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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Toward Military Reform

The discussions among Russian politicians concerning military problems, whether nuclear-arms reductions or the undertaking of peacekeeping operations, have never been -- to put it mildly -- distinguished by the competence with which they have been carried out. But what is currently going on is more reminiscent of a surrealistic play than a discussion of problems of state. Our statesmen are, with great effort, trying to decide whether 37 trillion rubles or 55 trillion is a better figure for the military budget and whether the army should have 1.5 million troops or 2.2 million. At first glance, there is nothing strange in this: Throughout the world politicians debate military budgets and the size of the army. But these discussions have nothing in common with their Russian counterparts. Consider the State Duma's consideration of the military budget. At first it seems normal enough. Parliaments throughout the world have recognized that their real influence on the development of their countries lies not in endless political debates but in their control of the budget. Through decisions on whether or not to fund particular governmental programs, popular representatives in all democratic countries shape state policy. But not in Russia. The Defense Ministry -- taking into consideration the country's basic defense doctrines, the possible threats to our national security, all the possible problems that the military might encounter and all of Russia's international obligations -- made its proposal for the defense budget. The Finance Ministry, as might be expected, did not agree with this proposal because it used an entirely different approach: It proposed to give as much money as possible in the light of the country's revenues. And parliament agreed with this approach, which -- considering the country's economic situation -- is completely understandable. Except for one, very important thing.The Duma, if it really wants to shape state policy, does not have the right simply to agree with the proposals of the Finance Ministry. It is obligated to take the additional step of instructing the Defense Ministry how to distribute the available resources and of telling it what programs would have to be cut. Parliament had to recognize that in this situation these financial considerations are actually a grave matter of national security. Within the limits of the available budget, it is essential that the military preparedness of all branches and units of the armed forces be maintained. Parliament itself is obligated to take on itself the responsibility for determining who, for example, will have to give up training in order to guard supply centers, strategic objects and military equipment. Parliament must determine the vitally important elements of the country's security structures -- those that absolutely must be funded -- and identify areas that can safely be curtailed. Parliament must take responsibility for these decisions. The same is true of the matter of the size of the army. It makes no sense to debate whether the country needs 1.5 million troops or 2 million until we first settle the question of what those troops will have to do. The debate must center on our defense priorities rather than on abstract figures. Instead, we hear arguments that the military is sabotaging the reform of the armed forces and, therefore, that too large an army cannot be supported by the allotted funds. These arguments are painfully reminiscent of the discussions our leaders had at the end of the 1980s concerning conversion. Conversion, they said, will not only guarantee work for the military industrial complex, but it will also give impetus to the economic development of the whole country. Only the inertia of the plant directors is standing in the way. But something else was in the way, and it still is: An unwillingness to spend large amounts of additional money on any reform, whether it be conversion or the reform of the military. Without these additional funds, any discussion about military reform or force reduction is nothing but empty talk. Today there is pressure to maintain all the current military officers in reformed reserve units rather than retiring them. This move will enable the government to avoid paying them their pensions, each equivalent to 20 minimal salaries. But it is not as if the people in the Duma or in the president's administration are naive. There are economists who are qualified enough to recognize the obvious: When you are cutting the budget, you must also clearly indicate ways to reduce spending or define which programs must be eliminated. But our leaders refuse to do this. Their basic idea is that the army will solve its own problems. And it probably will. Some people will be released without pensions or without the apartments that they have been promised. Some soldiers will be fed a little worse than they already are and some troops brought back from Eastern Europe will have to spend the winter in an open field. By passing responsibility on to the Defense Ministry, our politicians think that they can maintain their own authority. But in reality they are simply shirking their responsibility and, as a result, they may well lose control over the most important spheres of governmental activity. The army, left to solve its own problems, might be considered anything except a normal element of civil society. It would appear that our politicians have not yet matured sufficiently to create an authentic parliamentary system, characterized by legislative responsibility for the future development of the country. Alexander Golz is a political observer for Krasnaya Zvezda. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.