battle with the General Staff, but in recent years he seems to have got the upper hand. Being the first civilian defence minister, he has met with much opposition by the military, not least because of his KGB-background.

Renewed efforts at reform also comes in response to widespread public discontent with penalism and bullying in the army. If Ivanov is to become a serious candidate for the 2008 presidential elections, he must succeed in reforming the military both materially and spiritually. Increasing defence expenditure is however not the main solution to the problem. Changing the culture is. There is simply no idea of pouring more money into the black hole of Russia's defunct military. Getting rid of the human obstacles therefore seems as a necessary first step towards reform. A committment to development instead of maintenance can only succeed if all forces unite around a common vision on the military future of Russia. As long as the old brass stays on, reform is mission impossible. Reform needs mind as much as money.

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