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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Minister, Old Tricks

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Only the most self-controlled journalists were able to refrain from cracking a joke or two about Minister Anatoly Serdyukov's recent address to the to the Academhy of the General Staff of the Armed Forces. There is, of course, something admirable in the new defense minister's plans to attend classes at the academy to become more familiar with his new brief. His predecessor, Sergei Ivanov managed to serve seven years in the post without burdening himself with any great knowledge of military affairs. Ivanov was known to respond angrily when reports delivered by subordinates proved beyond his grasp.

So Serdyukov's interest as a student is praiseworthy. It's the motives of his teachers that raise problems. The most important subjects for Serdyukov will be armed forces organization, logistics and management and basic strategic planning. Unfortunately, Serdyukov will most likely hear that the mass mobilization model is not only the best, but the only system for the army -- or at least the army as it appears in policy documents. Serdyukov will hear that this is necessary to maintain security in these "threatening times."

The end result will be the opportunity to send hundreds of thousands of reservists -- or a million, if they need them -- off to battle after 30 days of the most primitive combat training. In line with mass mobilization plans, his military instructors will likely convince him that industry has to crank out thousands of tanks and weapons systems to arm these hundreds of thousands of soldiers.

The bottom line is that the knowledge Serdyukov will pick up is outdated, the equivalent of learning to start a fire with two sticks. The country's main principles of national defense not only became obsolete long ago, but also are impracticable in a country that cannot support a mass mobilization army under current demographic conditions. Arming hundreds of thousands is impossible as industry long ago lost its mass-production capabilities.

There are other options, of course, but Serdyukov isn't likely to hear about many of them. The Defense Ministry enjoys an absolute monopoly on the dissemination of military information, a fact the top brass uses to its advantage. President Vladimir Putin has the same problem when trying to find out what's going on.

Russia, of course, is not the only country stuck with obsolete military policy and strategies, but at least leaders in other countries have access to independent analyses of the state of their armies. Independent experts can number in the hundreds, and in the case of the United States, in the thousands. Such a wealth of civilian experts on military affairs does not appear out of nowhere. It is fostered over a long period of time.

Abourt one-fourth of all students at the U.S. National Defense University are civilians. They also make up the majority of students enrolled at the U.S. Industrial College of the Armed Forces and the School for National Security. They don't just attend to please their bosses, but as an important career step. This knowledge is necessary to work in the defense industry, the state department and other branches of the federal government.

But even if the defense minister possessed a military education appropriate for the 21st century, he would still be entirely helpless. Without civilian officials in the ministry, Serdyukov is forced to rely on the opinion of military career officers who are guided by their own vested interests rather than strictly military considerations.

With plans to replace significant numbers of conscripts with contract soldiers close to failure, the generals are feeding the president and the defense minister the line that this is the fault of a lack of funding to provide proper housing for new professional soldiers. The reality is that the federal program was doomed from the start because the top brass don't want to abandon the mass mobilization model.

Serdyukov made the right decision when he brought colleagues from the Federal Tax Service service with him to help clear up the military's financial state of affairs. Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to realize that the same approach is even more critical with regard to basic military issues. Unfortunately, even the arrival of a few civilian auditors at the Defense Ministry is unlikely to get the organization moving in the right direction. Putin has repeatedly emphasized that he has complete faith in the military experts at the Defense Ministry. Unfortunately, the Kremlin has yet to come to the realization that for the military to function effectively, just having a minister who is civilian is not enough.

Alexander Golts is deputy editor of the online newspaper Yezhednevny Zhurnal.