On December 13, 2000 Carnegie Endowment Senior Associate Michael McFaul hosted a lunch meeting with Dmitri Trenin, Deputy Director of the Carnegie Moscow Center. The presentation was the third session in "state of the State" monthly series, which seeks to increase understanding of the recent developments and prospects of the key institutions of the Russian state. We provide below a summary of Trenin's remarks and the discussion that followed.
The Past, Present and Future of Military Reform
Dmitri Trenin began his presentation with an assertion that "military reform has languished in Russia for the last ten years or more." Both Gorbachev and Yeltsin have been unsuccessful in their attempts at military reform, and now President Putin is trying to tackle this problem again. His ambitious plans for downsizing Russian armed forces make the year 2000 a turning point for military reform. According to Putin, Russia cannot afford to pay for the 3 million people presently employed by the military sector. Trenin provided this breakdown of the military personnel: 1.2 million servicemen; 800,000 civilians serving in the armed forces; and 1 million civilians serving in "other" agencies, such as interior troops, border guards and special construction troops. Putin has committed himself to cutting the military sector personnel by 600,000 in the next three years. If he is successful, by 2003-2004 the number of Russian servicemen would be 865,000 (decrease of 365,000); 670,000 civilians would serve in the armed forces (decrease of 130,000); and 900,000 people would be employed by "other" agencies (decrease of 105,000). Although this downsizing of the armed forces is laudable, Trenin suggested that it was formulated without any reflection on the mission or structure of the Russian military. Instead of providing leadership, Putin gave the military reform to the military "to preoccupy themselves with." This has resulted in "trench warfare" between different military services for competing resources.
After outlining Putin's agenda for military reform, Trenin discussed the reasons behind the president's decision to undertake military reform at this particular time. The chief reason for tackling this issue was financial -- the mismatch between the federal budget and the structure of the armed forces. Minister of Economic Development and Trade German Gref's plan revealed that Russia simply could not afford to spend more than 5 percent of GDP on the military. Putin's realization of the dire demographic situation, with population declining by 750,000 every year, also prompted reevaluation of the military structure. The third contributing factor was poor performance of Russian armed forces in Chechnya. According to Trenin, Putin was very displeased with Russian field commanders, who had failed to conduct an operation with minimal military losses, imitating NATO practices in the Balkans. Instead, President Putin had to admit that the second Chechen war, with official military losses at 2,600 a year, was as bloody as the first. The "ticking bombs that went off" in August 2000 served as catalysts for discussions on military reform. The sinking of The Kursk and the fire in Ostankino tower showed that the "infrastructure created decades ago for WWIII" was wearing out. Combined with decreasing professionalism and training standards, the infrastructure dilapidation was very dangerous. At the same time, Trenin noted that the morale of the Russian armed forces was "the lowest ever." The prestige of serving in the army was very low, while criminality of military personnel was increasing. Finally, the poor state of Russia's defense economy contributed to the urgent call for military reform. Russia is still burdened with a huge and unreformed defense-industrial complex, which employs 2 million people and presents a formidable "obstacle on Russia's road towards more functional, market-oriented economy," Trenin maintained.
Putin: Indecisive or Machiavellian?
Trenin described President Putin's response to the above concerns and challenges as "indecisive." While The Kursk tragedy presented Putin with ample opportunities for reshuffles in military leadership, he did not take any decisive action, and seemed "uninterested and semi-absent." There could be several causes for this behavior of the Russian Commander-in-chief. Trenin suggested that Putin's hesitancy could be the result of his lack of vision. "Putin is not sure which side to listen to; he has no ideas of his own about either the Russian defense establishment or its national security interests." Another reason for wavering could be Putin's weakness as president, and both bureaucratic and political inexperience. Putin now draws on his popularity with the bulk of the public, but if his ratings start slipping, the elite that supports him now may turn elsewhere. Trenin also acknowledged an alternative explanation for the Russian president's indecision -- he called it "Machiavellian design," or "security service approach," to handling conflicts. Due to his background, Putin is very familiar with this method of "letting various parties exhaust themselves in battle and then stepping forward and dictating one's terms." Trenin argued that Putin scored several major bureaucratic victories by appointing Sergey Ivanov, Secretary of the Security Council, to preside over the entire national security and defense communities. With Ivanov as the only channel of communication between military and defense leadership and the President, Putin has succeeded in wearing down conflicting parties in "trench warfare," and made them accept the figures, which had created an uproar earlier. The president has also proven himself a master at combining ruthlessness with emotional compensation. While slashing both human and financial backing of the armed forces, Putin gave the military its old standard -- the red flag, awarded arms sales business to the Ministry of Defense and promised a 20 percent wage hike for military personnel.
Obstacles to Military Reform
As outlined above, President Putin has already set the targets and deadlines for military reform. However, Trenin predicted that this project will face several obstacles in the future. Lack of vision for the defense establishment and Russia's role in the world will inevitably hamper progress. Besides, there is no clear strategy for implementing the military downsizing. Financing the reform may also present problems -- if oil prices declined, there might not be enough funds in the next budget to pay for the proposed changes. Russian armed forces also suffer from lack of committed reformers. Trenin argued that in the debate between Anatoly Kvashnin, Russian Chief of Staff, and Igor Sergeyev, Minister of Defense, both were wrong, as "they were asking for higher military budgets and bigger military forces." As the Russian military leadership is "still committed to arcane notions of Russian missions," no one is really willing to support a "leaner and meaner" force. While reformers in the Russian defense establishment are scarce, opponents of reform are in abundance. The present size of the armed forces is not sufficient for these lobbyists, and they try to push through changes, which would make the Russian military structure emulate that of the USSR. But perhaps one of the greatest factors in the future success or failure of Russian military reform is economic development. "If economic reform under Putin fails," Trenin cautioned, "and the president decides to cling to power, he will introduce a mobilization economy to keep the country from falling apart." In these circumstances, there would be no foreign policy and no defense policy to speak of, as Russia would become "not a country of democratization and marketization, but would slide back to being a national-security state."
The Future of Russian Military
The military reform project under way seems to have numerous problems, which Putin is happily ignoring for now. Instead, he focuses on concrete targets and deadlines. Trenin provided several insights into the issues that the Russian president needs to pay more attention to -- the vision, the strategy and the tactics of Russian military establishment. The primary problem facing the armed forces today is not underfinancing but "excessive and bloated military requirements," Trenin proposed. These include Russia's ability to repel a Balkans-style NATO aggression, while providing conventional deterrence of China in the Far East and securing the southern borders. Not only is this mission beyond Russia's means, it also "does not reflect Russian interests as a working market economy and democracy integrated with the outside world." Russia has to resolve its schizophrenic stance towards Europe, which allows it to call the EU "Russia's #1 international partner" while labeling NATO "#1 security threat." Trenin argued that Russia has to realize that its most important security threats are on the southern rim, "both inside and outside Russia." However, it is dangerous for Russians to start believing their own rhetoric about being "the last bulwark of the civilized world against Muslim extremism." This attitude is "a recipe for disaster." While the West does not buy this argument, "young Muslims in Russia will see the armed forces poised against them." Then, spillovers, such as those from conflicts in Tajikistan to Tatarstan and from war in Chechnya to Bashkortostan and Tyumen, become inevitable. Other issues facing future Russian military leaders will be those of force structure, conscription versus all-volunteer force, creation of non-commissioned officer (NCO) corps, procurement and force projections. However, Trenin asserted that the centerpiece of Russian defense policy should be demilitarization of relations with the West.
What can the West Do?
While Russia should reflect on its stance towards the West, "there is little the West could do to help Russia transform its military forces into a modern organization capable of handling 21st -century threats." There are concrete projects, however, where Western assistance could be beneficial, such as cooperative threat reduction programs and nuclear safety projects. The West could also utilize communication channels in NATO and EU to a larger extent, exploring the possibilities of the Permanent Joint Council (PJC), for example. Trenin concluded by encouraging specific programs and joint ventures between the US and Russian militaries.
The Discussion Period
Dmitri Trenin's presentation was followed by lively discussion
· Impact of the West. A question was raised about the potential impact of Western actions, such as NMD, NATO enlargement and withdrawal from arms control agreements, on Russian military reform progress. Trenin responded by suggesting that the Western negative impact on Russia can indeed be greater than its positive influence. He cautioned that "another round of NATO enlargement would empower the conservative faction of Russian security elite to say 'I told you so, we need to have military forces structured to repel a NATO invasion from the west." However, Trenin believed that even if the Baltics did become NATO members, or if the US started building NMD, the Russian rational security elite could settle on trade-offs and keep the situation under control.
· Force structure and Russia's foreign policy. Answering a question about the influence of Russian military reform on the country's foreign policy, Trenin posed that the reform of the military sector was "originally driven not by a concept, but by necessity." Russia needed to deal with the declining number of nuclear missiles and warheads that were reaching the end of their useful lifespan, either unilaterally or as part of a bilateral treaty. According to Trenin, Russians are becoming reconciled to being an intermediate nuclear power. At the same time, China's increase in its nuclear arsenal may drive it towards strategic parity with Russia. Although they may never admit it, Russians also do not believe that their greatest military engagements will be fought along the western front, but in the south. Trenin maintained that the ability of Russia to intervene outside of its borders is very limited. It also would not be able to fight two simultaneous Chechnya-type conflicts within its borders. Thus, Russia's assistance in Central Asia is mostly "bluff." Like other forces, Russian navy is experiencing a "conflict between ambition and reality" as proven by The Kursk tragedy.
· Uniqueness of this military reform. Trenin was asked to compare this cycle of military reform to previous ones of the 20th century. He responded by saying that the present cycle is "not so much a reform of the armed forces but 'military reform,' implying a change in the entire attitude towards defense and security." Whether the president or the military leadership want it or not, "objective forces are pushing Russia towards this reform."
· Role of tactical nuclear weapons. Trenin posed that tactical nuclear weapons "do not answer Russian security problem on the western front." Instead, "the best defense against NATO is rapprochement with the EU." As for Russia's relationship with China, the usefulness of tactical nuclear weapons will need to be discussed, which is not currently done. But internal dangers, like Chechen field commanders, will not be deterred by tactical nuclear weapons.
· Military education. Asked about "re-militarization of education" in Russia, Trenin agreed that it has been attempted, but this is not what the Russian army needs. Instead, the narrow and technical military education needs to be "civilianized," according to Trenin. This is the greatest issue of military reform, as it will influence Russia's future officers.
Summary by Victoria Levin, Junior Fellow with the Russian and Eurasian Program.